Just when he was getting the hang of Twitter, Facebook and generating Justin Bieber-type numbers of followers, the world was shocked to learn of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation Monday.
This is a look inside the first social media Pope, his surprise resignation and the challenges posed by social media.
As Mashable‘s Craig Kanalley posted:
“Even the Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi said he was caught off guard. In a “hastily-called news conference,” The New York Times reports, Lombardi said, “The Pope took us by surprise.”"
Imagine for a moment if he had used PR and social media effectively to make his unexpected announcement?
More on that shortly.
What is the Vatican City?
The Vatican City is an independent city-state and home to the Catholic Church. In many respects it operates more like a corporation. It sits on 110 acres and has a population of 800-plus. It has its own head of state – the Pope. Latin for Papa or Father, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born in the Bavaria region of Germany on April 16, 1927.
He’s effectively Bishop and leader of the church, and CEO of a business with more than 1.2 billion believers. Even larger than the number of people on Facebook or Apple iPhone owners. Talk about product evangelists!
In its own right, it is a global business with significant assets in untold billions in cash, investments, property and business influence.
Vatican City itself has 2000 employees. In 2007, it recorded a surplus of €6.7 million though it ran a deficit of €15 million in 2008. (Wikipedia).
Social Media Pope’s Press Release
For just a moment, let’s ponder how a fictional news release announcing his retirement might have read if his corporate PR handlers had gotten a hold of it:
Vatican City Group Announces Pope Retirement
Vatican City, Feb 10, 2013 — The Vatican City Group (VCG) Board of Directors today announced the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI who is leaving to pursue other opportunities.
In a statement issued today, Pope Benedict XVI said:
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
The Chairman of the Board, Rev. Frederico Lombardi, said: “Pope Benedict has served as a humble servant for more than 1.2 billion followers around the world. He leaves the organization well-positioned for continued profitability and growth, having refocused the franchise on the basis of our faith.”
Pope Benedict will also relinquish his seat on the Board of the Church.
The Board of Directors (Cardinals) will meet to choose a replacement and will announce the successor when the white smoke clears.
In the meantime, communications spokesperson Greg Burke said it will be “business as usual.”
A native of Bavaria, Germany, Mr. Ratzinger was first ordained as a priest in 1951. He became a full professor in 1958, serving at several German universities. He was appointed Archbishop of Munich in 1977, assuming his post as Cardinal with the organization in Rome in 2002. He served as Dean of the College of Cardinals until his inauguration as Pope Benedict XVI on April 15, 2005.
His resignation takes effect February 28th.
Analysts remained unsure of the impact of his departure on the organization. Catholic Church shares remained unchanged at the close of trading bell.
The Catholic Church is among the world’s largest organizations with more than 1.2 billion shareholders growing from just 400 million in 1950. It has more than 408,000 priests serving on every continent and it meets the spiritual needs of its followers 24 hours a day.
# # #
For more information visit our newsroom: The Vatican Today
News.va is a service provided by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, in cooperation with the media offices of the Holy See, including, Fides News Agency, L’Osservatore Romano, the Holy See Press Office, the Vatican Information Service, Vatican Radio, the Vatican Television Center (CTV) and the Internet Office of the Holy See. The purpose of News.va is to feature on one website the latest news selected and aggregated from the Vatican media, which continue to operate their own unique websites. News.va is an instrument of evangelization at the service of the papal ministry and is intended as a service for all.
Popes Did Not Tweet His Departure
Here’s where the social media story gets interesting. Pope Benedict became the first social media Pope. He joined Twitter and issued his first holy Tweet via @Pontifex on Dec 12, 2012:
Pope Benedict’s English Twitter account @Pontifex has 1.54 million followers and his Italian site has 675,000 with other language accounts available. Each account follows only eight and has shared 34 tweets.
By comparison, Justin Bieber has 34.3 million followers, follows 123, 677 and has shared 20,882 tweets. Wonder if Bieber’s busy or available for a little cross promotion?
As The New York Times reported:
“Within minutes, #Pontifexit was trending on Twitter. Later, during an evening thunderstorm, a lightning bolt struck the dome of St. Peter’s, though the meaning, if any, was not immediately clear.”
The Pope is going on extended hollandaise #ExBenedict
— Ryan Sheales (@RyanSheales) February 11, 2013
Is he really retiring, or was he poached? #exbenedict
— Dave Bloustien (@i_before_e) February 11, 2013
What do Catholics have for breakfast?#ExBenedict
— Alexis (@toddlerlex) February 11, 2013
Mike Miley posted about the Pontiff’s Poor PR Punch highlighted by traditional and social media coverage:
“Social media was even quieter. When the resignation announcement was made, Twitter went wild with messages. However, within a matter of hours there was little more comment on it and, aside from passing around Father Ted pictures and the odd joke on the funny #exbenedict hashtag, most people’s Twitter feed had returned to normal. Facebook commentary was even more muted with a quick flurry of queries of how to apply for the job and then nothing more.”
How Should the Pontiff’s Social PR Have Been Handled?
Clearly the Vatican officials were caught off guard. I would’ve used the full and considerable communication resources of the Vatican including social media to announce the departure. Official statements on the record would help clarify any misconceptions.
For example, tweeting my departure along the lines of the corporate news release:
Leaving CC and VC to pursue “other opportunities.” MT for your many #FF and RTs. Peace be with you! #Pontifexit #exBenedict
Perhaps help wasn’t available?
Add in pics on Flickr and Instagram, sharp pins on Pinterest, and a visually stunning infographic. That would have closed the social media loop nicely.
But when it comes to the Vatican and social media, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
Who Will Take Over the Holy Twitter Account?
The biggest question is who will take over his social media accounts? Does he actually own them or do they revert back to the Church? We’ll have to check the Catholic Church social media policy. Always a big challenge for business, media conglomerates, celebrities and now churches.
Two day later, the Vatican press office is now playing catch-up. But it has considerable media resources including its own Fides News Agency Vatican Radio, Centro Televisivo Vaticano, newspaper (L’Osservatore Romano) and its far-reaching social media channels.
No doubt Dan Brown is hard at work on his next novel and follow-up to The Da Vinci Code with these developments.
All good-natured humor aside, I wish Pope Benedict XVI good health in his retirement. God willing, I hope his successor will be socially savvy and prolific. After all, superb communications is what a good CEO and leader does these days.
Update: The Raw Story reports how journalist Giovanna Chirri broke the international story first because she knew Latin. Study up!
A Statement Rocks Rome, Then Sends Shockwaves Around the World [New York Times]
Catholic Church [Wikipedia]
Catholic Church searching for a new image him [Herald Sun]
Italian journalist gets pope scoop because she knew Latin [The Raw Story]
Pope Benedict XVI [Wikipedia]
Pope Benedict Has a Pacemaker, Vatican Discloses [New York Times]