A recent article in the Washington Post confirms rumors that Pope John Paul II has joined Facebook. On March 14th, the Vatican launched a Facebook page for the late pope in hopes of creating an online presence for the Catholic Church.
The Church plans on engaging with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to reach a new generation of Catholics and to stay in touch with existing members. According to the Post, the Vatican’s YouTube channel is undergoing a “full web facelift,” which will be launched at Easter with a new Vatican information web portal. The web portal will provide content for online followers which can be re-tweeted and posted on Facebook.
The Vatician’s current website (www.vatican.va) will remain the same, since it currently contains important documentation for the church, but the new and improved online portal will act as a digital hub for Catholic news and information.
The Vatican, like any business or institution, is realizing the importance of establishing an online presence, which can only be achieved by engaging with social media. What’s more, the church is learning how the internet can be an effective means of communicating the message of the church, which is often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
Last year, says the Post, papal comments about the morality of condoms spread through the blogosphere, and the Vatican had no voice to clarify. Though Rome insisted their church laws on contraception hadn’t changed, the media barely listened. The contraception confusion demonstrated how, without an online presence, the Vatican lacked a voice. By engaging with social media sites, the Vatican will gain a louder, more direct voice to speak to the media and religious followers alike.
The Post article ends with a question that we at The Social Times couldn’t help but answer. Post writer Elizabeth Tenety asks social media experts for advice on behalf of the Vatican, writing: “Calling all blogging and social media experts: What advice do you have for the Vatican as it leaps (finally) into the world of social media and engagement?”
In response, we say that an online presence is key for any group, religion, or company seeking to expand their network, so the Vatican is doing the right thing. However, our first piece of advice would be to create Facebook pages for active members of the Catholic church rather than dead ones. While John Paul II’s Facebook page is a nice tribute to the late pope, the Vatican needs to get the real, live pope leading the way and engaging with the Catholic community.
Secondly, we’d suggest hiring a ghost writer. Or several ghost writers (I’m sure the Vatican has the budget for it). Ghost writers should be existing members of the Catholic community who are social media savvy. These writers can combine their knowledge of the church with their Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube skills to author messages to followers, to clarify the Church’s stance on controversial issues, and to share information on papal developments.
Your ghost writers will be responsible for fostering an online community for the Catholic church via social media, which is why we think the Vatican web portal – if done right – can be an important space; If curated properly, the Vatican webspace could establish itself as the go-to space for those seeking accurate information on the church. The web portal would also allow the church to effectively communicate with the media in order to orate and clarify their teachings.
Today, many religions are dispersed or displaced. If religious groups are seeking a space that simulates a community, then the virtual world may be the way to go. I just don’t want the pope poking me. That would just be weird.