Instagram for Churches: Top Ten Tips

Instagram for Churches

Is your church on Instagram?  Should you be?  The answer's Yes, and here are four quick reasons why:

First, as of early 2018, there are 800 million people on Instagram (and counting!).  

Second, Instagram is the the preferred platform to Facebook for young people (that’s why Facebook bought Instagram!), and this preference is now spreading like wildfire to other age groups as well.  

Third, Instagram is increasingly recognized as one of the best-designed social platforms anywhere.  Just last week, the New York Times ran a story critiquing the limits of Facebook and extolling the relative merits of Instagram, entitled, “What If a Healthier Facebook is Just … Instagram?”  

Bottom line: chances are the people you want to reach are either already on Instagram or will be soon.

And fourth, Instagram is a beautiful, smartly conceived tool for building relationships with and among your community.  It’s crisp, clean, highly visual, super fun and intuitive to use!

Ready to take the plunge?  Or, if you’re already on Instagram, ready to take your engagement to the next level?  Here are our top ten tips for churches who want to get into Instagram or up their Instagram game:

1. You’re in the Community Building Business

Be sure to set up your account as a business account.  It doesn’t cost anything extra, and doing so will allow you to track your account’s analytics, including demographic information about who’s interacting with your content, engagement data for each post, and more.  This analytic data is crucial to learning about what works for your community - and what doesn’t - as you go along.  To set up a business account, log in and then go to settings>connect to Facebook>change to business account.

2. Make Your Bio Sing

In Instagram’s spare, minimalist environment, how you set up your bio and title is important.  In your bio, zero in on a few key phrases that convey your congregation’s personality and spirit.  Don’t be bland; let what’s distinctive and flavorful about your community come through!  And remember: only your username and handle are searchable (the bio content isn’t), so consider adding a keyword into one or both of these, to make your church easier to find.  For example, rather than your church name alone, add your city, or your neighborhood, or your theological leaning to your title.  Imagine what keywords people might use who are searching for a church like yours - and add it to your title or handle.

3. Remember the Call to Action

The name of the game in social media is building relationships one decision (one click) at a time - so don’t pass up an opportunity to deepen that relationship.  Make a habit of inviting an additional step.  For example, in your bio, add a call to action and a link: “Listen to our latest sermon” or “Read our latest newsletter” or “Download our Statement of Faith” or “Meet our Pastors” - whatever next step in the relationship makes most sense to you.  Put that invitation (and link) right in your bio.  And in your posts themselves, while Instagram doesn’t allow links, you can still include calls to action (invitations, offers, introductions, etc.).

4. Provide Value through Content

As with all social media, while invitations and calls to action are essential, the primary way to build your audience isn’t by “pushing out” your message, but rather by “inviting in” people through providing an experience they'll want to repeat.  The best way to do that is to provide content they will genuinely value: an inspirational quote that gives a lift to their day, an idea that throws new light on their world, or a glimpse into your community’s life that builds a sense of relationship and connection.  

5. Try a Rotating Cycle

One strategy is to rotate through these four broad types of posts:  (1) a quote from scripture or a theologian; (2) an illuminating theological idea, perhaps related to the day’s/week’s news; (3) a “behind the scenes” look at the pastor’s preparations for the sermon or a team’s work on a community service project; and then (4) a post including an invitation or call to action.  Then repeat the cycle!

6. Post Consistently

Choose a post schedule and stick to it.  While 1-3 posts a day is ideal for Instagram, if 1-2 posts a week is the rhythm that works for you and your community, go with it.  Consistency and quality are most important!

7. Demonstrate Your Value

Think about what value your church provides its participants and the greater community (ask around!), and then post pics and captions demonstrating those tangible benefits in action.  Better yet, ask members of your congregation and community who are on Instagram to post a picture of themselves enjoying something your church provides (worship, a small group meeting, a mission trip, etc.) - and then repost their post!  "Repost for Instagram" makes it easy to #repost those photos and videos all the while giving credit to the original Instagramer.

8. Build Your Community through Hashtags

The number one way for organic exposure on Instagram is through hashtags (a hashtag is away to "tag" or "highlight" a subject or theme included in your post; other Instagram users can then discover your post as they browse that hashtag’s feed).  When you add a hashtag to a post, you thereby add your post to that hashtag’s feed in chronological order, so at the time of publishing you’ll be at the top of the feed.

9. Try Thirty

For each post, Instagram allows for up to 30 hashtags, and the best practice is to use them all!  A few tips for getting this done: a) to save time, create a list of 20-25 target hashtags that you can cut-and-paste across all your posts; the other 5-10 can be specific to the subject matter of each particular post; b) your post will get lost quickly on super-popular hashtag feeds, so shoot for hashtags that have between 10,000 and 500,000 followers (just type your hashtag into Instagram's search window, and you will instantly see the current number of followers for that particular hashtag and other hashtags in the same genre); and c) enter your hashtags not in the body of your post, but in the first comment (that is, publish your post, and then comment on it; and in the comment, include your hashtags).  This cuts down on the spammy vibe, which is important!

10. Sharing Is Caring

The most effective way to grow your church’s Instagram audience is to reach out to other people or organizations in your area (not other churches but rather “sister institutions,” like neighborhood associations, nonprofits, local businesses, humanitarian organizations, etc.), and explore whether they’d be open to a “share for share” arrangement:  you offer to share their content with your audience if they do the same for you.  With the right partners, this is a “win-win” for all involved, since both your church and the partner organization gets introduced to a whole new group of people - some of whom may be intrigued to find out more and get involved.

BONUS TIP: Have Fun With It!  

Having fun isn’t just a good idea in general - it’s also a key sustainability strategy.  If you’re posting and engaging on Instagram in ways that bring you delight, you’ll be more likely to keep it up - and your audience will be more likely to sense (and catch) your enthusiasm and joie de vivre!

Finally, we wouldn’t be walking the walk if we didn’t invite you to zip on over to SALT’s Instagram feed!  Have a look-see, let us know what you think, and share your ideas in the comments below :)