Ultimately, the length of the text in your posts on social media properties is going to vary wildly from business to business. Where some businesses, like coaching services, tend to use a great chunk of a Facebook post’s built-in character limit, a high-end luxury item, may have just a few words that really capture their brand position.

It’s less than you’d think.

Less is more

On Facebook, statuses of about 40-80 characters are the sweet spot. After that, the engagement, on average, starts to drop off. That’s not a lot. Especially considering that you can cram in as much as 63,206 characters that don’t include images and videos. But it does include emojis as characters, so you may want to bear that in mind.

However, the ideal length of text at the top of a Facebook Ad is just five words. Yes 5 words. This is based on a number of studies that showed that an ad starts to lose effective when the word count creeps above this. This means that your five words really need to count! It’s like you have to take a TikTok or Vine-like approach to your text. If you had just six seconds to get your message across, like in the old Vine app, or it’s replacement, Byte, you have to get very creative. So too, you need to be quite the wordsmith to get your impact across with just five words. There are people who are paid a lot in the world to do exactly that. It’s a fine art to write effective, and concise copy for social media.

Instagram allows you to have up to 2200 characters in the caption, which is heck of a lot to work with, but really, what is so important for you to say in a pictorial platform that you need 2200 characters to say it in? Social Report found that less than 125 characters do best in Instagram posts. But that doesn’t mean it will do best for you. Your hashtags can run well over your 125 character guideline and help tell the story in your first comment, or lower on your captions.

Tease, rather than explain

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I keep saying this, because it is important, your business may vary from this, but there are some guidelines you should take on board and try with your posts. One over-arching theme I like to repeat with our clients, is that no one is coming to social media to read what you have to say about your business unless they already have a strong relationship with you, or you are in such a specialty niche that produces a very special thing that is in high demand, but supplied in small amounts.

The implication here is that if you are talking to potentially new customers in a Facebook or Instagram ad, or a post on LinkedIn, the post isn’t the place to get deep into product descriptions or thoughts and feelings. I was so glad when LinkedIn cut down the character limit on their posts. There was this habit for coaches and motivational gurus to flood the feed with long, meandering stories that would carry on and on and on.

Think of business posts on social media as a kind of “teaser.” You don’t need to tell the whole story, you just need to introduce it with a compelling enough introduction to make someone want to find more somewhere else. That “somewhere else” could be an article on a website, a longer format video on YouTube, or a link to an article on LinkedIn, a note on Facebook, or downloadable report, whitepaper or e-book.

The language of your audience

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Did you notice how I used the word, “meandering” a little earlier. There is a good chance that a number of you didn’t understand what I meant by it, or you had as vague idea of what it meant in the context of what I was saying. While I deliberately inserted that word in there to mention it again here, it’s a word that I should not have used in a setting like this. The type of reader or listener that I am trying to communicate to here, is not likely to understand that kind of word. In fact, they may find my use of that a little pretentious. Which is also another pretentious word. How many people even know what it means when they use it in conversation?

The point here is to know who you are talking to, so you can use the same language and tone that they use, or at least feel comfortable with reading or listening to being used. If your audience was academic, then you would use terms, phrasing and words that would suit that audience, right? But you wouldn’t try to use those words at the local footy club awards night, would you? There is a time for Shakespeare, and there’s a time for Johnno the full forward who likes to sink a few after a game on a Saturday afternoon during the season.

There are also gender considerations to make. If you are speaking to a very politically sensitive group of people or writing for those who have a strong leaning towards a particular point of view when it comes to language, you may need to adjust your language and tone; not just the length of your posts. You don’t want to trigger a flashback in a post that you wanted to use to trigger someone to buy something from you.

So what’s next?

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While there are a number of considerations to make when it comes to the lengths of your social media posts, these will tend to be tied more closely to the language and tone of your target audience. Character-length and word-count may be important for an essay, but it’s more important on social posts to ensure that your message is abundantly clear and does something to inspire some kind of response. And where you can, try and do that in as few actual words as you possibly can!

Dante St James is based in Darwin, is the Founder of Clickstarter, a Facebook Australia & New Zealand Community Trainer, a Google Digital Springboard Trainer, Head of Digital at Treeti Business Consulting and a lover of amateur stand-up comedy.