(Photo from Technorati)
With the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the world of social media proved that the Catholic Church is still relevant to the world at large.
At 1.2 billion adherents and counting (last year’s estimates showed that the number of Catholics in the world is in fact growing, and this is only counting those that are converting) are increasingly discovering new media, if they haven’t already. That’s a huge voice.
Some of the more prominent trends were the emergence of a myriad of funny – and not so funny – memes. This was followed by trending hash-tags, a thousand and one blog posts (including my own) and a whole host of Facebook posts, tweets, Google+ hangouts, Youtube videos on the resignation and more.
All of this made me realise the new Pope will have more than the Almighty’s Outlook calendar to be worried about.
So, here’s my few tips for the next Pontiff of Peter’s legacy when it comes to the new world of media:
1. Harness the youth, right at the start:
(photo from St. Joseph’s Parish, Otis Orchards)
The recent World Youth Days in Madrid, Sydney and Cologne saw more than 3 million young Catholics attend, who were between the ages of 16 and 30. Madrid’s WYD was the most followed and talked about religious event on social media in July 2011. One of the world’s largest Catholic youth groups, the Jesus Youth, boasts more than 50,000 members worldwide.
Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube abound with a growing population of young Catholics with a story to tell, a video to share or a meme to submit regarding their faith.
Your best way to let the world know that you are a Pope in touch with modern times is to let the youth speak for you. Reach out to them not just at the tri-ennial World Youth Days but also in your daily role. Social media will be your key. Your predecessor Pope Benedict XVI may have been advised on this too late into his role, with him launching a Twitter account just a couple of months before resigning, but he has definitely let the ball begin rolling. @pontifex was started by him, but now passes on to you.
Trust us marketers: no one spreads the word – good or bad – better or faster than the youth of the 21st century.
2. Stay up to date:
(Photo from http://www.24h.ae)
Get the Vatican’s communications team to get on board how new media works. They’re conspicuously absent on Pinterest, Twitter (apart from the occasional @Pontifex tweet) and Google+. This, despite the above 3 networks being used by almost 10% of the population of THE ENTIRE PLANET. More, the above networks are where Catholics go to discuss their faith and at times defend it. They’re where the conversations are happening. You sent missionaries to uncharted regions for centuries on foot. Now your missionaries have free, easy to use and exponentially influential channels. No need for sack-cloth and bread provisions anymore.
3. Get the media on your side
(Image from Beautiful Trouble)
When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation in Latin on that fateful afternoon, if there’s one thing I was quite impressed with it was that the Vatican’s press corps released an official announcement and press release within the hour. By that time, only Reuters, Italy’s own newswires and RT.com had proper stories out in the open. There was barely any time wasted, which resulted in an almost complete lack of sensationalist news pieces by the mainstream news networks who usually tend to add their own spin to any news related to the Catholic Church. With a complete statement from the Pope as well as a clear indication of timelines, you avoided what could have proven to be a disastrous PR exercise.
Make your statements to the press and public clear, without vague announcements which leave everyone to figure things out on their own. Ambiguity is the mother of memes.
4. Listen to us
(Image from Conscious Ink)
We know you pray for us. We know you hold us dear to you, or you wouldn’t take an entire 10 days off your schedule to spend with us at WYDs. We know you want us to focus on Christ, not on you.
Then please give us a way to communicate with you. We love you, and want to talk with you. We want to be able to say ‘when I speak to him, he listens’. We want to go beyond our priests, our bishops and cardinals and reach your ear. We want more than the hope that our voice reaches you.
We want to know that you heard us. Because we have so much we want to say to you.