#FollowtheProphet: LDS prophets teach, preach, post, tweet

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The profile picture and cover photo on President Thomas S. Monson’s Facebook page. President Monson has the most likes on his page, reaching more than 511,000. The LDS Church’s social media efforts has grown dramatically within the last few years. (Facebook)

President Thomas S. Monson’s Twitter account is a little over a year old. He tweets a couple times a week, averages over a thousand favorites per tweet and already has 126,000 followers.

This generation of social media users has given a whole new meaning to the term “follow the prophet.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken a recent turn to social media as a tool for spreading the gospel. It created Twitter accounts for the prophet and apostles on Sept. 25, 2014, has run various social media campaigns and encourages the use of hashtags for people to interact with and share their thoughts on events like General Conference.

“Social media is an awesome way to inspire others and to do missionary work,” said Jenny Poffenbarger, who was a social media intern for the LDS Church magazines this past summer. “I definitely think it helps strengthen the relationships in the church … General Authorities can send out their thoughts via social media and those thoughts are shared all over the world, just by typing a few sentences and posting.”

Poffenbarger, a senior from Woodbridge, Virginia studying English, edited and packaged articles to be published on the Church News website. She also ran the LDS Messages Twitter page and worked with the church’s messaging team on reaching audiences, mainly with LDS Youth social media, LDS.org and church videos.

A Facebook post on President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's page. (Facebook)
A Facebook post on President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s page. This personalized message received more than 17,000 likes and 200 comments. (Facebook)

Poffenbarger said she learned that everything that is posted online is approved by many levels “to be sure it’s exactly what the church wants to say to its members.” She said the church tries to be as professional as possible in the digital world while staying modern in copy and style.

Some prophets and apostles post on Facebook every two to four days, but they aren’t personally the ones posting. A social media team at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City manages the social media accounts for all General Authorities, including Relief Society and Primary presidencies.

BYU associate professor Brandon Doyle is CEO of Wallaroo Media and an expert on social media strategies. Doyle began teaching social media at BYU in Fall 2014.

Doyle praised the church’s social media efforts, noting that its posts “are always well-formatted.” He said its strategy is excellent and it can work well in both large- and small-scale operations.

“(The church) also do(es) a great job of having smaller, more niche-targeted accounts to spread the word in different ways, and it’s great to see,” Doyle said. “I think it was a great idea to get General Authorities verified Twitter accounts. It allows them to spread more personalized thoughts with the world.”

And church members aren’t the only ones listening.

Rapper Sean Diddy Combs, or P. Diddy, quoted Elder L. Tom Perry on Dec. 21, 2011: “One of the greatest weaknesses in most of us is our lack of faith in ourselves.” Two years later, President Gordon B. Hinckley’s words appeared on hip hop artist LL Cool J’s Twitter post: “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.”

Doyle said social media, if used correctly, can strengthen relationships.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf posted a Facebook message of a note he had written in his own handwriting. The post had huge success online. Other popular online items involve visuals or picture quotes, also known as “memes.” Most memes are humorous or poke fun at something, but some are motivational quotes, usually in front of a picture of nature or a family.

“Based on my experience, pictures/memes are definitely more shareable,” Doyle said. “But an effective strategy should be more than just pictures and memes. The LDS Church knows this. By adding personal, hand-written notes of church leaders, testimonies of them and others and other types of posts, the church is doing a great job at sharing different types of content.”
Some apostles tweet more than others. Elder David A. Bednar first tweeted on June 6, 2014, but Elders Hales, Nelson, Christofferson and Cook have yet to post anything to the Twitterverse.
Doyle said he’s noticed that over the last few years the church has focused on trending topics on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He said General Conference weekend is prime time to use hashtags, like #LDSconf. “I’ve seen the hashtag be a trending topic nationwide multiple times over the past few conferences, and that’s a great thing to see. It’s definitely a great missionary tool,” he said.
When Elder Ronald A. Rasband gave a BYU devotional on religious freedom, he invited students to comment on his Facebook post regarding personal stories or answers. He even created a hashtag, #Fairness4All.

People commented even minutes after his devotional, and the post had more than 500 likes. This was, perhaps, larger evidence of a shift in the way the LDS Church shares messages.

The LDS Church has run successful media campaigns, including Because He Lives, Because of Him, I’m a Mormon and Share Goodness. The church purchased space on YouTube’s home page in 2013 and 2014. Various speculative articles online claim it cost upwards of $400,000 to buy the space on YouTube’s home page for one day.

The church promoted two “Because of Him” videos on YouTube’s masthead, gaining millions of views in a period of one day.

Elder Neil L. Andersen introduced a video graphic in his April 2015 General Conference talk, “Spiritual Whirlwinds.” More church meetings and conferences include videos, hashtags and shareable picture quotes or memes.

“The church really cares about the people they are reaching out to,” Poffenbarger said. “The goal isn’t just to reach people but to get them engaged with more inspiring material. The ultimate goal is teach people about the gospel.”

 

Facebook ‘Like’ statistics

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  1,560,000

President Thomas S. Monson 511,000

Elder Dallin H. Oaks 323,000

President Henry B. Eyring 285,000

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf 281,000

Elder M. Russell Ballard 238,000

Elder David A. Bednar 218,000

Elder Robert D. Hales 208,000

Elder Russell M. Nelson 193,000

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland 188,000

Elder Neil L. Andersen 108,000

Elder D. Todd Christofferson 100,000

Elder Quentin L. Cook 94,000

Elder Ronald A. Rasband 42,000

Elder Gary E. Stevenson 33,000

Elder Dale G. Renlund 25,000