Tweeting for Jesus with 16,000 Friends: Urbana Social Media

I’ve not blogged here much lately. I have good excuses:

I have been part of the 10-member leadership team for Urbana. During the conference, I led our social media efforts and live stream content for the 16,000 people on-site (and everybody else who couldn’t be there).

We had not done either of these before. It seems like we did a pretty good job.

Here’s one article written about what we did, and here’s another. We had a lot of people tweet things to us like @amybethritter: “inspired and fired up by your approach to social (media).”

And to get down to results, we had nearly 40,000 tweets on our hashtag (#u12) or about seven tweets per minute around the clock for the duration of the event. My team tweeted over 3,000 times (with a large percentage being interaction with individual participants) and we were retweeted 6500 times.

photo(1)We posted over 300 photos on Instagram, with over 6,000 likes. Another 6,400 photos were posted about the event by people using our hashtag (#u12).

Our live streaming content had over 10,000 viewers on YouTube. We posted individual videos and segments on, as well as on Vimeo, with total views passing 15,000 during the conference, including 5,500 of David Platt’s message and another 1,000 on a powerful and eloquent call to faith by Ram Sridharan. DJ Chuang also wrote a liveblog for us.

At Urbana 12, we had about 3,700 people recommit their lives to Jesus, 6,500 people commit to study the Bible with friends who aren’t Christians, and a staggering 4,000 people commit to long-term service in God’s global mission. Think of what 4,000 leaders can do in the coming decades!

I wonder if in some small measure God used the efforts of my team to connect participants to the content and to each other in a stronger way than ever before.

How did we do this?

Who really knows how to facilitate social media interactions amongst 16,000 participants, including over 260 organizations, and hours of diverse content from 150 overlapping seminars? This week, I quoted Indiana Jones to a reporter on this topic, “I’m making this up as I go.” Here’s what we did…

Assemble a large, diverse, skilled team (the “social squad”) of people—different experience levels with Urbana and missions, different involvement with social media, different ethnicities, from different parts of the country.

Set vision. Our aim was to “be a conduit for God’s action to move upon as many people as possible as deeply as possible through Urbana content and related conversation to help compel our generation to give our whole lives for God’s global mission.”

Enable others. Our main job was not to push content, but to interact with people. We answered questions, we shared their observations and stories, we connected them to some of the 250 mission organizations on-site.

Listen well. We knew what was going on with participants in way we haven’t in any previous Urbanas (and we’ve been doing this since 1946). We captured important quotes and stories from students that otherwise we never would have found.

Learn as you go. I explained to my team from the beginning that we’d be experimenting, measuring, evaluating, and innovating again. With social tools, feedback is very fast, so you can morph in the midst of a long five-day conference like Urbana.

This is ministry. I kept our focus on facilitating what God was doing in the lives of people at the conference. I stressed the need to be pastoral for participants, to help them process as they drank from the fire hose.

Share great content. This was easy, as the Urbana program team brought together leaders from around the world who are very gifted. We used as much visual content, strong quotes, and student stories as possible.

Coordinate. If there was an area we missed, it was this. We used the @UrbanaMissions and @InterVarsityUSA accounts, but lots of other parts of our organization were also actively producing content. I’d like to pull us all together a little bit more next time.

Did you follow along during Urbana 12?

What was good?

What could have been better?

Leave a comment below.



  • @JohnJayJordan

    Imagine that, Christians innovating how tools are used! In the past two months, I’ve become a Twitter disciple seeing it’s tremendous potential, and was very excited to see that your Social Squad was already harnessing it!

    I’m very thankful for your heart in “facilitating what God was doing in the lives of people at the conference” and not simply attempting to “be relevant,” as it impacted me and my chapter this week among many others, I’m sure. The more Christians can approach our work that way, the more our world can be redeemed for the Kingdom and God’s mark of craftsmanship will become apparent to a dark world.

    Thank you guys for your faithfulness, and keep on keepin’ on!

  • Pete Juvinall

    One thing that was good (that reminds me of Tim Harford’s idea in ‘Adapt’…just because I just finished it) was that failure was survivable. From the outside, I’m not sure if I saw any missteps.

    Using Google was brilliant, imo. It allowed you to survive and indefinite amount of traffic for the live broadcast and was a platform available to pretty much anyone with any device.

    You hit a great point regarding ministry. There was enough people that any question or comment I saw was usually responded to within an hour (in the respect, it felt really relational, even the casual tweets on NYE built that mediated relationship that participants felt).

    And the ministerial element was obvious – I sat in church on sunday flipping through the tweets and noticed the one that said ‘Put your phone down and ask God what he would have for you today’ right as the service was beginning.

    The other piece I appreciated was the effort on the 27th to connect with participants with the photos. Stunning job documenting/building community during that day especially because it echoed the feel of the influx of people into downtown STL.

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  • @PaulSteinbrueck

    Hey Adam, thanks for writing this post. I wish I could have been more involved. Sounds like it was a great success! Yea God! Thanks for leading the charge and serving in this capacity.

  • HBrown

    Great post! Thanks for doing such a great job tweeting at Urbana! As an exhibitor, I appreciated knowing ahead of time that Twitter was going to be a big focus. Our organization established a presence on Twitter prior to Urbana and gave out our Twitter info to students who visited our booth.

    One negative to the tweeting was that there were SO many tweets from @UrbanaMissions that it was really easy to miss something. Maybe you could generate some content and then do some more retweeting? I just found that it was quite an overload of tweets. But of course, you have to get in as many tweets as possible in one week to count for 3 years, so… ;) Thanks again!

  • acjeske

    Good point, HBrown. We’re considering if we have a couple of accounts for different purposes, or more hashtags to parse the content.

  • Kristen

    In response to HBrown, I’d say I actually appreciated the volume of tweets from @urbanamissions, I scrolled through in real time and also did some reading of past tweets in order to stay connected from afar. I think I speak for other part-time staff moms and people on maternity or other disability leave that we appreciated the ability to “walk alongside” the interactions as well as the content. Thank you again!

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