Pope Francis has social media clout. The @Pontifex Twitter account, started by his predecessor Pope Benedict, has grown to more than 4.3 million English language followers (and a total of 14 million in followers in nine languages). I now follow the Pope on Twitter and read messages like ''young people don't give up on your dreams of a better world”, ''those who live attached to money, power and pride it is impossible to be happy'', and '' I thank all those who are courageously helping our brothers and sisters in Iraq.”
The Pope's Tweets aren't actually written by him; he has a staff that composes them, but I'm told he okays each one. I learned this today at a fascinating conference at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, during which the Vatican's Social Media Director Monsignor Paul Tighe spoke to educators about the value of the Vatican's social media outreach. He said that, initially, there was some reluctance to use Twitter, feeling it was beneath the Catholic Church. But, when Pope Benedict was told it would help spread a message of love and unity, he was “in” and Pope Francis has followed. "It's the directness and simplicity of it. Some people said 140 characters are too restrictive, but If you look at some of the best-known expressions in the Bible – ‘love thy neighbor', ‘do unto others as you would do unto yourself' -- they all fit comfortably in 140 characters.'' I have to admit, I never thought about it that way before.
As for the future of the Church's social media effort? Well, no Facebook page yet, Tighe said, that's a little too difficult to police and control. He does expect more in the social media realm, maybe a new web site, as the Vatican refines and streamlines a media empire that already contains a newspaper, a TV station, and a radio station. Integrating their message across a variety of platforms in a digital world. Sounds like the Vatican is trying to do the same thing that a lot of organizations and businesses are also trying to do.