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5 Instagram tips for churches

In the evolving world of social media, it's no secret that photos are now king. With ever-shortening attention spans, photos are easier to digest as we scroll through multiple network feeds. They evoke emotion and often humanize an idea beyond simple words. But what if you don't have your professional camera gear with you. Or, what if you're like me, and you don't even own professional gear?

Enter Instagram, a free photo-sharing app for mobile devices that allows you to take a photo with your phone, upload it instantly and apply filters to make it look vintage, weathered or enhanced.

This relatively new network is a great resource for churches to reach potential visitors and interact with United Methodists around the connection. According to recent research, Instagram tops Twitter in mobile engagement with 7.3 million daily active users—compared to Twitter's 6.9 million.

Let's get started with 5 quick tips.

1. Think before you snap. What's your Instagram goal? Maybe you want to engage potential visitors. Maybe you want to humanize your church or maybe you want to strike up a conversation with other United Methodists. Any and all are achievable with Instagram. Just make sure you have a strategy in place before you start.

2. Tell your story. Give a behind-the-scenes look at your church. Images of people having fun at events or even food photos from potluck dinners can be a fun way to engage. Show what makes your church unique. Even beautifully framed photos of your church building, doors, steeple or objects inside your church, like a hymnal, can evoke emotion with the right caption and filter.

3. Use hashtags. Instagram, like Twitter, is driven by hashtags. If you're not familiar, it's when you place the pound sign in front of a word to make that phrase a searchable category so everyone else who uses that hashtag can see your photo or tweet. This helps you make connections past your circle of friends to grow your network. For instance, the most popular United Methodist hashtag is #UMC. So, we could take a photo of our favorite hymn, caption it "Thankful for His Amazing Grace" and hashtag it #UMC.

4. Be consistent. Ensure your church profile is easier to find on both Instagram and Twitter by securing the same account name and Twitter handle. This also simplifies the integration process if someone wants to tag you in a photo that they also share on Twitter. But if you already have two different account names, at this point, Instagram does allow users to link their accounts with their Twitter profiles to ensure proper tagging across networks.

5. Pace yourself. As a general rule, don't post more than three photos in a row or more than once every three hours. If you post more often than that, you run the risk of overloading your followers' feeds and tempting them to unfollow. Additionally, Instagram allows you to choose which photos you want to automatically upload to your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr accounts. Don't assume that your friends want to see the same photos across all networks. Select and customize each one for the appropriate platform.

Bottom line, have fun! Remember Polaroids? This is like a fun, digital Polaroid without the wait. Engage your friends, like their photos and start a conversation. And, of course, find us at @UMCommunication.

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