Sister Sharon Eubank had a message for Latter-day Saint women in her October 2017 general conference address: articulate your faith.
Mary Stallings, a mother of two living in Missouri, took Sister Eubank’s talk to heart.
“I just remember thinking, ‘How can I do that? How I can be more articulate?’” Mary said.
Sister Eubank’s talk would become the first in a series of inspirational ideas that ultimately led the 2014 BYU grad to start ComeFollowMeDaily, a gospel-focused Instagram account that now has more than 100,000 followers.
Mary first felt inspired to start sharing her thoughts on her personal Instagram account, which had about 300 followers.
With “articulateness” on her mind, she also began studying women in Church history who used their spiritual gifts to accomplish good.
“I just was very moved and impressed by these women and what they were able to do through the Spirit,” she said.
Mary also began studying her patriarchal blessing for spiritual gifts that she had and began pondering how to use and develop them. In the process of studying, she came to the conclusion that “there is no limit to God’s power because God is limitless, and therefore what I can do through Him is limitless.”
That conclusion propelled her to begin a bigger endeavor. Instead of sharing her testimony only on her private account, she felt she should start a new, public Instagram account exclusively dedicated to insights she gained from studying “Come, Follow Me.”
“I knew zero about social media going into it,” she said.
Mary said she didn’t consider herself a writer, art connoisseur or social media guru; she just started making content.
As the posts became more frequent, so did the traffic. Now, just a few months after the account’s one-year anniversary, the account has more than 100,000 followers, with more joining daily.
Most people with a strong social media presence have to devote time each day to developing new content. That holds true for Mary. But her process looks a little bit different than most Instagram influencers.
For Mary, content creation is part of the nightly routine: put the kids to bed, plug in her phone to the charger and open the Gospel Library app on her phone. Studying from the comfort of the corner seat of her sectional — her go-to workspace for crafting a post — Mary drafts a post in the notes section of her phone and picks out artwork to match her insights. Meanwhile, her husband, Michael Stallings, does the dishes.
“It’s something that she feels called to do and that she feels blessed by God to accomplish,” Michael said. “I see it as critical as one of my roles as her husband to help her accomplish all that God wants her to accomplish.”
Michael said he’s impressed by Mary’s ability to take what she’s learned and “distill it down to an Instagram-sized snippet.”
“That’s a hard thing to do, and a hard thing to do without losing the substance of the whole matter,” he said.
Ironically, Michael doesn’t have an Instagram account, so he depends on Mary to show him the posts she creates. He said he sees about 75% of them, but either way, they’ve usually talked about the topics she posts about.
Mary’s process of studying the scriptures and drafting a post typically takes about an hour and a half. Sometimes she references a book in her husband’s extensive collection of gospel commentary for historical background. “He’s a Bible nerd,” she said.
Sometimes she consults online resources, alternative translations or other faiths’ scriptural interpretations to broaden her perspective. And occasionally, the realities of parenting young kids catch up to her.
“There’s definitely times where it’s like I got half a post done, then I fall asleep, then in the morning I’m frantically trying to finish the last little bit while the kids are eating breakfast,” she said.
Having something original to say every day is a big task. Mary said knowing that she’ll be writing a post helps her keep the gospel at the forefront of her mind as she goes about her day.
“I’m always trying to think of ‘What am I going to write about?’” she said.
Her favorite posts to write are the ones where she digs into historical context to bring up a new insight.
“Those posts typically never do as well because not a lot of people want to read about historical context, but I love it,” she said.
For Mary, the account has never been about trying to get the most likes or followers.
“I don’t follow a lot of important ‘Instagram rules’ I guess, but I think mostly it’s just about authenticity and sharing from your heart,” she said.
PEOPLE WHO’VE BEEN AFFECTED
Stallings’ rejection of Instagram best practice and commitment to authenticity has won her a huge following base.
It was Mary’s authenticity, positivity and insightfulness that drew Karen Poch, a resident of Sandy, Utah, to the account.
“You always feel enlightened and encouraged when you’re done reading her posts,” Poch said.
Even when Poch doesn’t have time to check Facebook, she always gets on the app just to read that day’s ComeFollowMeDaily post.
“I don’t think I’ve missed a day since I started,” she said.
For Mary, the influence is sometimes humbling to think about. She said it’s easy to have a competitive mindset and let the number of likes and comments determine the post’s success, but she tries to use a different metric: reaching individuals.
“I’ve had multiple experiences where something I felt really strong about writing ‘flopped’ in the social media sense of the word,” she said, “but it answered one person’s prayers and they direct messaged me about it and how important it was to them.”
GROWTH OF THE ACCOUNT
While many people respond with gratitude for Mary’s posts, the account is not without critics. As the account has grown, Mary has had to learn how to avoid being bothered by them.
“I’m not everyone’s flavor, and that’s OK,” she said.
Mary’s following first consisted mostly of friends and family. Her early posts included short captions or anecdotes, usually with personal photos or picture quotes.
Over time, Mary transitioned to longer posts with more commentary and more emphasis on rhetorical style. She also began posting artwork by Latter-day Saint artists, such as Jenedy Paige, Caitlin Connelly and Yongsung Kim.
Without really knowing how it was happening, Mary noticed she was starting to get more followers, and it felt like “magic.”
“I definitely didn’t know how to use the Instagram algorithm things, so I just was like, ‘It’s happening, more people are coming on,’” she said.
At one point last September, Mary hit a wall. Her follower count was starting to get “really big,” surpassing 20,000. She started to pull back from creating stories and decided to figure out why she was really running the account.
“I guess I had a little bit of an identity crisis with the page,” she said. She felt she didn’t fit the mold of a put-together Instagram influencer and wondered if she belonged on the platform.
“I didn’t want to be something that I wasn’t,” she said.
In the midst of her “crisis,” she attended a ward activity where she interacted with other women there who, like her, were often sleep-deprived, not wearing makeup and “just trying (their) best to be a disciple of Christ.” She began to remember that there were other people like her in the world — even if they didn’t seem common on Instagram.
Emboldened by her realization, Mary continued the account and continued to share her personal experiences.
“I think it’s important to be real and share stories because that’s where the gospel gets real, you know — in our human experiences,” she said.
With now more than 100,000 followers, the account has grown entirely organically, and Mary is known by people all around the world. Yet paradoxically, she finds herself relatively unknown in her local community — and she likes it that way.
“(It’s) nice to be in the Midwest where no one knows me,” she said.
In fact, most of her ward members probably don’t know she runs the account, she said, “which I’m perfectly fine with — let’s just keep it that way.”
Mary said she mostly just thinks about what she might post the next day when thinking about her long-term plans.
She’s had offers to do podcasts or write books, but for now, taking care of her young kids is her top priority.
“I feel strongly that this account is something that I’m supposed to do, but also that no matter what, my family comes first,” she said.