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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future