You know the scenario: as General Conference begins, you gather pen and paper, tune in to KBYU or LDS.org, recline back on your couch, and then try to stay alert for the next two days. October’s conference was a little different. About 150 people participated in an online conversation on Twitter, using the #ldsconf hashtag to share thoughts, comments, and other feedback throughout General Conference.
For the uninitiated, Twitter is a microblogging service akin to group instant messaging. People post little reflections (“tweets”) about what’s going on in their lives, and they keep up with tweets from other people they choose to follow. You can follow thousands of people, or just a few.
When participants add hashtags to their tweets, such as #ldsconf, Twitter enables a community of people to gather virtually during an event. Through the hashtag, you can connect to a community of all other twitterers adding the same hashtags in their tweets, regardless of whether you’re following them or whether they’re following you.
For example, during the Sunday morning session of General Conference, while President Monson was delivering his talk on “Finding Joy in the Journey,” the conversation on Twitter included comments such as, “#ldsconf I love this story about a Father putting family first – kids grow up way too fast!” And another, “#ldsconf My kids loved the reference to Music Man. They’re performing it in middle school.”
Others just quote phrases they feel strongly, such as “#ldsconf ‘They do not love who do not show their love.’” Some tweets are fragments: “recognizes the pains of loss and regret that President Monson mentions as it relates to children grown and gone. #ldsconf.” Others offer mini-reflections, such as “The changes in any of our lives as compared to another … is only in the details. #ldsconf.” And “#ldsconf I love this story of the dad, the boys, & the circus. I think of it all the time with my boys.”
As you follow the running conversation (on search.twitter.com, twemes.com, or hashtags.com) rather than sitting quietly on your couch, you’re suddenly watching Conference with a group of friends -- virtually gathered in your living room -- each offering little remarks about the talks.
Twitter provides an outlet to express and share reactions to what you’re learning. Events such as General Conference can be catalysts for posts on Twitter because the speakers usually set off epiphanies, thoughts, and other reactions among the attendees.
However, just as a group of friends in your living room can prove distracting, so too can the barrage of little thoughts and remarks floating across Twitter. In a comment on Joel Dehlin’s blog, one commenter said,
“[Conference twittering] was fun. It was neat to be associated with a community of people trying to get something out of conference. I am still not sure what I think about the reverence issues of twittering during conference, but I paid more attention than I would have if I had slept through it.”
Of course one must recognize a time and place for Twitter, and know when sending tweets is acceptable and when it’s a distraction; but overall, the general sentiment among Conference twitterers was enthusiasm for the new format. There’s a certain exhilaration, excitement, and fraternity that grew out of this medium. Most likely, the number of Conference twitterers will grow each year, as Twitter adoption increases.
Beyond twittering during General Conference, Twitter can enable virtual communities for other LDS events. For example, during BYU’s Education Week, the thousands of attendees could, if desired, share engaging sessions and ideas they learn by using a hashtag such as #byuedweek. During disaster relief efforts, both victims and volunteers could connect and communicate through a hashtag such as #sandiegofire. Participants of the week-long Hill Cumorah Pageant might share the event with the hashtag #cumorah. Even Pioneer Day could be expanded with #pioneerday.
You get the point. Hashtags help you create virtual communities on Twitter. The next time you’re participating in an LDS event, try complementing it with a hashtag.
Tom Johnson is a technical writer for the Church.