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.
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.
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.
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.”
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