A version of this article was also published in The Expositor
The picture below is quite eloquent. The historic moment of Pope Francis I’s election was commented and shared widely around all social media platforms. In fact, social media brings new challenges for a Catholic church in desperate need of innovation and rediscovery of real closure with its disciples. The way communication has changed in the past 7 years cannot be neglected if a step forward towards a new approach to the people is to be made.
The hashtags#pope and #conclave were mentioned respectively 233787 and 153695 times on Twitter on 13th March 2013.
Frankly, it seemed that when the account @Pontifex was launched on Twitter, the people in charge of the Vatican’s media activity didn’t think it through. Firstly, it didn’t make any sense to have a 10 days gap between the opening of the account and the first actual tweet. This resulted in a massive collection of insults by thousands of people directly to the Church. Insults and accusations that were all visible in one big Twitter feed. It was liked they prepared an actual gigantic container of verbal abuses all addressed to them.
Besides, now all previous tweet have been cancelled and you can now only see the “annunciation’s tweet” almost to demonstrate a net cut with the past. After all Benedict XVI was not a beloved Pope. He made some clear U turns in comparison to his predecessor and his eraly departure as a Pope (the first in Catholic church history) still remains highly controversial. Francis I seems to already display a completely different approach in which he expresses closure to the people and humility towards the role that has been thrust upon him. Will this reflect into his communication strategy? Will he be as close to the people as savvy in handling new communication channel? Of course in this case I’m referring more to his media/PR people rather than the 76-year-old Pope himself.
So what if , God forbid, Pope Bergoglio will leave us soon again? Will his tweets be removed AGAIN? What kind of strategy is that?
The opening of a papal account represented and still represents an incredible opportunity to get closer to the people and should not be considered as a mere newsfeed for the press. It is scary to open up especially when you pave the way to open direct commenting. This, however, should not brake the communication potentials of an institution that has long lost credibility and is going through a dark time of its millennial history.
One thought on “Why Pope Francis I will need to face social media”
I think the way the Vatican started Pope Benedict XVI on Twitter was ingenious. Let me explain.
Act I the Vatican announces that the Pope will be on Twitter before the end of the year 2012.
Act II they open a @Pontifex account which attracts criticism but also a huge number of followers waiting for the first tweet.
Act III he sends his first tweet and the follower count goes ballistic.
At each step the expectation increased, media interest was very high and the initial criticism was drowned.
I think they are doing the same with the new Pope:
Act I Sede Vacante, delete all the past tweets (a bit shocking but there needs to be some kind of archiving of old tweets),
Act II he tweets Habemus Papam Franciscum.
Act III he will send his first tweet.