March of the digital door-knockers

The Mormons are spreading the word one Facebook 'like' at a time – and their technological prowess is winning fans as well as followers

Share

For a moment I thought a friend of mine had become a Mormon. There in my news feed on Facebook, between posts from people I barely know and photos of babies (I'm 30), was a status update that read: "No matter how bad your past has been, you can change and move on."

How nice! But the post wasn't by or even endorsed by anyone I know: it was an advert for the Mormon Church placed in my feed (where I don't remember ever seeing advertising) as part of an online mission of such scale it would be the envy of its most prominent believer's presidential campaign.

After 200 years of pounding pavements all over the world, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which counts Republican candidate Mitt Romney among its 14 million followers, has put its faith in digital door-knocking. Its Facebook page has Jesus as its profile picture and "likes" by almost 650,000 people. A YouTube channel has scored 40 million video views, while the church's UK arm calculates that its own Facebook page "reaches" 900,000 people.

Jehovah's Witnesses, by contrast, another big missionary religion, boast seven million members but their site does not even have an associated Facebook page.

The Mormon reach can only now broaden thanks to the new ad campaign, which started last month. Facebook says it is part of an "ad unit test", or trial that places marketing in the news feeds of people who have expressed no prior interest in a brand, be it a restaurant or a religion. Facebook would not say which or how many advertisers are taking part, nor how much ads cost to place.

The spot in my feed includes a link to Mormon.org, the church's impressively slick website, and a video of a man called Stan Checketts, a rollercoaster designer from Utah who throws axes and talks about finding faith. Stan is part of the Church's "I'm a Mormon" campaign, which it launched in the US in 2010 with poster ads. They included one outside the New York theatre staging The Book of Mormon, a satirical musical from the people who brought you South Park. It comes to London next March.

The church has said it seeks to challenge stereotypes but wants primarily to spread the good word. The adverts are targeted at "everyone, especially those who have questions like 'Who am I?'," a spokesman in the UK says. "We'd like to explore the purpose of life with them and help them discover God's plan through the teachings of Jesus Christ."

He did not reveal how many people had done so thanks to the ads, nor what the digital strategy has cost. The church, which is as much a corporation as a religion, is worth an estimated $40bn (£25m). It has its own digital-media firm, and, in the UK, 15,000 acres, including two temples, in London and Preston (there are 200,000 Mormons in Britain).

The Mormons possibly arrived at the wrong virtual doorstep with its ad in my news feed but, intrigued, I decided to open up by taking part in a missionary chat. The church says it has conducted a million such live conversations in the past year.

I was soon joined by Seth and Tim. See the start of our conversation, above. Later on, Seth offered to give my phone number and address to a missionary in my area. I politely declined, unconvinced by Mormonism, but rather in awe of its digital powers.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform