Instagram, which has more than a billion users, is one of the most important places in the digital world for your church to have a presence.
About 60% of Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 34, so if you are interested in targeting that demographic, it is a great place to start.
Understanding how to grow the number of followers on Instagram can seem mysterious. The following tips can help you see beyond the algorithms and give your page the boost it needs.
1. Reels every day
Instagram Reels is a valuable tool. It is a content format that gives users the ability to create and share short videos (up to 60 seconds long). Unlike Instagram Stories that disappear after 24 hours, Instagram Reels remain visible.
Instagram’s algorithm highly favors Reels. That means that in cases in which users are not following a specific account, this is the content they will see first. For that reason, the current standard is to try to post one Reel per day to Instagram.
Be sure to add captions and other text elements to your Reel. This will help because many people view Reels with the sound muted. Without captions, you risk the chance that viewers completely miss your message.
Instagram recently rolled out attractive auto-captioning using a sticker. After recording your video on your phone via the Instagram app, you can add captions. Click preview, then click the sticker button at the top (it looks like a Post-It with a smiley face) and then click the caption button. You can change the style of the captions and position them in the best possible place. When finished, you are ready to post it to your account!
2. Inspiration over information
If you are not sure what content to post, remember that most who log onto Instagram are not there to look for details about your next potluck. Your Instagram posts should be 75% inspirational and 25% informational. For every post about your upcoming choir concert, create three posts that give people a chance to reflect upon their lives, on God or, perhaps, a community or social justice issue.
Although your Instagram Reels are important, don’t abandon more traditional image or video posts. Post an image daily to fill out your feed with browsable content when someone visits.
3. The almighty hashtag
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If you have used Instagram, you have most likely encountered posts with many hashtags below the captions. Hashtags are an essential part of growing your Instagram audience. They signal to the algorithm what your post is about. An often overlooked benefit of hashtags is that they help when people search for content related to specific topics.
Even more important: Your hashtags have the ability to help you get on a viewer’s “discover” page. That is the page that shows up when users click the search icon. This page features things related to previous hashtag views.
So, what hashtag should you choose? First off, don’t choose just one. You should choose several.
Once you put the # mark in your caption and begin typing a word, Instagram will populate a list of suggested hashtags. It also will show you how many other posts have that hashtag. For example, the hashtag #methodist recently notched about 129,000 posts while #methodism had just over 5,000 posts.
It can be tempting to use the most popular hashtags. Unless you have a huge account, that might not be the best option. Consider it this way: Your posts are less likely to surface when among 129,000 others. You will have more visibility when among only 5,000 others.
Strive to find a niche with your posts rather than trying to get noticed in the sea of everything. Adding strategic hashtags can be very helpful. Consider using one popular hashtag and then several that have more of a niche following. The more you get on discover pages, the quicker the number of your followers will rise.
4. Don’t forget the wow
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Another vitally important element is the wow factor of your images and videos. Using stock text and bland backgrounds will not get you noticed. Your images should grab people’s attention. Aim to offer something different than other posts in their feed.
Start with quality images that feature your church and local community. Supplement these with images from United Methodist Communication's searchable media library. (To access the full catalog, you will need to create a free account.)
The UM News flickr account can provide options. You also can use royalty-free art from sites such as Wikimedia Commons. Whatever you choose, be creative, post engaging visuals and remember to include photo credit for these resources.
If you don’t see a hundred new people after posting your first Instagram Reel, don’t fret. The common standard is that it can take about 14 days before you will see results. Keep at it and you can build a digital relationship with Instagram followers that will very likely lead to ministry growth.
Jeremy Steele is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, California, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.