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

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A CCTV camera is seen in front of a large poster opposite in central London  

Home Office is creating more powers to turn everyone into suspects – but leave us no safer

Shami Chakrabarti
 

David Mellor has been exposed as an awful man, but should he have been?

Simon Kelner
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire