More than 1 billion people follow celebrities, brands or friends on Instagram. As a devoted follower of Jesus, I ran an experiment to learn about sharing a passion on Instagram. Here’s what I learned. 

1. People follow for passion (or cause)

In my experiment, I used Instagram for a passion (triathlon). This was clear in the pictures, in my updates, hashtags, profile picture and profile description. People will decide if they follow you based on what they see the first time they view a profile. This means the profile picture, how many pictures you updated and how often, your last six pictures (thumbnails are displayed on the landing page of your profile) and the way you described your passion or cause in the bio area.

You can’t control everything, but some elements you can. If you know your profile picture is round and fits in a square centimeter you don’t want to use a too detailed picture. If your profile picture is a logo, people are less willing to follow than when there is a face. If five of the last six updates are clearly product placements, less following. If your bio isn’t vibrant and connecting to real life (bla bla bla our very important organization bla aims to grow bla bla next year bla bla bla) your account is not something people want to follow. If you are able to connect to emotions and dreams of people, they are more willingly to follow your passion.

If you are able to connect to emotions and dreams of people, they are more willingly to follow your passion.

Stay on topic, because people follow you for a certain passion or cause. As soon as you are off topic, people will start to ignore your updates and if you share too many things that are off topic they will eventually unfollow you. In my personal experiment I posted some nature pictures instead of triathlon related updates; the likes where less than 25% of the normal engagement! Even when the off topic picture was clearly of better quality than my on topic ones.

If your topic is finding peace in New Delhi, then keep your posts focused on how the truth of Jesus benefits the people of New Delhi.

2. One story at a time

The second thing I learned during my experiment is that it is important to tell one story at a time. Seth Godin says that storytelling is the new marketing. People are scrolling through a timeline and first look at what they see. In their timeline they know what to expect, because it is filled with people they chose to follow. In this split second they make a decision: to like or not to like. If this thought is out of their understanding they scroll on without any engagement or worse they unfollow.

In their timeline they know what to expect, because it is filled with people they chose to follow. In this split second they make a decision: to like or not to like. If this thought is out of their understanding they scroll on without any engagement or worse they unfollow.

Please realize that a lot of people might even not read what you have written underneath your picture or video and only ‘double tap’ it if they understand it by heart (tap tap = liking the update). There are generally two reasons people get confused. The first one is when you get off topic and the second one is when the story is getting too complicated in picture(s) or writing. So make sure that every update has one clear story at a time. This can be inspirational, encouraging, surprising or creative, but most of all understandable.

Try testing out your posts with people in your target audience. Do they understand the Bible stories you are posting? Do the pictures make sense to their culture?

3. Tell from inside out

A story is more—or should I say only—engaging when people feel you lived the life, you felt the pain and you know the game: authenticity. This will drive more and deeper engagement. So it is important to find someone who can tell the story from the inside out.

Your online presence will benefit from this in several ways. Someone who can tell a story from the inside out can come up with posts that no marketing team can make up for you. In general, a marketing team will tell a second hand story they think they understand from you. Someone who lived the life is able to tell stories beyond every detail an outsider can even think of. Especially in those details people will recognize themselves and want to see more.

In general, a marketing team will tell a second hand story they think they understand from you. Someone who lived the life is able to tell stories beyond every detail an outsider can even think of.

Testimonies of other people from your target group resonate. They show authenticity and give the audience hope for a better life.

If you are able to connect life with your passion of cause, you hit it spot on.

4. Interact

Just sharing a story is not enough to build an active fan-base on Instagram. If you really want to build relationships and connect people to your passion you have to invest in interaction. There are different ways to do that, the most effective:

  • Like updates from others that connect with your passion or cause. Following the principle a like for a like.
  • Leave a comment at someone else’s picture and make this comment personal and to the point. I hate it when a company that is following me says: ‘nice shot!’ Or: ‘where did you take that one!’ Especially when my update is clear about the location
  • Tag someone in your comment (only if this makes sense!)
  • Send someone a private message and thank them for following. Try not to be general with that, but specific on something that you have seen on the profile or thank someone when they like every update you do.
If you really want to build relationships and connect people to your passion you have to invest in interaction

This engagement sets the stage for moving the relationship from online to face to face discipleship.

5. Celebrate and Learn

I noticed people engage the most when the update is about life in general and celebrating life specifically. Life events are the strongest, but daily life that is recognizable are great updates as well. If you are able to connect life with your passion of cause, you hit it spot on.

Other updates that bring engagement are about something you have learned or achieved. If you are able to show the journey towards it, especially when you have learned something ‘the hard way’ and you showed character, that gains a lot of attention.

My experiment focused on triathlons. But you can apply these five learnings to your passion. Perhaps you could share testimonies of following Jesus, chronological stories from the gospels or meeting an important community need like education.

But how can seekers find your Instagram posts? Learn how to use hashtags.