Created in 2006, Twitter gained worldwide popularity by 2012 with more than 100 million users worldwide posting 340 million tweets per day. Thousands of those tweets contained information about the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida.
Never before had United Methodists around the world been able to communicate so openly and in real time about the proceedings at this quadrennial meeting, opening dialogue between those in attendance and home observers. It created new connectional opportunities for United Methodists around the world.
The Rev. Phil Schroeder, director of congregational development for the North Georgia Conference and a 2012 and 2016 delegate, says that prior to widespread involvement on Twitter, he thought the only way observers could really stay informed of what was going on at General Conference was to be there. In 2000, he traveled to Pittsburgh simply to observe. "Now you don't have to go," he says. "You can follow along from any place in the world."
Twitter's importance for delegates
Beyond serving as a gathering place for those who cannot travel to Portland for the upcoming General Conference, Twitter enables delegates to communicate in new ways.
The Rev. Brad Laurvick, delegate from the Rocky Mountain Conference in 2004, 2012 and 2016, joined Twitter in 2008. "As an open platform, it allows folks at home, delegates on the floor and bishops on the platform to all share and connect," he says. "The public nature holds accountability. It opens up communication in a faster and more open forum. I appreciated getting feedback from a world of opinions when I was reflecting on issues at hand."
Schroeder notes that two conversations actually go on at the same time – the one at General Conference and the one on Twitter. Without joining Twitter, people miss important information. "It allows more people to have input, and … allows more introverted people to participate when they might not raise their hand or go to a microphone," he explains. "More opinions get heard that way."
He says Twitter enabled him to connect with other delegates in a way he had not expected. "I met people at General Conference that I had met online," he recalls. "I overheard someone at lunch one day and realized it was someone that I had a conversation with on Twitter."
It is no surprise that General Conference can be stressful for delegates. Laurvick says Twitter can help alleviate that as well. "Sometimes it's nice to simply make a few jokes and decompress via Twitter," he says.
Twitter enhances UMNS reporting
Tim Tanton, executive director overseeing United Methodist News Service, says Twitter became a key channel for engaging people at the 2012 General Conference and played a significant role in the operation of UMNS.
"Twitter enabled us to provide immediate updates on General Conference actions," says Tanton. "Equally important, it gave us a view into what people were saying and thinking during the assembly, and we were able to engage with the United Methodist community in a more interactive way than ever before."
Easier to use than you might think
Both Schroeder and Laurvick urge delegates who might be skeptical to dive into Twitter by simply starting as observers. "If nothing else, you can watch and read what is happening, even if you don't tweet yourself," says Laurvick. "After watching for even a few minutes, chances are, you'll want to chime in."
If you wonder where to start, United Methodist Communications has put together a simple step-by-step guide to using Twitter as part of a communications toolkit for delegates. Still apprehensive? Schroeder, who joined the platform during annual conference 2011 after the urging of young adults in his conference, suggests asking someone who uses the social media platform regularly to give you a quick rundown.
"A good way to begin," he says, "is to set up your account to connect to your Facebook. What you post there will automatically go directly to Twitter. Just try it because if you don't, you're missing some important voices that need to be heard."
Follow United Methodist General Conference on Twitter and join the conversation using the hashtag #UMCGC.
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