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Pope’s Instagram account hits a million followers in record time

As expected, Pope Francis arrived on Instagram on Saturday and within 12 hours already had more than a million followers.

The speed at which his @franciscus account hit the milestone figure set a new record for the photo-sharing service, taking the title from David Beckham, whose account took 24 hours to reach a million when he landed on the service last May.

The pope’s debut post – an image of him praying accompanied by the comment, “pray for me” – has already collected 256,000 likes and more than 30,000 comments. An additional three images and a slightly blurry video also went up over the weekend, and by Sunday night the account was close to notching up 1.5 million followers.

It seems the pontiff has, at the start at least, neglected Instagram’s fancy filters in favor of a purer experience for his followers, though that could of course change once he – or, to be precise, the Vatican’s media team – discover the delights of Perpetua, Juno, and the array of other image overlays offered to Instagrammers.

The arrival of Pope Francis on Instagram comes just weeks after he met with Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s CEO. The pair talked about “the power of images to unite people across different cultures and languages,” and evidently also had a chat about getting the pontiff on the service.

Systrom was at the Vatican on Saturday to witness the pope firing off his debut post. On his own feed, the CEO put up an image of himself shaking hands with the man in white, commenting, “Watching Pope Francis post his first photo to Instagram today was an incredible moment. @franciscus, welcome to the Instagram community! Your messages of humility, compassion and mercy will leave a lasting mark.”

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The pope’s social media presence also includes Twitter, his account amassing an impressive 8.9 million followers since he started putting his name to tweets in May 2013. The Vatican also runs a news account on Instagram, though that has a mere 83,000 followers at the time of writing.

Following a review of its media strategy in recent years, the Vatican decided to look more closely at online methods to keep the pontiff in closer contact with Catholics around the world, leading to its involvement in Twitter and Instagram.

If you’re wondering who Pope Francis is following on his new Instagram account, the answer, at this early stage, is nobody.