By: Kirsten Stubbs
The world gasped when @jkrums tweeted a photo of the plane in the Hudson River in 2009, sat awe-struck when @Astro_TJ sent the first tweet from Space in 2010 and rejoiced when victorious tweets began pouring out of Egypt earlier this year. Yesterday, another historic message was tweeted by none other than Pope Benedict XVI. Yep, the Pope is on Twitter.
After a cardinal explained how to scroll on an iPad, the pope tweeted the announcement of news.va, a hub for Vatican news. And just like that, thousands of years of Catholic history and tradition met the social media revolution that, in only a few years, has revolutionized the way we connect globally.
While the announcement itself is a sign of the times, the polar meeting of tradition and innovation gets more groundbreaking after viewing the website. A modern, clean design, the website is available in Italian and English and features a live Twitter feed as well as links to official Facebook, YouTube and Flickr accounts of Vatican News. After yesterday’s launch, it’s safe to say the Vatican is more forward thinking than many engineering firms, corner delis and retail stores. I never thought I’d say that.
Some applaud the Vatican for bridging the gap between what some see as a stagnant and outdated entity and an increasingly technology-based, rapidly changing world of Catholics. Others suspect the Vatican will use technology to condemn the very social media that deliver their message for being dehumanizing and a source of dependency to humanity.
Whatever your opinion, you cannot deny that this is smart marketing and here’s why:
1) The pope (and the Vatican) are participating: Positive or negative, everyone has something to say about the Catholic Church and with the prevalence of social media, those messages spread more rapidly and with farther reach. The only way to control your brand is to not only show up in the space, but also participate and subsequently help shape the conversation surrounding the brand. As of yesterday, the Vatican is increasingly present and participatory in shaping their online brand. They’ve become their own news source.
2) They’re delivering value where believers want it and non-believers can find it: The Catholic Church has a pretty vast target audience – all of humanity. The Internet has very few geographic, demographic or psychographic limitations. A few years ago, social media could be categorized as something “young people” were doing, but in an age where you get Facebook friend requests from your grandma and @mentions from your 1st grade teacher, it’s safe to say the Internet is a pretty unifying global hub. The Catholic Church can bypass traditional media outlets and directly deliver news to their current audience where, when and how they want it with a focus on garnering awareness in an audience outside of their traditional following.
3) The website’s launch was about the human, not the entity: Although laced with thousands of years of history, spirituality and intense passion, the Vatican is still a brand. At Digital Royalty, we always preach (no pun intended) the power of humanizing a brand, as people connect with people, not logos. Although many people connect with the Catholic Church spiritually, the tradition, formality and glory tied to it can be intimidating. Yesterday, as Pope Benedict XVI timidly maneuvered his iPad, affably greeting Catholics around the world as “friends,” he was not only the leader of the Catholic world; he was transparent, accessible and above all, human.
The pope obviously won’t be managing Vatican social media full-time, but the personal gesture of taking part in technology that in the past has been shunned by the Vatican was significant. In the day since the pope tweeted, @news_va_en has garnered more than 20,000 new followers.
While I don’t think we’ll be seeing the pope playing Angry Birds or sending Facebook invites for papal events anytime soon, I do think this historic moment marks a paradigm shift in global communication. Only time will tell how the Vatican uses this tool to influence and connect with the masses.