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Old Messages, New Outlets

Pope on Twitter
Image from English Facbeook page

Posted At: February 4, 2013 2:30 P.M.
by Katie Sanders

For a denomination that prides itself on tradition and consistency, the Roman Catholic Church has made enormous strides to reach out to its believers. It shocked the tech-savvy world when a tweet was sent out on December 12, 2012, after many skeptics asserted that the account would not be used. Pope Benedict XVI composed and posted the first tweet himself on an iPad from his Twitter handle @Pontifex. His follows spiked to more than 700,000 within an hour of his first tweet, and the Pontius launched accounts in seven languages.

Social media has been acknowledged as a great tool for businesses, corporations and nonprofits, but what is the projected value for a religious figure or denomination to tweet? I doubt the pope will be announcing promotions, deals or fancy fundraisers from his account. However, the Vatican is confident of Twitter’s effectiveness for conveying messages of faith and following. In an interview with ABC, communication adviser Greg Burke said, “Twitter for us is not about the number of people following the pope but about getting people to follow Christ.”

Beyond tweeting messages and blessings, the pope has also engaged in Twitter chats with the hashtag #askpontifex. This hashtag has collected questions ranging from Catholic doctrine to personal questions for Pope Benedict XVI.

Although he may be a prominent religious figure, the Pontius is not the first to join the Twitter world. Patriarchs in the Constantinople and Coptic churches, evangelists like Joyce Meyer and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach use Twitter to update followers about their travels, thoughts and upcoming projects. The Dalai Lama is also on Twitter with 5.6 million followers.

Analysts of religious Twitter accounts have noted their usefulness in reaching followers. Words of wisdom flow from these accounts, which may appeal to some. Glimpses into the personal life of religious men and women draw others in, but one-way communication is limited. Sending out messages and tweets without feedback from followers will lower their interest or the account’s value.

In this area the pope and his team may be on the right track. The official chat hashtag can create the interaction needed to engage followers, if properly managed with timely responses. Answering the questions of a religious following earns their interest, captivates their minds and most importantly earns their trust.

I may have diminished the initial value of having religious figures on social media and Twitter. However the plans and goals of these accounts parallel with any organization or person on Twitter. The goal is to connect and keep followers interested in your brand, whatever it may entail. The religious may be old-fashioned in some ways, but I think they see the value in the culture of technology and networking as another way to convey their messages.

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