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Master the Art of Writing Captions!

Social-Media-for-Nonprofits (1)In all areas of life, making a good first impression matters. With the written word your headline is your first impression, and yes, it’s important to get it right. According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people read headlines while 2 out of 10 people read the rest! A good caption will determine if your content will even get read. If you are spending time and resources (dare I say scant!) on creating content, you’ll want to make sure your headlines are captivating– whether it is a blog, newsletter subject line or more.

If you want to double your click-throughs you need a headline that grabs attention. At the same time, you never want to turn your audience off with a headline that could be perceived as click-bait – you know, the kind of headlines that claim, “You Won’t BELIEVE What Happens Next!” Those articles never live up to their headlines, and you’re usually sorry you bothered clicking through to read. And you’re certainly not interested in getting to know more about whoever originated the post.

Nonprofits especially need to be careful about this if they hope to capture and retain reader attention, build a list of followers who believe in their cause, share their efforts, and, ultimately – donate generously. Here’s how to entice those future donors with killer headlines:

1. Be specific, not generic.

The words “February Newsletter” aren’t particularly enticing, are they? Not to mention, your newsletter could get lost in a list of other February newsletters thusly titled.

Instead, state why you think they’ll want to open this month’s issue. Point to whatever is new or unique, or potentially most interesting to them, for example a special guest blogger or speaker, a save-the-date for an upcoming event, or some other member exclusive. Put it right there in your headline so it can’t be missed.

2. Use the 2-part sentence formula.

You’ve probably seen this a lot – headlines like: How DoSomething Transformed A Mistake Into Learning: Creating A Culture of Impact, from nonprofit thought leader Beth Kanter’s blog.

As illustrated, make your headline a short compound sentence, starting with something your audience can connect to, and ending with what’s unusual or uncommon about your link (or vice versa). The above example reverses these two parts, but is just as effective. Whichever order you put them in, here’s what you want to consider for each part:

  • Part 1: Who is your audience? What can they automatically connect to that will catch their eye? Why did they join your organization’s list/why are they following you? Keep these key questions in mind as you create your headlines.
  • Part 2: There are so many emails, blog posts, articles – why should this person click YOURS? Hint at the answer, but let the crucial info come to light in the full post.

3. Everybody Loves Lists.

List posts are super trendy right now, maybe because they clearly delineate how much of a time investment we need to make when reading, as well as exactly what we’ll get out of them: “5 Things,” “3 Tips,” “Top 10 Reasons to…” From BuzzFeed (famous for list posts) to Nonprofit Quarterly, lists seem here to stay.

4. Finally, keep it short!

Sumall shared this infographic, put together in partnership with Buffer, which lists character and word lengths for pretty much everything you could post on the Internet. The suggested character count for headlines is 60, otherwise you may find the end cut off in previews and replaced with an ellipsis. Keeping it well under that is a good rule of thumb.

As KissMetrics notes, “As a rule, if it won’t fit in a tweet it’s too long.” But you don’t always have to tweet your full headline when sharing. Perhaps the more important takeaway from KissMetrics is this: “[People] tend to take in only the first and last 3 words. This suggests the perfect length for a headline is 6 words.”

Actually, you don’t have to take it so literally – just be sure that your first three and last three words are particularly weighty, however long your headline is.

These are tactical guidelines that will serve you well as you create and share content, and Buffer has a list of additional headline formulas you can beta test if you like. Depending on your audience, you may find one particular formula works better for you than another. As long as you’re getting engagement and not sending people clicking away, you’ll know you’re doing it right.

What headline tips can you share that aren’t included here?

Ritu Sharma

The preceding is a cross-post of the Social Media for Nonprofits February 25, 2015 blog post of the same title. Ritu Sharma is the CEO and Co-Founder of Social Media for Nonprofits, an organization committed to bringing social media education to nonprofits worldwide. She convenes thought-leaders and leading practitioners in the social media space in the unique TED meet Twitter style conferences in 14 cities in three countries. She speaks frequently around the world on a variety of topics in the nonprofit and social media spheres with a passion for effecting social change through social technologies. She writes a blog at the Huffington Post on the intersection of social media, social change and leadership. Follow Ritu on LinkedIn or Twitter @ritusharma1

Topics: Communications