Nailing 95 tweets to the proverbial church door

Pope announcement

According to legend, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg and thus sparked the Reformation. Although there are ongoing debates on whether this legend was based on fact, one point was undeniable; it was the printing press that helped to spread his message far and wide. In two weeks his theses were spread throughout Germany in a month his message had spread like wildfire across Europe.

In short, MartIn Luther’s theses had gone viral.

What may not be completely apparent was how adept Luther was into tapping and recruiting his social network to pass on the message. According to The Economist, “Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a “networked public”, rather than an “audience”, since they do more than just consume information.”

You can only guess what Luther would do with access to today’s plethora of social media platforms. It’s not completely far fetched to imagine him tweeting his theses one tweet at a time to the @HolySee. Tweeting or blogging in English perhaps, rather than German to make sure he gets the widest audience for his message. The same way he decided to use German rather than Latin when writing his pamphlet to gain a wider audience back in 1517.

This made me curious to see whether the Catholic Church had embraced web 3.0 as part of its communication channel.

If NBC’s Today Show’s instagram shot of Pope Benedict announcement in 2005 and Pope Francis’s announcement in 2013 is anything to go by, in less than a decade the speed in which its adherents consumed and distributed news had changed dramatically due largely to mobile devices.

What had not changed for the Catholic Church is its ongoing mission to spread the words of Jesus. How the Holy See had decided to utilise social platforms to keep the church socially relevant to its youth had seen the launch of its news portal site, Pope Francis’s presence on twitter as @Pontifex and the introduction of plenary indulgence via “the new means of social communication channel”for World Youth Day.

What does this all mean? With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Luther’s “viral” campaign was highly successful in bringing together like minded people who were dissatisfied with the Catholic Church at the time. The role of “social media” helped to amplify the voice of a vast majority and challenged the major power of the time.

Fast forward to the present, the measure of success for the Catholic Church in using social media is not clear. If one crudely measures followers as a substitute of the Church’s ability to spread the word for example, @JustinBieber has over 40 million followers to date compared to Pope Francis’s 11 million. Only one of them is the head of a church with more than 1.1 billion adherents globally.

Perhaps it’s too early to tell, after all the Holy See is only testing the waters at this stage. What I am leaning towards is the idea that the message is what matters, combined with true intent to engage the audience. What do you think?

16 thoughts on “Nailing 95 tweets to the proverbial church door

  1. I think you’ve highlighted another important issue – that social media are being used for what is, in reality, the aim to divide rather than unite society’s members. Politicians, religious leaders, corporations – jumping on the bandwagon of a form of expression and turning it into something other than social – a promulgator of ideology. Does this tarnish the medium , render it less appealing because it is open to exploitation? are authoritarian institutions stealing from society what was intended to be a democratic form of expression?

    • Hi Avril,
      The point of my post is to show that social media regardless of the channel is not a new phenomenon. I’m not saying that the Catholic Church is subverting social media at all. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible for any one party to take over social media other than shutting it down completely. The reason why I used the Catholic Church as an example is to illustrate how they are using social media in today’s day and age with a 2,000 year old mission statement.

      As for authoritarian institutions stealing from society, do you have any examples in mind?

  2. The pic is a pretty powerful representation of how much things have changed. I agree with you it’s message and intent to engage that matter. I think it’s a bit like the nature v nurture debate – in that both meaningful quality content and the genuine desire to share and interact with others are equally important from a communications standpoint.

    • Glad to hear you’re of the same opinion! What I’ll try to do in my next few post/s is highlight how one without the other may not be seen as genuine conversation.

  3. What I find particularly interesting about the Church’s approach is their approach to internationalisation/localisation. The @pontifex account is the main one, but it’s linked to another eight accounts that post translated tweets in various languages – check out the number of followers on the Spanish one! The Vatican website itself is available in five languages, with a corresponding set of Facebook pages.

    The intent to engage the audience depends a lot on the audience’s expectations. Neither the Pope nor Bieber follow everyone back on Twitter, but their followers don’t see this as an issue because they’re purely there for the message; in smaller-scale communities on many social networks, not following other people back can cause a lot of angst and insecurity because the connection to others is significant.

    • Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when the Vatican first draft out their digital strategy? I agree their approach to internalisation is pretty interesting, especially as the Holy See maintains all languages from a centralised account. To your point, their intent seems to be based on access rather than creating a two way channel.

      If you look from a local perspective, e.g. your local church, I wonder if the expectancy is greater for a local twitter account to follow everyone who followed their account.

  4. This made me think about Jim’s standard slogan, “The medium is the message, or massage”. Besides the content, I agree with you, it thoroughly depends on what the public wants to hear or who it chooses to follow.

    However, regarding social media dividing, rather than uniting society’s members, I can’t completely say I agree to that. Yes, to a certain, that’s definitely true. But then there’s this whole other side of how it brings people together. The Boston marathon bombings for instance, we, in Jakarta knew of it just minutes after it had happen, because of again, social media sites.

    Hence, the message, the medium and the audience are definitely vital.

    • Hi Maina, I completely agree. I don’t see social media as a dividing tool. Certainly there are a number of polarising views, but I can’t see it being used as by a single organisation to polarise society.

  5. Becomes an ethical issue, doesn’t it? what if as part of your job you’re obliged to engage others via this social platform – and engage others in promoting something you don’t believe in? does your obligation to do your job well make it justifiable for you to manipulate a social medium for commercial gains?
    can social media really be a channel for genuine conversation?
    see my blog. Look at issue 4 in particular on this subject.

    • I think this boils down to choice. If you are in a job promoting something you don’t believe in, you have the choice to not be in that role. Whether you are using social media or not is irrelevant if you are already in a role that you decide to be in despite of the fact that you don’t believe in the cause. Even if you do hypothetically push messages through social media for a cause you don’t believe in, I think it will be quite clear that other people will have the same reason to disagree with the cause. In which case it challenges the effectiveness of the tactic in using social media in the first place.

      Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

  6. Dude, the choice of Luther as a metaphor is inspired. (pun intended)

    Loved being left to make the connection myself that there is nothing new under the sun. Smart people use the tools at their disposal to spread their message. Not so smart people only know about one tool…

    My dilemma is this: should we impose a tool on an organisation or even expect an organisation to use a particular tool? Does a message have meaning if it is delivered by the “wrong” tool?

    • Thanks! Glad my post enlightened you 🙂

      To your post, I think it depends on why that tool is needed in the first place. What is the intent for the message and will that tool facilitate the objective that the organisation hope to achieve?

      To your blog post about the top down approach of using yammer, the cultural fit of the business to the type of tool used will support the likelihood of a tool being adopted. Something that is imposed to me sounds like it may have not have been introduced in a way that will engage the user and may end up being the “wrong” tool for that purpose.

  7. Very interesting post, the picture highlights the rapid changes in communication over the recent years so well! The effectiveness of the message will always rely on how well it taps into some underlying need or fear, but how quickly the message spreads will relate to using the right tools, which does appear to be a case here of testing the waters as you say.

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