As the COVID-19 pandemic has made people spend even more time on their devices, screen time in apps like Instagram has skyrocketed. While much of the content on Instagram is superficial, the popular app can be used for much more than that. We previously shared how to teach the Bible on Instagram. On a recent Indigitous Ministry from a Distance webinar, Lyn McNeill, Head Digital Strategist for Agape Studenti Italia, shared how her team has used Instagram to bring hope at the epicenter of a global pandemic.
The most important thing to remember when creating such content is that whatever you make needs to meet the needs and desires of your audience. All good content is audience-centered. That means not only taking stock of what your audience is thinking and feeling, but also being aware that how they feel can change rapidly. The first three weeks of pandemic-related content from the Agape Studenti Instagam page show a good example of how to adapt the content to share the message of hope in a way that resonates with how the audience is feeling.
Adapting to a changing situation
“How your audience will receive hope will differ depending on their circumstance,” Lyn says. As the situation changed, Lyn and her team adapted the content on their Instagram feed to meet the felt need of their audience. Early on during the pandemic, there was a lot of confusion throughout Italy. The government hadn’t given any clear direction, some businesses had shut down while others remained open. Uncertainty and chaos was the norm. To respond to that, “we sent out daily seeker-friendly reflections to students from our account by the direct messaging service,” Lyn says. “These reflections were about how to find comfort in God in times of crisis and chaos.”
A week later, the Italian government had implemented a lockdown and the population went into quarantine and isolation. Simply by taking an action, the feelings among the population changed. “They were feeling positive about being able to make a difference, and morale was strangely high.” To respond to that new situation, Lyn’s team did a series of fun stories and posts about the opportunities presented by the quarantine. Their posts focused on “how to make the most of the quarantine: to read that book you’ve always wanted to read or finish the DIY in your house,” Lyn says, as well as practical tips for developing healthy routines.
But then things changed again. Three weeks into quarantine, morale had fallen drastically. People were tired, sick of digital-only interactions, and were feeling the pain of social isolation. During that week, the Instagram account shared a series of reflections on walking with God in times of pain and suffering. Each of the daily posts included a practical step to take that day.
While sharing content on the Instagram page, Lyn’s team created ways for the audience to continue engaging with the ministry. For example, an Instagram Story about a medical student on the frontlines of dealing with the pandemic included a link to a page on the Agape Studenti website that had more information, including resources for people who were looking for hope. In addition, they used the direct message feature on Instagram to continue conversations with their audience. The daily reflections during week one resulted in conversations with more than 50 students through DM.
As Natchi Lazarus shared with us earlier, the best content is often reused content. One of the ways in which Lyn’s team repurposed content was to re-post content that students shared. When a student named Alessia shared a message of encouragement on her personal Facebook account, Lyn reached out to her and asked if she could share it on the Agape Studenti Instagram page to help her message reach a larger audience who would benefit from hearing her story. “This not only brings hope to the followers who then got to see Alessia’s perspective from our account, but it also really encouraged Alessia,” Lyn says. “It’s really nice to feel like your voice has value and can impact others and it was a great relationship-building tool for us and Alessia.”
For those who want to use Instagram to share hope during the pandemic or any crisis, Lyn suggested three action steps relating to audience, engagement, and content.
- Think about your audience, your followers, what they are experiencing, and their needs. How can you deliver hope to them in their context?
- Think strategically about how you can engage with people using this tool. Familiarize yourself with Stories, comments, and direct messaging.
- Search for existing content from different sources and share (with permission and credit).
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. (Habakkuk 2:2)
- Determine your audience and how you can deliver them hope.
- Find existing content that you can re-post.
- Create new content as necessary.