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My Posts Were Missing This Key Ingredient. Yours are too!

If I had to pick, I would say my favorite part of creating a social media post is the visuals. Be it a photo, a graphic, a carousel, or a video, creating the visuals is the most rewarding for me. It can evoke emotion, teach a skill, or show the results of my hard work, all without speaking a word.

And writing captions for those social media posts is dead last on my list of favorite parts. In fact, it’s whatever is after dead last. No matter how hard I tried, my captions sound either too sales-y (“Buy this now!”), or I sounded like a show-off (“Look at what I did!”), or they were just plain boring (“Here’s a table!”).

So, I gave myself a mission. I need to find a system to write brief, engaging captions. Preferably a repeatable system.

After that, as with all of life’s crucial questions, I cranked up the Google machine, scouring article after article, searching for the secret formula to a better social media caption. And I have to say, for a ton of articles written about writing engaging social media posts, they were not very engaging.

But I did find a common theme throughout my research: tension.


TENSION: KEY TO ENGAGING SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS

In fact, tension is the tool I’ve just used to bring you along in this story to this point. Remember, I love creating visuals, but I have a problem. I don’t know how to write captions. Here’s the tension: Will I be able to resolve my problem, and learn to write captions? (This is getting kinda meta… writing a post about not being able to write a post, trying to use tension to talk about tension.)

We should get back to the task at hand. How does this help a maker who is turning their hobby into a business? Let’s begin by agreeing on the usefulness of posting on social media, as part of your marketing strategy. Let’s also agree that better quality social media posts probably won’t hurt your business and most likely will help your engagement, your reach, and ultimately your sales.

Where is this all going? Here is my thesis for this whole post: Adding tension to your caption is a critical part of improving your posts.

You can do all the other stuff right: Adding the right hashtags, making your content relevant throughout the year, even wearing your branded t-shirt in the video! But if the actual content itself is not engaging, your posts will not gain the traction you want.


ADDING TENSION TO YOUR CAPTIONS

So what does it mean to “add tension”? I fully admit here that I am no Stephen King. But there is a lot to learn about writing from people who write for a living. So let me explain to you 4 types of dramatic tension that writers add to stories. And then we can repurpose these for makers.

 

Tension #1: Relationships 

This is the tension of everyday life, like love, discipline, aggression, and arguments. 


For a maker’s social media post, this might be the discipline of hand-detail work, the pressure of finishing a project, or the strain of a day-job and a night hustle. This can be the arguments you have with yourself as you work hard to get better at your craft with every single piece. 


Tension #2: Task 

This is the tension of completing the task. Like, what hurdles do you have to surmount? What obstacles do you need to overcome? 


For a maker’s social media post, this might be the tension of working in a small garage, or working late at night or working on a piece you’ve never made before. Or all three at the same time. This could also be trying a new skill or a new tool. This could also be a behind-the-scenes post showing all steps to finish a task and the tension of how it turns out. Everyone loves to see the victory at the end of the story! 


Tension #3: Surprise

This is tension associated with an unexpected event. For instance, what project or task didn’t go as planned? What project turned out even better than you hoped? What mistakes were made?


For a maker’s post, build tension by introducing the surprise and all the consequences of it: like a shortened timeline, a challenge to your abilities, or the effects on your other projects. Highlight your flexibility, the mistakes you learned from, and the love of the work you put out despite the uncertain circumstances.


Tension #4: Mystery 

This is the tension of a mysterious ending. Who won a giveaway? How did that cold snap last month affect your projects? Who is the local celebrity you just sold a dresser to? This is tension that propels a reader forward in the story because they want to know what happens! 

Any given post can include multiple points of tension. In fact, an effective post almost has to. But enough of this talk of theory. How does this look in real life?


AN EXAMPLE OF EFFECTIVE USE OF TENSION

For example, let’s say you have created a sign. You want to create a social media post to simultaneously show off your work, bring attention to your store, and build your social media following. Time to brainstorm your viral video, right? We have all seen the reels where the maker slowly turns the sign around to the front, with a trending audio.

Those are not just trending reels because the algorithm arbitrarily decides so. They are effective for a reason. The videos use a clever combination of the tension of mystery (“What does the front of the sign look like?”), the implied tension of the task (“Oh she had to work a lot of late nights to hand paint that sign”), and maybe even the tension of relationships with the customer (“I wonder what the customer ordered and if that’s what they wanted”).

The tension builds as the sign is slowly turned around. That’s a great video! But now you need an engaging hook in your caption, too!

Now, your caption could say:

New sign I made for my neighbor. I love the colors. DM me if you need a sign.

 

But a tension filled caption that matches the video might say:

Late nights, careful attention to the tiniest details, and a personal commitment to a trusting customer, powered me through to completion of this beauty. A few times I thought I may have bitten off more than I could chew. But progressing one step at a time got me to the end. So don’t ever give up! Just take the next step. What’s a project where you doubted yourself?

In one caption, you have demonstrated your skill, your commitment, your attention to detail, and your desire to inspire others. And tension not only brought the reader along for your journey, but finished by asking them to reflect on their own journey.


UTILIZING A TENSION-CREATING FORMULA

Well, that is one example, but how do we develop a system to replicate this process on a regular basis? 

To do this, we need a repeatable formula. I found one I like from consultant and entrepreneur Justin Welsh. Justin developed a system to solve the exact same issues we have already described, and we all experience. His formula is designed to list out 5 things for each post.

  1. Problem
  2. Agitate
  3. Intrigue
  4. Positive Future
  5. Solution

In our previous example, it looks something like this

  1. Present a problem we can all relate to: Working late on a sign that requires attention to small details
  2. Agitate the issue, making it even worse: And I’m not confident in my ability. This is really hard
  3. Introduction some intrigue: I may not be able to finish this because I’ve bitten off more than I can chew
  4. Provide a positive future: Take 1 step at a time, keep moving forward
  5. Finish with the solution: Look at my finished sign!

Ultimately, the system involves reflecting on your project, the highs and lows, the wins and failures, and briefly bringing the reader on the journey. The descriptions may be explicit, like “the joy of conquering the hand chiseled dove tail”, or implicit, like just saying “mistakes were made”.

Either way, introducing tension brings your social media caption to a new level. The reader is brought into your story, and in time is invited to reflect on their own story. The reader starts to develop a relationship with you, and the products you produce. And without realizing it, you’ve created a brand that is uniquely you.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of makers creating signs of all shapes and sizes. But only one that your customer feels they know personally, who is willing to pay for the story behind the creation.


IN SUMMARY

One reason your social media posts may not get the reaction you expect is that there are no stakes for your followers (or potential-followers) in reading them. When I make my social media posts, I love creating the videos and graphics… but the captions initially fell flat because I didn’t give them the attention they needed. The captions were supposed to be my hook, but if they weren’t engaging, very few were going to watch my videos.


The key to creating engaging captions is tension! Draw in your audience by building tension in the relationships, tasks, surprises, or mysteries you include in your captions. Tell a story! And if you like to have a template for writing those captions, Justin Welsh’s system of 1) Problem, 2) Agitate, 3) Intrigue, 4) Positive Future, 5) Solution works well for me. 

These strategies have worked for me! Let me know how your social media analytics change as a result of creating more tension-filled captions. 

Have other questions about building your maker brand and business? Subscribe to the Business for Makers Blog and Business for Makers Podcast for insights and tips. Tune to Sawdust Talk on IGTV Live on Wednesdays at 10 pm CST to hear from makers about their projects and business and meet some great members of the maker community.

By the way, are you wearing your logo in your videos? If not, you need to! Check out georgesupplyco.com to get your maker business’s logo on a shirt, hoodie, or hat.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Scott Chervitz is owner of George Supply Company, dedicated to helping woodshops build their brand. See more at GeorgeSupplyCo.com. You can reach him at Scott@GeorgeSupplyCo.com, on Instagram at @GeorgeSupplyCompany or Twitter @ScottChervitz

Brian Chervitz M.S. is Associate Instructional Designer at the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus.

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