After Facebook, Instagram is arguably the next best social media platform for your church to use.
Instagram has over 800 million users, and more than 500 daily active users. From among these active users, Instagram projects that 96 million people in the United States will use Instagram by the end of 2018. To put this another way, this means—at a minimum—30% of the people in your church and community use Instagram. Let those numbers sink in for a moment.
It’s easy to let your eyes glaze over when you read statistics like this. But social media is the new water cooler in your community. Social media is where most people in your town spend time connecting with their friends, sharing their life, and keeping up with the latest trends and news.
As a church leader, it’s essential for you to engage your community on social media. Connecting with your community on social media will help you to lead them to connect with you and your church face-to-face.
We know many of you who are reading this post don’t have a communications department at your church, a dedicated social media volunteer, or even extra time to spare for social media. But that’s okay.
We’re going to walk you through a simple step-by-step process to help you set up an Instagram account for your church, and a time-efficient plan you can use to reach your community with the gospel of Jesus Christ on Instagram.
Let’s get started.
#1. Create your username
Your username on Instagram is your identity.
If possible, obtain a username similar to your church’s name or your church’s website and other social media accounts. For example, if your church’s name is Trinity Church, create an Instagram user that is similar to your church’s name (e.g., @TrinityChurch) or a variation (e.g., @TriChurch).
When creating your username, there are two things you need to know:
- You only have 30 characters to work with
- Your username can only contain letters, numbers, or underscores
To create your username, you may have to be creative since a name similar to your church may be already in use.
#2. Optimize your bio
Your bio on Instagram is prime real estate. It’s the place where you introduce yourself to your followers and provide one primary call to action.
For your bio, here are two things to keep in mind:
You have 150 characters to use in your bio.
Use this limited space to let people know about your church, compel people to follow you, and lead them to take one specific step.
Instagram provides you with a space to add your church’s website (or a different site), and you can also add a URL in your bio. But the URL you add in your bio will not be clickable. In other words, people will have to copy and paste the URL you add to their web browser.
To add a website to your profile, go to your account and click “Edit Profile.” Then add your church’s website or a different site in the “website” section.
To include a URL in your “Bio,” the only thing you need to do is type it into the “Bio” section.
#3. Add a photo to your profile
Don’t forget to add a photo of your church.
For the sake of consistency, upload a photo or logo of your church that you use elsewhere online or social media. Using a similar image on Instagram will create a seamless experience for your online followers.
Don’t worry about creating a custom image for Instagram. When you add your photo, Instagram will automatically crop your profile photo into a circle 110 pixels in diameter.
For more info on how to optimize your profile photo, check out these instructions from Instagram.
#4. Use hashtags
For Instagram, hashtags are a way to get involved in conversations. Instagram users use hashtags to see what’s going on in their community, with their friends, or to keep up with celebrities or the the things they like.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram users are open to including a lot of hashtags in your posts. In fact, Instagram allows you to add up to 30 hashtags per post. But this doesn’t mean you should cram every post you publish with this many hashtags.
According to TrackMaven, they “found a steady increase in average interactions up through four to five hashtags per post.” Based on their study, they did observe a decrease in the number of people who interact with your Instagram posts if you include more than five hashtags. But, as you can see from the image below, there is a slight increase in the number of interactions when you include 10-11 hashtags.
For Church Instagram hashtags, you want to find out what works best for you, and you don’t want to add just any hashtag.
Brady Shearer of Pro Church Tools suggests that your church includes the following types of Instagram hashtags in your posts:
- Custom—e.g., #centralliving or #centralcommunitychurch
- Community—e.g., #niagararegion or #niagarafallscanada
- Faith—e.g., #jesusislove or #churchfamily
To this list, we also suggest participating in relevant hashtags used throughout the week. Here are some to consider:
We’ll get into ideas on what you can post next. In the meantime, don’t feel overwhelmed by everything you can do. Make a realistic assessment of how much time you can invest in posting and commenting (more on this later) on Instagram.
#5. Start sharing!
Now that your Instagram profile is optimized, it’s time to get ready to share.
At first, don’t overwhelm yourself with sharing too many times. A good goal to aim for at first is 3-4 posts per week. After you get the hang of things and you’re posting consistently, then consider increasing how often to share to 1-2 times per day.
To get your creative juices flowing, here are some post ideas for you to consider sharing:
- Share Scripture or quotes from your sermons
- Go behind the scenes
- Invite people to your services and events
- Celebrate baptisms and communion
- Highlight a volunteer or community service
- Share images or videos of your worship service
- Lead people to your church’s website
- Advertise an upcoming sermon or sermon series
- Get involved in Instagram conversations
There are plenty of ideas to help you get started, but these articles will show you some of the best Church Instagram accounts and they'll also help you to get rolling, too:
- 20 Great Ways to Use Instagram At Your Church
- 8 Creative Instagram Ideas for Your Church
- 10 Ways Your Church Can Use Instagram
Now, before you complete you share your new Instagram post, be sure to include your location.
Adding your location to your posts will help people in your community to find your account.
#6. Get involved with your community
There’s a reason this step follows optimizing your profile and posting on Instagram. Before you can engage your community on Instagram, you don’t want to invite them to an account full of… nothing.
Connecting with people on Instagram without having anything posted is like tapping on someone’s shoulder to get their attention and then not saying anything. Awkward, right?
As you consistently post on Instagram and optimize your posts with key hashtags, you will slowly build a following. However, as you follow and engage with people in your community and local businesses and organizations, you’ll create a highly targeted local audience.
Do restaurants in your community have an Instagram account? What about local service providers, like dentists, gyms, and car maintenance? What about your city government? Do they have an account?
As you get started, try to follow 5-10 new local accounts or church members every day. You’ll be able to think of a few locations off of the top of your head, but you can also search for people and places in your community by typing in your area in Instagram’s search bar.
#7. Collaborate with your church
Throughout the history of marketing, businesses and organizations have partnered with a variety of influencers to promote their products or services. From athletes and models to actresses and community leaders, companies have leveraged the support of influencers.
As a church, you can adapt influencer marketing for your use by partnering together with members of your church on Instagram. Don’t click off of this page in a furry. Give me a moment to explain.
Depending on the location and demographics of your church, there’s a substantial likelihood that your congregation has many people on Instagram.
To help you reach your community and make connections with people, consider partnering together with the Instagram users in your church to “regram,” provide them with content ideas and images they can share, or to brainstorm ideas together.
Working with a group of people in your church will accelerate your efforts to get better connected with people in your community on Instagram.
Time to get started on Instagram
Slow down one moment, and take a deep breath.
Setting up an Instagram account for your church or optimizing your account doesn’t need to feel overwhelming. We're going to provide you with a plan you can handle or delegate to a staff member or volunteer.
Week 1: Build your Instagram profile
If you’re just getting started, don’t worry about what hashtags you’ll use or what images you’ll share. The only thing you need to focus on is getting your Instagram profile ready.
To get started, focus on the first four steps outlined above:
- Create your username
- Optimize your bio
- Add a photo to your profile
- Add your location
During this time, you’re more than welcome to share something. But I wouldn’t worry about doing that right now. Preparing your Instagram profile will keep you busy if you want to do it right.
Time: Assuming you have a photo you can use, set aside 1-2 hours to build your profile. If you do not have a profile photo you can use, connect with someone in your church or in your community to take a picture or create a logo.
Week 2: Create your social media strategy
I know you’re excited to get started and may feel pressured to share something now that you have your account ready. But don’t feel pressured to get started. It’s best to take the time to develop your plan first.
During the second week, it will be time for you to focus on these two steps:
- Use hashtags
- Start sharing!
The first thing you want to do is to assess how much time you have to devote to Instagram or delegate this responsibility to someone else. If you delegate social media responsibilities, aim to review the plan with whoever puts it together for you and to check in on all of your accounts at least once per week to see how things are going and to participate yourself.
Related: How to Create Your Church’s Social Media Strategy in Minutes
"What hashtags should I use?"
Commit to including 10-15 different hashtags in your posts throughout the week.
"What types of post will you publish during the week?"
Decide ahead of time what types of posts you will publish on specific days of the week. Knowing what you’re going to post ahead of time will keep you from second-guessing.
After you've shared on Instagram for several weeks or more, it's also a good idea to keep an eye on your Instagram analytics. This way you can see what content is resonating best with your audience.
Time: Expect to spend 2-3 hours building your Instagram posting plan.
Week 3: (Really) Start sharing!
Alright, now it’s time for you to have some fun.
For the third week, you’ll want to implement the plan you created. Publish your posts, and spend time connecting with people and organizations in your community and responding to comments on your posts.
Time: The range of time for this step may take you 1-3 hours. The amount of time you or a member of your staff or a volunteer spends will depend upon his or her skills and experience getting images ready and writing eye-catching captions.
Ongoing: Plan on engaging
Here’s the main thing you need to know about social media: It’s social.
For better or worst, people in your community are using Instagram to share life with others. They’re sharing images of their daily life, and they’re interacting with others.
To get the most out of Instagram and make meaningful connections with people in your community, you’ll need to spend time on Instagram.
Every week, you’ll need to follow these two points we highlighted above:
- Get involved with your community
- Collaborate with your church
There will be weeks when you or whoever is overseeing your social media accounts will not be able to be social on Instagram. But don’t sweat it.
The big idea we'd like for you to walk away with is that you’ll need to plan on spending time on Instagram every week to reach people in your community with the gospel.