Nearly two years ago I read with interest that all of the LDS apostles would be getting official Twitter accounts. This was touted as a new way to share the gospel. I thought it was a terrific idea.
However, the verdict since then has been mixed. Some church leaders have taken well to social media, while others have used it ineffectively or not at all. Here’s how the fifteen members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve can be sorted on Twitter.
Celestial Twitter Kingdom: 5 apostles
To qualify for the Celestial Twitter Kingdom, the bar is pretty low. You just have to have posted at least one piece of never-recycled, Twitter-specific content in the last year. Just one. Yet only five of the fifteen accounts met that criterion.
Here are tweets of good report.
Elder Uchtdorf uses a video to wish followers a merry Christmas in both English and German:
Elder Christofferson wins the “most recent Twitter activity” award (February 19) and earns bonus points for including photos of his church-related travels:
Elder Holland has kind of fallen off the Twitter wagon. After a terrific start in 2014, his posts now are infrequent (none since January 1) and rehashed. But his early beginnings show that he took some care in understanding the medium, posting photos of his family and of his travels in Jamaica and Brazil. Hope he can get back to it.
Elder Oaks also used to post more interesting content but has recently relied on canned inspirational statements. We should still let him in the CTK. We’ve got a lot of grace to extend here, people.
If there is a standout, it’s newbie Q12 member Elder Rasband, who came on board in October. He wins the “highest level of the Celestial Kingdom” award for being the only apostle to show any actual human interaction with followers in his Twitterfeed. Remember: in this religion no one reaches exaltation alone.
AND Elder Rasband has retweeted a comment from a follower at least once, in conjunction with that same “#LDSFace2Face” initiative:
Terrestrial Twitter Kingdom: 4 apostles
Folks in the Terrestrial Kingdom had good intentions but just didn’t try very hard. This is for those who tweet inspirational but impersonal snippets from old Conference talks.
Elder Bednar may, at age 63, be youthful by the standards of the octogenarian Q12, but he’s not exactly hip to the Twitterverse. His posts are infrequent and detached. Most of them could be written by anyone and situated anywhere.
The above line taken from the 2004 talk “In the Strength of the Lord,” found here in its entirety.
And here’s M. Russell Ballard’s most recent tweet, dated two months ago today:
This is verbatim from his autumn 2015 speech on traditional marriage to the World Congress of Families; see here for the transcript.
Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with harvesting morsels from old talks for the occasional tweet. Some of those talks were great and continue to inspire. But to only use the medium for this, and not invite any interaction, is not social media but broadcast media. It’s a missed opportunity.
Telestial Twitter Kingdom: 6 apostles
What would the apostles’ Twitter feeds need in order to become more engaging to the people who follow them?
- At least a little human interaction. Ask followers to contribute content on occasion. Did they just re-read a talk from you that touched them? RT their comment and link to it with your thanks. They photographed their family reading their scriptures per your suggestion? Tweet the pic out with your good wishes for other LDS families to go and do likewise. Or ask YW and YW groups around the world to help name your new puppy, etc. Whatever. There are a million ways to interact creatively and lovingly with people on Twitter. To stand so totally aloof signals that you don't trust your followers or care what they think.*
- Context, please. If you must recycle old content it helps to reveal why it's important to you again NOW. Tell followers why you care and are thinking about these themes.
- Humor! Do we all have to be so darn somber? Keep it real.
- Be more personal. Young Women’s President Bonnie Oscarson is a great example of how to do this effectively. She broke the news on Facebook last summer about women auxiliary leaders being invited to serve on three of the Church's most important committees. She not only made the announcement but told people sincerely how she felt about the change. Gold star.
Being less personal does have advantages. We have enough hero worship and “cult of celebrity” problems with the apostles as it is. If they tweeted out what cereal they ate for breakfast, thousands of Mormons would be lining up to buy unholy quantities of it at Costco. So I appreciate the fact that they aren’t promoting their new books or how they will vote in the next election.
Still, these near-empty Twitter feeds represent a missed opportunity for church members who would like to see what goes on in the lives of the people we sustain as our leaders.
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*Yes, of course doing this takes time, and the apostles are busy. This is why God created interns, who can carry much of the load. In fact, they already are. I’m sure it’s not the apostles themselves who are pasting fragments of their conference talks into Twitter. These interns and employees just need to be empowered to do their jobs better.