News Column

Faithful Flock to @pontifex on Twitter

December 13, 2012

Ira Kantor

Pope Benedict XVI's debut tweet kicked His Holiness' coolness factor up a notch yesterday, but the 85-year-old's messages of faith will have more merit if he actually socializes with his growing flock of followers, social media experts say.

"It's one thing to know the Pope's on Twitter but when the Holy Father -- or one of the cardinals -- responds to me on Twitter, it's like, wow, then I'm connected," said Todd Van Hoosear, principal of Cambridge social media consulting firm Fresh Ground. "That's social. That's where they really ought to take it eventually."

Using the moniker @pontifex, which is Latin for pontiff, and typing on an iPad tablet, the pope tweeted: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."

Six more tweets followed with faith-related messages and questions, and the pope quickly amassed nearly 1 million followers. He also is following seven users himself. The pope's posts will be simultaneously tweeted in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Arabic and other languages.

Emerson College marketing professor David Gerzof Richard said the pope can expand his "significant influence" by following other religious leaders on the social media site.

"It would be kind of cool if he was following the Dalai Lama and other folks out there," he said. "It would be like, 'We're all in this together,' as opposed to just saying, 'I'm going to tell you what's up.'"

While Twitter is nothing new to Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who has close to 7,300 followers, the Archbishop of Boston won't be directly messaging the pope anytime soon, said Scot Landry, the Archdiocese's secretary for Catholic Media. Landry said anyone looking to pepper the pope with questions can do so through such hashtags as #askpontifex.

"Once you start following people, it's going to be difficult to be as inclusive as the Holy Father wants to be," Landry said.

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Source: (c) 2012 the Boston Herald. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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