Instagram is a photo/video publishing app acquired by Facebook in 2012. Users have the ability to take or upload pictures and video, write captions, and apply filters to them before posting them to their profile. As they interact with others’ posts, users can comment on them, like them, and tag others on the post. They can also use hashtags to apply a taxonomy to an image that adds it to a specific larger conversation. The hashtag is a huge part the Instagram economy, and it’s the main way that a profile can associate itself with a distinct digital community.

Instagram has added a new feature last two years: Stories. These are photos or videos that expire after 24 hours and don’t appear in the normal flow of posted images but in their own designated space. Snapchat originally became famous for “Stories,” but Instagram’s more widespread user base has stifled Snapchat’s growth. Instagram stories have 250 million daily users, and Snapchat only has 166 million. This eclipse only took a year.1 How could Instagram beat Snapchat at their own game? Instagram had a larger user base to begin with. The platform has grown from 90 million users to 800 million in the last four years.2 Snapchat grew from 46 million to 166 million in the last three.3 Snapchat is still around but no one knows what kind of future it has. Instagram, on the other hand, has half a billion daily users.4

Who Uses Instagram?

The largest age group on Instagram consists of those between 18 and 29, but 6 in 10 of all online adults have an Instagram.5 A third of online Americans 30-49 also utilize the platform.6 A similar statistic shows that one third of teenagers view Instagram as their main social media network.7

What to Share

There are only two general options for Instagram: photo and video. There is leeway in photos because one can use quote graphics, memes, and actual photos. Another recent update to Instagram allows for a “carousel” post that allows up to ten images or videos in one post, like the one we used to kick off this blog series.

  • Quote Graphics use a passage of Scripture, a line from a recent sermon, a core value, a slogan, or excerpt from a book on an attractive graphic as the backdrop.
  • Memes can be used to lighten the mood and communicate something through a familiar image. One of the more popular ones right now is “You’ve heard of elf on a shelf, now get ready for…” The best one we’ve seen was from the Presbyterian Memes Facebook page; it ended the statement with “Spurgeon on a surgeon” and had a picture of Charles Spurgeon photoshopped onto a doctor’s surgery cap. Obviously, these are best for youth groups.
  • Photos are the backbone of Instagram as a platform; everything above and beyond photos are updates but photo is still the soul of Instagram. As a church, the best thing you can post is a photo of normal life in your church; even if they’re partially covered with a quote, faces of real people drive engagement 40% better than photos without them.8 Real pictures give onlookers a glimpse into a service, small groups, big events, and the small moments in between. It is definitely worth the expense to hire a photographer a few times a year to come document life in your church.


Absolutely use hashtags. There may be some work upfront to find out which ones get the most traction in your neck of the woods, but it’s worth it. Some cities have their own branded hashtags, like Greenville, SC #yeahthatGreenville, but others are more straightforward, #Houston. If your city is built on a particular industry, those hashtags would also be more than helpful as you engage with those around you.

It’s ideal to post 5-7 times a week. Consistency builds trust, and it helps show Instagram that your account is healthy and active, so it will appear higher in its rankings and in more “explore” categories.

In a culture that values authenticity, fake photos are anathema.

Comment on other people’s posts. Dialogue is Web 2.0; we can’t expect to build relationships in trust by sitting on our digital porches. Comment on local profile’s pictures and become part of your neighborhood’s digital community.


Do not – under any circumstance – use stock photos of people for your Instagram account. In a culture that values authenticity, fake photos are anathema. Hire a photographer or find volunteers who will learn how to take and edit great photos.

There are two things that do not belong in the captions section: a restatement of the quote in the photo and urls. If you’ve posted a quote graphic, that quote doesn’t need to be repeated in the caption. Use that space to explain it and create value for your audience; assume the statement in the graphic is the thesis statement and the caption space is where you’ll support that argument. Links do not work in captions, so don’t put them there. If a link is absolutely important, then implement a tool like

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