This weekend, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its 183rd General Conference where members of the church listened to the church's leaders. The first General Conference of the church was held in 1830 in a cabin in upstate New York with only a handful of members attending.
This year, millions of members of the LDS Church watched and listened to General Conference live on television and radio from around the world with an increasingly large number of members also watching Conference live-streamed over the Internet.
Additionally, hundreds of thousands are enhancing their General Conference experience with second-screens using mobile apps, websites and social media such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
In October 2012, according to the church's Newsroom, during the last General Conference, more than 50,000 tweets appeared on Twitter with the hashtag #LDSConf, which is displayed periodically on-screen during the General Conference broadcasts and online streams. According to Omniture data, more than 400,000 individuals read General Conference related stories on the DeseretNews.com website. And according to Ooyala, KSL's streaming video platform, more than 4,000 hours of the April 2013 sessions of General Conference have been watched online via KSL.com through Sunday morning.
As organic and spontaneous as Internet trends may seem, these patterns are not arbitrary. The LDS Church has made the Internet a major priority, both as a resource for its members and as a method of sharing the gospel. In addition to its website, LDS.org, the church has dozens of other web properties such as Mormon.org, its YouTube channels with combined subscribers of more than 230,000, its official Facebook page (695,085 likes), the Mormon.org Facebook page (1,524,128 likes) and the Church's official Twitter account (53,291 followers).
The LDS Church's Internet presence allows them to easily and quickly reach a wide audience in a matter of moments. In January, the church moved its entire Sunday School, Young Women's and Aaronic Priesthood curriculum online for easier distribution to its nearly 29,000 congregations worldwide and to make multimedia resources easier to access from connected chapels.
This spring, they used all their web properties to blanket the internet with an invitation to members and non-members alike to tune into General Conference.
Come Listen to Living Prophets
This clip — aimed at helping non-Mormons who might wonder why General Conference is so important to followers of the LDS faith — was posted to the Mormon Channel's YouTube channel in mid-March and has had 12,628 views. One commenter expressed appreciation for the reminder, "This is so awesome! I am so excited for what our prophets will have to say at this General Conference! Thank you for posting this! :D"
Additionally, for those who want to share talks or view them post-conference, each talk is made available almost instantly on the church's General Conference YouTube channel.
Facebook & Google
The Church's profile picture on its official Facebook page has been aimed at General Conference for the past week.
The same video shown on The Mormon Channel's YouTube channel, "Come Listen to Living Prophets," was promoted on the Church's Facebook page prior to the start of General Conference where it was liked 5,693 times and generated 120 comments.
The infographic available at the top of this story was shared on the Church's Facebook page 2,397 times. Furthermore, along with previously created infographics, it has been distributed to numerous news organizations, bloggers and individuals whose posts have generated 233,000 results for the term "General Conference Infographic," according to Google.
In the 10 days prior to General Conference, @ldschurch sent 19 tweets about General Conference to its more than 53,000 followers, including this one sent April 2.
Mormons connecting with Mormons
With almost 15 million members spread throughout 170 countries, the Internet has become an ideal media for members to connect with each other through social media and personal blogs.
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook seem to be the most immediate methods of connecting. Burke Olsen reported Saturday on DeseretNews.com that many viewers shared testimonies and expressions of faith by posting quotes and impressions of General Conference proceedings on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Others posted photos of nature, buildings and themselves on the photography social network, Instagram.
The @LDSConf twitter account live tweeted quotes from conference and thousands of viewers have been tweeting their favorite moments and thoughts with the hashtag #LDSConf, prompting one follower to respond,
Emily Eyring noted in her Saturday report from General Conference that Bonnie Lee Green Oscarson, the new Young Women General president, has a substantial presence on Pinterest with 45 boards, 2,340 pins and 531 followers.
Hunter Schwarz, an Associate Editor for the social media news site BuzzFeed, and also a member of the LDS Church, has been tweeting about conference all weekend with observations that seem aimed at guiding his readers unfamiliar with General Conference. One tweet Sunday afternoon noted:
LDS Church members from around the world are using the Internet to share their own unique perspectives on their own blogs.
'Sista Beehive' and 'Sista Laurel,' two African American women who are members of the church, blog at Sistasinzion.com, where they also have a weekly web-radio show where they share their unique perspective on the Church which they call "A relief from sobriety where hilarity never faileth." Their humorous tweets during General Conference have had folks smiling, including this one that echoes a recent blog post of theirs.
Like many Mormons on the Internet, the writers at Normons.com, 'Normal-Mormons', a blog popular with young Mormons, are doing their best to explain why General Conference is so important to them and the rest of the Mormon faithful who will watch as much as 10 hours of 'church' this weekend.
"Most of us have a hard time watching 10 hours of basketball or our favorite TV show — how can we stand ten hours of CHURCH!?" Lani Livingston Jones writes. "I mean there are a few hymns here and there to break things up, but how do we do it? The truth is most church members really look forward to “conference weekend,” as we call it. It’s a change of pace, a time to gather with family or friends and appreciate an entire weekend dedicated to self-reflection, improvement, and uplifting counsel from church leaders like the twelve Apostles and our living prophet, Thomas S. Monson."
A group of Mormon writers started By Common Consent in 2004 and the blog has become known over the years for its live blogging of each conference session with a humorous and heartfelt twist. The comments on 'BCC,' as they're known by their readers, are indicative why the blog has become popular to its readers hoping to make a personal connection with the speakers and messages of General Conference.
The live blog for the Sunday afternoon session was named tongue-in-cheek, the Holl and Oaks session, referring to LDS apostles Jeffrey B. Holland and Dallin H. Oaks who both spoke, with a wink at 80s rockers Daryl Hall and John Oats, to which one commenter named Maria replied,
"Holl and Oaks…I LOVE it! Did anyone catch Pres. Uchtdorf kiss his wife and surprise her on his way in? Love him!"
Mormons may not be the most connected people on the web, but they have clearly embraced it as a method of communication and connection ideal for a world-wide church. In 2001 The LDS Church launched its official website dedicated to answering questions of people interested in the teachings of the church, Mormon.org, at which time Elder Dallin H. Oaks talked about the future of the Internet and the church during October General Conference:
"The Church has just announced another way to share the gospel, worldwide, on the Internet. In its potential, this new initiative is as exciting as the publishing of written tracts in the 19th century and our use of radio, television, and film in the 20th. The Church has activated a new Internet site to which we may refer persons interested in obtaining information about the Church and its doctrine and how they can find a place to worship with us. Its address is www.mormon.org. For missionaries, the value and use of this new resource will emerge with experience. For members of the Church, it will help us answer the questions of friends directly or by referring them to the site. It will also allow us to send our friends electronic greeting cards that include gospel messages and invitations."
'Electronic Greeting Cards' may have been replaced by Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, but Mormons have managed to keep abreast of the constantly changing landscape that is the Internet. It will be interesting to look back in 12 more years to see what new innovations the Church and its members have embraced to continue to share, connect and take part in church activities such as General Conference.