The office of the Pope has nine official Twitter accounts: in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Arabic, Polish, and even Latin. His combined total number of followers tops 9.2 million, more than 40% of which is from his Spanish account. Though far from the heights of big-time Twitter celebrities like Justin Bieber (44.7 million followers) or Katy Perry (43 million), this puts him in roughly the same league as Christina Aguilera and The New York Times. But among other world leaders, he’s second in followers to Barack Obama (who has been engaged in social media for years), but bests even Obama in average number of retweets, leading Pope Francis to be called the most influential world leader on Twitter.
Not bad for the elderly, celibate leader of a dying religion irrelevant to young people.
So far, it appears the main way the accounts are used is to tweet a sentence from something Pope Francis recently said or at least some sentiment he has expressed (it’s not immediately clear where the text comes from). The same sentence is tweeted from all the accounts, translated into their respective languages.
Not a bad start, but there’s still room for improvement. Here are just a few ideas for how the Pope’s Twitter controllers could use the platform even better, both for the sake of the papacy and, ultimately, for the new evangelization:
1) Up Close and Personal
Who writes the tweets? Are they all written by Pope Francis personally, or approved by him? Or are there people in charge of his social to whom he simply trusts regarding what to tweet?
It’s clear Pope Francis is not pulling out his smartphone whenever he has some inspiration and then quickly tweeting in nine languages. Undoubtedly, he has staff members who manage his accounts. That’s fine and expected. But it’d certainly be exciting to know every now and then that a particular tweet was composed and sent by Pope Francis himself. Barack Obama’s Twitter account says “Tweets from the President are signed -bo”. Perhaps Pope Francis’ personal tweets could be signed “-pf” or something similar.
2) Take Us Behind the Scenes
One of the great things about Twitter is that the average person can get to see inside the lives of celebrities they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to “follow” in real life. So Ricky Martin ate eggs and toast for breakfast, Madonna’s favorite drink at Starbucks was just discontinued, and Ben Affleck is taking his kids to Disneyland this weekend: yes, much of it is silly, but people really do love this kind of stuff.
The Pope’s twitter accounts can similarly give people an “inside look” to the day to day life of the Pope. Tweet that he’s headed to speak with so-and-so, or that he’s taking a drive in his new 1984 Renault, or that he misses Argentina. Show people what it’s like being the Pope.
3) Pictures Please! (and Videos, too)
This is an extension of the suggestion to show things from “behind the scenes”. Twitter isn’t just for text, it’s also for pictures and videos. The Pope should get an Instagram account (this one isn’t real, is it?) and upload videos and pictures to Instagram and Twitter from his day to day life. Show him sitting at his desk working on that new encyclical, or greeting someone in St Peter’s Square, or giving a tour of his apartment.
The key is to not only show pictures of him doing public things that we can already see. Show some pictures and videos of him in situations we wouldn’t normally see.
4) Use Your Influence, Pope
One way that a YouTube video can go viral these days is if Oprah Winfrey (or some other celebrity) tweets about it. If only 5% of Oprah’s 21 million followers click on a link she tweets, that’s still over a million people clicking the link, and the video is already a hit.
The Pope is the pastor of the Catholic Church, with teaching and governing authority, so any recommendation or endorsement should be made carefully. But why not give a plug every now and then for a new Catholic lay apostolate, or a budding Catholic artist, or the great work of some Catholic charity? It’s a way the Pope can use his great influence to support the good work of the Church, or even show solidarity with the good work of non-Catholics.
These are just a few ideas. How do you think the Pope should use his Twitter accounts?