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A Socially-Networked Spontaneous Show of Support

By Johnna Ferguson

Elder Holland testifies of the Book of Mormon
Now Playing on YouTube

…is not spontaneous. Is that a problem?

I missed the deadline (May 3rd before midnight Eastern Standard Time) to click Mormon Message’s YouTube video edit of Elder Holland’s Book of Mormon talk. Despite the fact I received a handful of email forwards (all identically worded) reminding me to do so, and there was a Facebook page to coordinate the event.

I’m drawn AWAY from socially networked efforts to make ourselves seen, even or especially as missionary outreach. I didn’t vote for Joseph Smith or Gordon B. Hinckley in anyone’s internet poll. I wasn’t the one who asked you to Vote for Segullah in the Niblets (though by the way, thanks for doing so.) When we all do the same networked thing it sticks out as fake as it is. I think of computers infected by the same virus that puts them at the command of hackers in China publicists in Mormonland.

Now in the ward, in my real life congregation, the coordinated effort has an authenticity and effectiveness I can appreciate. It’s what gets the casseroles to the new Moms–even shy and quiet new Moms new to the area. It’s why I’ll be visiting a couple sisters in my ward later this week instead of staying comfortably at home, part of a network of prayer and care that will loosely cover most of who it intends to. It’s why I’ll probably be part of a swarm of yellow-vested people clearing trails this weekend.

And I’ll love doing all that stuff that would not have occurred to me to arrange for myself. That have more content than a click.

Am I just a wet blanket? In contrast to the coordinated click, I’m charmed by the completely artificial and socially networked Flash Mob. Please, invite me to one that won’t conflict with my kids’ schedule and doesn’t disrupt my husband’s commute. Assign me a color t-shirt and let there be dancing. Although, maybe it’s already a Flash Mob whenever I take all my kids somewhere in a minivan.

As I write this, the video has racked up 191,817 views. Wherever Erin Jakob is, I’d love to hear more about what went into pushing off this event.

About Johnna Ferguson

Johnna Ferguson joined Segullah in 2005 and designed and managed all its websites until 2010. Any day she rides her bike is a good day.

59 thoughts on “A Socially-Networked Spontaneous Show of Support”

  1. So it's fake when Mormons do an online flash mob but you're charmed by teenagers coming together to wreak havoc and destruction upon a city? I'm poking back hard, no ill intent behind it. Just trying to get you to really think about what you've written.

    The internet is a very real part of our world. A part of the world we are commanded by God as believers to proselyte to.

    As to flash mobs, they've caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and many injuries in Philadelphia, near where I live. Thankfully a recent flash mob was tamed when the mother of a teenager wasn't "charmed" by her child wanting to participate. She called the police and the mass chaos and violence was avoided.

    Many things in our world can be turned for good or ill, it's up to the participants what they make of it.

  2. Well, I'm out of it this week.
    I missed the deadline as well.

    (Although, I'm a little like you…I don't like to be pushed into things that are maybe not completely authentic.)

    But I just clicked it now.

    (Thank you for the link.)


    Still powerful.

    [ "Many things in our world can be turned for good or ill, it’s up to the participants what they make of it." ]

    I respectfully agree with both camps of thinking this time.

  3. For what it's worth Johnna, I'm with you. It's fake to me too and I don't get involved. It was nice to wake up, read this and find out somebody else out there thought the same way. I think people don't actually think through the reality of situations. It's not that this one had a bad reality, it's just not actually as good or effective a reality as it claims to be on the surface. I think social networking contributes to a lot of illusions.

  4. As one who will be wearing an orange T-shirt this weekend as I help supervise eager/not so eager youth participating in the mass service project here in Provo, I admit that I am less than thrilled by the prospect. Sigh.

  5. There is a certain kind of person–and I'm one of them–that doesn't like mankind in mass. Mass action makes you wish for shotguns and riot gear.

    But I'd probably dutifully click the links anyway.

  6. So to all those who reasonably believe, like Jendoop, Tiffany W., and Karen, that clicking up Elder Holland's video is superior to Flash mobbing (an easy bar to for most to hurdle)–

    Do you think it was good proselyting?

  7. I found myself agreeing with the post. I think, for me, the difference behind a concerted "missionary" effort like the one described and a flash mob is this: A flash mob is not trying to change people's beliefs or invite them to consider a new way of life. The you tube thing feels like we're saying, "Hey, I know you need this. You don't know it, so I have to trick you into taking a look". It feels contrived. Well, it is contrived.

    The flash mob thing may have resulted in problems in some places, but the intent was simply fun, enjoyment, and whimsy. The youtube thing feels like ulterior motive wrapped in testimony. Spreading the gospel may be the right thing to do, but that doesn't make every attempt the right way to go about it.

    That's my take anyway.

  8. I learned about this effort from the LDS Media blog, where I read this: "11 million people go to the home page of YouTube every day and click on the videos there."

    Now, I never click on anything on the youtube home page. I don't join causes on facebook, I don't forward emails. It is not my thing.

    But, we are supposed to share the gospel. It is supposed to be taken to every corner of the earth. I don't know that anyone will want to learn more about the gospel of Jesus Christ because of a youtube video, but maybe they will learn that there are apostles on the earth today. Maybe they will learn of a Savior who loves them. Those things could help them, give them hope and comfort.
    You never know.

    I don't think getting the video on the home page was a bad idea. Good poselyting? Not sure. But recently one of the misionaries serving from our stake taught and baptized someone who had learned of the church through a commercial on tv.
    Why not youtube?

  9. Full disclosure: I run a Mormon testimony sharing blog.

    And I still have mixed feelings about this subject. Because all sorts of people with various motivations are regularly trying to "convert" me to their point of view on social networks. Why is it that proselytizing MY religion feels somehow uncouth?

    But. Should we only promote Mormonism online if it can be done in ways that are clever or whimsical or original? That just reminds me of the cool kids in high school: above it all and standoffish.

    I also know that there is plenty of Mormon marketing that is purely profit driven. Or numbers driven.

    And on the other hand. I also think it's important to get the Mormon voice out there. Even when it's not my style (and the internet polls and YouTube clicks certainly are not) at least we're trying to get our voice into the conversation. And so that's where I usually land in discussions like this. I think it's better to do something instead of nothing.

  10. Was it good proselyting?

    The facebook page for the event did say, "It is the spirit felt from the message wherein the success lies." It isn't harmful to get the word out about the BoM. The leaders of the Church feel it's important enough that they spend the Lord's funds (our tithing dollars) on commercials. We aren't shoving it down anyone's throats. It would be my guess that people would rather listen to a short Youtube clip than have missionaries knock on their door (it makes some people very uncomfortable). This is simply an offering to share what we really believe. Yes, it's good proselytizing. Will someone get baptized just because they watch the video? I doubt it, it takes a lot more than that.

    It seems as though you're dis'ing the event because it was a mass undertaking and was widely promoted. That is not a reason, in and of itself, to respond negatively. If anything, the large scale and accompanying promotion shows the passion of the people behind it, they care enough to get the message out. That's how I feel about the gospel, I believe it has the power to change lives, to help people find real success and happiness. That's why I want to proselyte, not to be trendy or because someone told me to.

    To put it in more personal terms – Does the size of Segullah or the marketing associated with it make what is written here any less sincere?

    We have heard several GAs talk about the importance of letting the world know who we really are, not allowing naysayers define us. I think this Youtube undertaking goes towards that goal.

    In the end what President Hinckley said about the lives of individual members being the best method of spreading the gospel is applicable to the common ground we share in this discussion. With this particular event it just so happened that some members felt the best way to show their personal faith was watching and promoting a video on Youtube. If you didn't feel comfortable with that I'm glad you didn't participate because those efforts should be sincere. Although it isn't your place to automatically assume that anyone who did was being insincere.

    For the record, I had never heard of this event until I read your post.

  11. Flash mobs amuse me greatly – particularly those by Improv Everywhere.

    I think the difference is improv flash mobs are designed to have fun and delight spectators. The Mormon efforts to "flash mob" the internet with LDS messages, names, or support is simply designed to shout, "HI I'M MORMON AND WE'RE GREAT!" I wouldn't appreciate the Methodists, Buddhists, or even the local soup kitchen pummeling me with messages either from a single, spamming source or from an herd/mob mentality.

  12. Jendoop,

    I can't answer for anyone else, but here are my thoughts:

    I'm not dissing the event simply because it was a group undertaking. I would feel the same way about other scenarios. Picture a young man on a college campus who stops on the quad every day to read his scriptures. Fine. Now picture that same young man doing so in hopes that at some point someone will notice and ask him about it. Contrived.

    Commercials are optional. Youtube videos are also optional. The problematic part of this scenario is that videos that show up on the main page are currently "trending", meaning a representation of what large groups of generally unconnected people are interested in. To put together an effort to make a video appear as if it were trending is, well, contrived.

    I don't think the OP was in any way a call to end proselyting efforts by general members of the church. I don't know Johnna, but I don't think she's ashamed of the gospel or resentful of efforts to share it. It's not what I'm saying either. I don't think this effort was particularly harmful either, though I would say if people knew about it some would be turned off by the contrived nature.

    The OP wasn't about missonary work being bad or good. It was about a coordinated effort to appear spontaneous. Another thing about the flash mobs, they're very open about the coordinated effort part. Maybe if someone linked a video to the Holland video in question detailing the effort made and why it would actually feel more genuine.

    Also, marketing is not inherently bad. But people generally know their being marketed to. People know church commercials are commercials. If this effort was being used as a commercial then it should be be labeled as such.

    Hope I made some sense. I don't think anybody's bad for doing it. These are just the reasons it doesn't sit well with me.

  13. bth: now I'm a happy writer. Thanks.

    Red: I love the way most the content on your testimony site is provided by visitors. Go crowdsourcing!

    Giggles: To second guess Erin Jakob, I'd guess she chose the Elder Holland video because his testimony of the Book of Mormon was so passionate. It may well have been the most memorable, most discussed talk from that Conference. I know a lot people who LOVED it and talk about they feel the Holy Ghost whenever they hear it; I know people who had angst over it. I even know people who disagreed with it. I don't know who saw it and had no reaction.

    I heard the video at least five times setting up my post. It's not inadvertent that you can link to it and hear it yourself from here.

    Jendoop: I think the participants in the YouTube video push were sincere–but I think the methodology, using networks to game the system, is kind of…sneaky. Except that it hardly has an opportunity to be sneaky, because I think the real audience is in-house, and participating really is mostly about getting to hear Elder Holland's talk again–shorter version with music and dramatization, and enjoying the virtual company of 200,000 like-minded saints.

    I do the websites for Segullah, so it's been a priority for me to

    Janell the Great: It's Improv Everywhere I think of too. Except when they're on the subway without pants.

    sunny: good explanation, thanks. Also, If I were ashamed of the gospel, it would kind of be too late, as my name is already all over this website.

  14. Johnna,

    True. But there's always the possibility you were some sort of embedded sleeper cell of anti-Mormonism. 🙂

  15. I don't really care whether or not people do "flash-mob" efforts in order to promote the church. I think its a valid form of introducing the church and many people respond to it. It doesn't seem artificial or contrived. Do I choose to be a part of it? Not really. If I want to share my faith with an individual, I do so in my own words. I may direct a friend to youtube videos if I felt it was necessary. But that doesn't make the efforts of well-meaning members contrived or vain.

    I agreed with Jendoop when she countered the idea that flash mobs can be charming-especially when promoting violence and destruction–which the author also agreed with.

    I'm not really seeing the sneaky part of the movement. Not that I think members aren't ever sneaky. Ask me about the switch and bait tactics of our come and see sacrament meetings. I could define sneakiness then. But this, not so much.

  16. You know, I don't think it is at all effective to do this form of "missionary work". There are lots of youtube videos by evangelicals that show crosses with music and tears and Jesus Saves–and it doesn't really move me, just feels like cheap manipulation, and the way this was pitched feels the same way. I can't imagine anyone seeing it and deciding to read the Book of Mormon. (But surely someone will, right?)

  17. The effort itself doesn't weird me out….it's the facebook promotion. I feel uncomfortable joining such groups because it shows up in my feed. Maybe that's silly, but I don't like to do ANYthing on facebook that might make another person feel alienated (which happens to me all the time with political things). I don't want to bombard my friends in that way. Instead, I prefer to be especially moved by something and then THINK about sharing it. For example: I posted the Mormon Messages that showed the family at Christmas time. I thought it would be applicable/appreciated by a wider audience. (I was also proud of my friend who worked on the video)

    I don't know, maybe it makes me a coward, but I feel uncomfortable being a "Fan" of an apostle etc.

    Still, when this particular drive came across my desk, I clicked "maybe" on the attendance, fully intending to participate, but quietly.

    Maybe that's just my style.

  18. P.S.:

    Oh, and I do understand the desire of others to express their faith in this way! I respect their sincerity, and believe it to be genuine.

    As I said above, I think it's just not my style.

  19. Oh. so that was you. I wasn't trying to be mean. Either time. Both were meant in jest. I think I may need to stick to the male-dominated threads. Sorry for any offense. none was intended.

  20. Johnna,

    In your comment there was an unfinished sentence, I'd like to hear the rest of your thought: "I do the websites for Segullah, so it’s been a priority for me to…"

  21. My chief objection to the whole event was not the mob mentality, but that it seemed pretty unlikely that it would succeed. Youtube is a huge site with millions of viewers and even with all the people I knew participating, it still seemed quite unlikely that we could cut through the currently trending videos to make it to the top. Last night I looked on both the youtube home page and youtube's larger page of popular videos and I didn't see the video on either. I don't know if it made it to the home page at any other time, but I checked in the evening when I think most people would have been watching, so I'm thinking not.

    However, we still watched the video for FHE, mostly because we didn't have any lesson planned and these videos are the perfect lesson length for our 2 year old (our oldest child). And, although I doubted the effort would succeed, I also stepped back and realized that even if we didn't get a single not-Mormon to watch the video, at least it brought a little light into the lives of all the people who watched it. I'm sure the effort also got some members who normally wouldn't care about these videos to become aware of it, and I would be that some people had FHE when they normally don't just so they could participate.

  22. And… I think I may have completely misread (28). Sorry. Like, even more sorry than I was for anyone thinking I was trying to be mean. Chalk it up to some pretty raw feelings on my part that have nothing to do with Segullah. Just the stars aligning as of late to give me lots of opportunities to know that I am a jerk even by accident sometimes. I read that comment with a really thin skin. I apologize if I totally misunderstood the meaning, which I think I did. i feel stupid.

    I think I need to retire from the keypad for the evening before I end up doing anything stupider.


  23. djinn,
    I think you hit the nail on the head. Those kinds of things appeal to Mormon audiences, not general youtube audiences. Much like the early Mormon Messages, they ironically only appealed to Mormons. They were shared by BYU students with each other and little else. I think it's getting better, but we have a ways to go.

  24. Mary P.: I'm caught by how you felt obliged to respond the Facebook event invitation, even if only to say "maybe," like you would have considerately RSVP'd to a real friend. I've been there. Social media has unexpected persuasive effects.

    Sunny, I *am* teasing. And making everyone else jealous of our apparent long bloggernacle history together

  25. jendoop: I was going to talk SEO. Segullah publishes posts by LDS women with a variety of women’s perspectives within a framework of shared beliefs and values. And I'd like even more variety. I like to know people where they are, and see the gospel there too, and tag it, because it's real content. I volunteer hours every month to see the publishing happen.

    To me, SEO is good tagging of what our content is, clean coding, providing graphic banners to readers and staff that love our site enough to want to share it, and promoting other writerly blogs by LDS women through our Sampler, that all gets our stories out. I don't try to game the system to boost our search engine rank or traffic.

    If the Holland video had a spike of one million views yesterday, it would have been obvious that the traffic boost was because of a campaign, and in that way, meaningless. To me, to participate in the unnatural boosting of the video stats would be me voting that the video was…meaningless. For myself, I need to find a relevant reason to link to the video, or not link to it at all.

    Therefore, I love Giggles' question above: why link to this video in particular. That's a question about content and context.

    And, I love how you demand I think about what I wrote. Poke back.

  26. Oh my gosh (slaps hand to forehead). Can I start today over? Not only do I hate that I read you wrong, I especially hate that I missed the joke. That is the worst offense of all. I HATE to miss a joke.

    Sorry for the drama. Thanks for clarifying.

    PS- please tell me you and I don't have a "real" blogging history together. If you read my BCC post you'll know I wish I didn't have a history. Shudder.

  27. djinn: you have me dreaming up the perfect Mormon YouTube video: a guy in a suit slides off a steep roof on a Book of Mormon. Once launched, he pulls a triple gainer, lands in the backyard pool, and baptizes the waiting investigator.

    I'd link to it.

  28. I'm coming out of lurkdom for a minute because all this online missionary work stuff is something that consumes a lot of my spare time and thought.

    I understand the discomfort about this — I felt a little conflicted myself, and while I did 'attend' I actually forgot to do anything the day of.

    But I don't really think the goal was to have this look or feel spontaneous, so right off the bat the post seemed to me to maybe miss the point of this effort. I don't really look at YouTube as a measure of spontaneity, anyway — I see much of it based on simple social networking dynamics. It's a popularity game, really. Clicks and comments etc. win the game.

    I understand some not wanting to play that game, but I think there might be real value in encouraging those who do feel comfy with it to do it. Like it or not, people are playing this game, and they are playing it with the Church's content and beliefs. If Church members don't link to, view, comment on, and rank (and create, for that matter) videos like that, those against the Church will dominate that dynamic. To me, that's a valid reason to link, and to me it seems a valid way to 'join the conversation' as Elder Ballard invited us to do.

    Besides, this was more than just clicking. Many people shared real feelings and thoughts about the Book of Mormon. There was a lot done with a lot of sincerity along the way…a lot of 'real content' gathered in one place.

    All in all, I say this kind of activity can have its place…even if it doesn't click (haha) with everyone.

  29. Johnna, I don't really understand this: "To me, to participate in the unnatural boosting of the video stats would be me voting that the video was…meaningless. For myself, I need to find a relevant reason to link to the video, or not link to it at all."
    Isn't your faith enough reason?

    djinn's comments have me seeing the other side (if we're taking sides) of the issue a little clearer. So then let me ask, would you vote for the new Nie Nie video on Mormon Messages? It is more appropriate for the venue.

  30. So, I was irritated by almost everything last Sunday (Testimony mtg can do that, you know), but one of the most grating was a sweet lady who got up and encouraged us to vote on the youtube for this video. Now THAT just irks.

    I think having a Facebook page and a viral campaign for something that is online is completely logical and appropriate. Then it's *my* fault if I'm exposed to it (because I am actually engaging in the dang internet thing), but to be pushed like that in what should have been a TESTIMONY? That irked. Oh, how it irked.

    Of course her motive was pure and her faith and testimony are strong and admirable. But still … it was just not right.

  31. jendoop: faith doesn't lead me to click a link because someone asked me to.

    But, one thing I am learning from this conversation: as I value the variety expressed in the lives of faith, I must also acknowledge the value of the click campaign. It's meaningful and doable for lots of other members (but not me, thanks), and it adds to the variety of ways being LDS shows up on the internet.

  32. I previously commented that I could see both sides of this issue–and I still do.

    But, oh Shannon,

    that would BUG.

    I actually first heard about it from this post. I guess living on the East coast, I have been a little insulated from the announcements (and thank heavens– pulpit pleadings).

  33. The whole thing reminds me of a Girls Camp testimony meeting in which there is pressure to bear your testimony whether you feel like it or not. When someone posts their Facebook status and supports a worthy cause, but then says something like "if you don't post this as your status, you don't support my worthy cause enough," that's just manipulative.

    I agree that some people may support this kind of thing willingly, and not feel manipulated, and that's fine for them. But for me, I feel like I want to support the causes and Mormon messages as I choose, and not let any social media pressure tell me I don't have a testimony of the Book of Mormon just because I don't choose to share it in that way.

    I think that sharing the gospel is very, very important. But it's just as important to do it in a way that feels genuine, and not manipulative.

  34. For those of you who this jives with, what do you feel was purpose? What were you hoping for? What did you get out of it? I ask sincerely.

    To me it seems like a concerted missionary effort, but not one that would be effective.

  35. Johnna,

    You are right, the online world is a strange place with no (agreed upon) rules.

    Still, for the hesitant decision maker like me (I like to mull things over….or never decide at all), maybe is a wonderful choice, especially because then no one can send you ANYMORE invites 😉

  36. Johnna, I hear you. It's not for everyone. There is no need for scarlet letters to be passed around for those who don't participate.

    The woman encouraging in testimony mtg would hugely bug me too.

    Despite the fact that we're all encouraged to be missionaries, exactly how we fulfill that request(commandment?) is a very personal choice.

    Personally I'm not one to fill up my facebook page with all of this kind of thing either. I'm a fan of BoM and that's enough for me. But then again I don't play Farmville or Mafia Wars either 😉

  37. Social engineering goes on every single day all over the place – in our homes, in our schools, in our governments, churches, grocery stores, everywhere. I didn't participate in this, and feel pretty ambivalently about the concept in general.

    But we should be clear that the forces of social manipulation are going on all over the place and all around us every day. It's the reason we buy certain products, and participate in certain events; it plays into how we engage with our children, with our co-workers, and it influences what we believe to be true in politics and in the world. I don't know much about how this whole thing evolved, but on a lot of levels, I don't see it differently than so many other engineered events in our lives. Maybe that's why I'm ambivalent about it.

  38. Hey Bonnie, calm down on the edit: Elder Holland's full conference talk would be 17 minutes long–WAY too long in the context of a YouTube video.

    So the YouTube bit a 4 1/2 minute excerpt of the talk, showing Elder Holland testifying about the Book of Mormon and talking about the witness of Joseph Smith. They added some intro music, and instead of showing 4 minutes of Talking Suit, the video cuts away at times to actors portraying the events that Elder Holland is narrating.

    Here's the original talk as text (my favorite medium), Safety for the Soul. Feel free to report back on what was left out.

  39. I'll tell you what I think of this as missionary work–I think it looks bad. What does it mean if any Mormon can get 200,000 other Mormons can click a button with him, and win a YouTube popularity contest? It's weird.

    People liked doing this because it took no time or effort, so why not? But the result that costs nothing is worth nothing.

  40. My #55 could have been worded more kindly. Sorry. My point is that there is a definite difference between the two, IMO.

  41. Jendoop, I thought of that too, actually. Yeah, there's some irony there. Marketing for a product and marketing for the Church… I guess product marketing doesn't feel quite as manipulative to me because I'm used to it. And also because I know that this is a great book :-).

  42. And yes, the Book of Mormon is a great book too. The greatest. But I'm spontaneously pitching Dance with Them, not doing it because a bunch of forwarded emails told me to, and that is why it feels different to me.

  43. D & C 123:12: For there are many yet on the earth…who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it–

    I applaud anyone who tries to share the gospel with a sincere heart. We each do it in such different ways. There are people who frequent U-tube who may have their hearts touched (right where they are at) because of those who gathered together with a plan to make it more available. For me, the proclaiming of the gospel should always feel like love. Whenever I hear Elder Holland, I feel great love. I wish everyone in the world could hear His voice.

    The sincere part is important, but it would be impossible for me to know another's heart and so I find myself applauding those who try…we need not feel compelled to share our testimony in someone else's way but we should share it our best way and assume others are doing that as well.

    Prophet Hinckley was a newsman who opened up the church wide-open for interview and media. Internet is a fairly new thing for me, but I know that it is putting the church out there in new ways for people to process and think about.

    123:17: Therefore…let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power…

    Knowing that Satan is actively putting forth his message-makes me thankful to those trying to put forth The Savior's Truth. Those who are sincerely waiting for answers, will hear…whether on U-tube or in a noisy Sacrament meeting or when the missionaries knock on their door. Those who are offended or skeptical of the message…will be regardless of the presentation and/or vehicle. The gospel is sturdy, true, and will go forth regardless of 19 year old missionaries and U-tube users. That is a miracle of a blessing!!! And I love those young men and young women that serve the best they know and those who push buttons the best they know. I try in the ways that I know and feel right about.

    I think I understand your concerns. This has been a good blog for me and will make me think about what 'my part' is all the more and if I am being sincere and wise.

    Thank you.


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