Pope joins Instagram: Francis is leading the Church's social media charge

Pope Francis joins Instagram on Saturday, the Vatican has announced, after the success of the @Pontifex Twitter handle boosted Francis' online followers to more than 20 million across his nine accounts.

Pope Francis' rumoured first selfie proved to be a fake but perhaps his presence on instagram will yield fruit

In many ways the move is unsurprising. The pontiff was judged by Twiplomacy analysis in 2014 to have the most influential Twitter account in the world.

Although world leaders such as Barack Obama have more followers (over 71 million), Francis is seen to have a greater influence because his tweets are retweeted more. His holiness has an average of 9,929 retweets per tweet, the most of anyone, compared to Obama who came in fourth with 1,210 retweets on average.

Despite his insistence he is a "dinosaur" when it comes to technology, Francis has proven himself to be remarkably willing to adapt to social media platforms. As well as regularly posting on his Twitter account, he has held a number of Google Hangouts and featured in the White House's first ever Periscope broadcast. The Vatican has paved the way for Francis on Instagram with just short of 80,000 followers, giving the Catholic Church a solid base.

Christian Today has taken a look at some other church leaders to see if they can keep up with the pace set by the 79-year-old pontiff.

With over 88,000 followers, the Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) isn't in danger of catching the pope up any time soon, but it is an impressive effort. Numbers aside, Welby actually seems a more adaptable and engaging user of Twitter than Pope Francis. He regularly retweets a range of people from a variety of different backgrounds and his feed has a personal touch. 

Francis' feed, on the other hand, is a stream of quotes. His popularity seems to stem more from his personal profile than any great Twitter engagement itself.

Pope Francis' Twitter feed consists on a stream of inspirational quotes, but is rather bland.Twitter / Pope Francis

When it comes to Instagram for Welby, his official residence in London, Lambeth Palace, has its own rather sporadic account with 59 posts in more than two years. But the Archbishop is yet to join himself.

There are some individual church leaders within the Church of England and other denominations who are notable exceptions to a general trend of patchy engagement. @NickyGumbel, the vicar of HTB and pioneer of the Alpha course, has adopted a Pope-esque model with a steady supply of heart-warming quotes. Despite being relatively unengaging it seems to work and the west London reverend clocks in with more followers than the Archbishop of Canterbury at 107,000. Sixty-year-old Gumbel also has a growing reach on Instagram, which Welby has yet to achieve. Mark Russell, CEO of the Church Army is also worth a mention as the two-time winner of the title 'Christian tweeter of the year'.

Although the majority of bishops in the Church of England are relatively quiet on Twitter, the Bishop of Leeds @nickbaines and the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker (@BishManchester), are examples of leaders who have understood the importance of being varied, interesting and dynamic on social media. Neither have made it onto Instagram yet. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the story is somewhat different with the Coptic Church. @BishopAngaelos - the British Bishop of the ancient Oriental Orthodox Church is bang up to date with social media, with nearly 35,000 Twitter followers and is a regular user. His feed is varied and engaging. He retweets a variety of sources and is good at using collages and images to make his profile more interesting. However his Instagram efforts are yet to get off the ground.

Copts make up a significant proportion of the Egpytian population. However outside of Egypt their influence is limited. Given there are only about 20,000 Copts in the UK, Bishop Angaelos' following as general bishop of the Coptic Church in the UK is very impressive - and indicative of his willingness to cross boundries and build relationships.

So, it seems as if the ancient Catholic and Coptic churches lead the way over more recently formed denominations. They're showing the way for churches of all varieties in their engagement and following.