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How the Pope Can Conquer Instagram

His Holiness joins on Saturday. Pray for selfies.

by Keith Wagstaff
Mar 19 2016, 2:02pm

The pope's first Insta.

Break out the holy selfie stick. Pope Francis has joined Instagram.

The Vatican announced on Friday that the pontiff would be posting photos under the name @franciscus. This comes a month after the pope met with Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom, with whom, according to the Official Vatican Network, he reportedly talked about "the power of images to unite people across different cultures and languages."

It's clear that the pope's social media game is strong. His English-language Twitter account has nearly 8.9 million followers. But can he reach Kylie Jenner levels of Instagram fame?

There are more than a billion Catholics around the world, according to the Pew Research Center, so it's not like he doesn't have an audience. To reach them, the Vatican said, he is planning to post photos that "emphasize the qualities of closeness and inclusion that Pope Francis lives out in his daily life."

That sounds kind of vague, so Motherboard asked Gabrielle Zigi, digital marketing director at brand consultant agency Firebrand Group, to come up with some Instagram tips for His Holiness.

Embrace the emoji.

The pope, Zigi suggested, should get a little playful by adding emoji. I think "prayer hands" seems like the natural choice here. #blessed #popelife


Zigi recommended the #waybackwednesday hashtag, the preferred label for random nostalgia. "Oh the possibilities!" she said, noting he could cite everything "from Bible references, to history of the Vatican."

Don't forget the photos.

"Less is more," Zigi said, stressing that not every post has to have a cool theme or smart quote. "Let the photos speak for themselves." A few personal suggestions for Pope Francis: a carefully composed above shot of wine and Communion wafers, or maybe a few papal duckfaces and a latte with a little cross drawn in the foam.

Get biblical.

The pope also could gain some "Likes" with by surprising "people every now and then with a long inspirational message," she said. Luckily, he happens to have some pretty good source material near him at all times.

Zigi also suggested he use the #fridayreads hashtag to keep people up-to-date on what he is reading. (Hint: It's the Bible.)

Behind the scenes.

People want to see what the pope does when he's not speaking Latin or doing other pope stuff. "He can give us a view into the Vatican itself that few have seen before," Zigi said. The most engaging photos on the White House Instagram feed involve President Barack Obama alone in private moments. There is no reason Pope Francis couldn't do the same.

Be a man of the people.

Francis is not like a regular pope, he's a cool pope. He calls people on the telephone to talk about their problems, he drives a black Fiat and he washes women's feet, which wasn't allowed before he came along. So he can't just sit back and post without interacting with his followers. Zigi suggested he search for quotes on #motivationalmonday and #wisdomwednesday to drop a few likes and comments.

Pay attention to current events.

The pope is pretty good about keeping up with current events on his Twitter account, where he has shared his thoughts on Cuba, global warming and income inequality. Instagram, however, has a lighter vibe.

"The pope should see what trend is relevant to him and take part in posting on that hashtag topic," she said. Right now, the top hashtag is #flexfriday. Is the pope swole under that robe? Maybe one day the world will find out.
Social Media
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