As a central symbol of Catholicism and leader of the Catholic Church, the pope has been the subject of much news in recent weeks and even months – from Pope Benedict XVI sending his very first tweet on 12/12/12 (with which he apparently had some difficulty), to his officially stepping down from the esteemed position February 28, resulting in his new status as pope emeritus.
Now, Pope Francis has taken the reigns, and a whole new chapter begins. Even Dennis Rodman was hoping to brush shoulders with the pope during his brief stint in Rome.
The Vatican and the Internet
The use of the Internet isn't quite as unusual to the members of the Vatican as some may suppose. Even prior to the commencement of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy, one of the Cardinals used Google to search for more about the candidates, so the Vatican is no stranger, nor are its counterparts.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, who was involved in the vote for Pope Benedict XVI, was a novice in the event of electing the pope and cleverly relied on the all-knowing Internet to uncover more detailed information on the candidates. Smart move, Cardinal Turkson; perhaps other Cardinals involved in the more recent Papal Conclave used the same method to aid in their decision to elect Pope Francis?
@Pontifex: Yes, the Vatican Uses Twitter
The Vatican reinstated their use of Twitter to announce that the new pope had been chosen, so seemingly social media is going to continue through Pope Francis' reign (although at the moment he doesn't have a “personal” account; at least not yet). The Vatican's Twitter handle, @Pontifex (pontifex is defined as a member of the principal college of priests as per Google), was re-activated upon Pope Francis' election, and he has already been Tweeting since:
The most recent tweet that was sent out on March 19 was retweeted 21,203 times, and his first tweet on March 17, in which he asked the public to pray for him (reminiscent of his first appearance in front of the anxious crowd in St. Peter's Square during his first public prayer), was retweeted approximately 35,000 times.
While the page states that it is the official Twitter of Pope Francis, it is the same handle that was used by Pope Benedict XVI before him (and of Benedict XVI's tweets have been removed from the account, giving Pope Francis a fresh start).
The keyword "pope twitter" boasts almost 2.7 billion results, which rose from a lesser 69.7 million results at the end of February, leading to the confirmation that since the Argentian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became pope, Internet dialogue heightened radically.
Current results for the search term initially display the pope's Twitter account followed by various articles, such as those stating the increase of the pope's Twitter followers over 2 million (and growing), as can be verified on the @Pontifex page.
So the Pope Uses Twitter, But What About Facebook?
Twitter isn't the lone social media outlet that is taking off for the new head of the Catholic Church. Facebook has also begun to soar for Pope Francis according to Mashable, which reported that Cardenal Jorge Bergoglio's likes have risen to 43,007 thousand. Since that article was written on March 13, a considerable change has taken place in only 8 days' time:
The webpage listed for his Facebook is an Argentinian-based site dedicated to the former Archbishop and now current pope. Facebook's statistics show a massive jump in the likes and people talking about the page this month, and additional gains are likely to be had as the pope delves into his papacy.
Keyword: "the pope"
At present, the keyword "the pope" has almost 3.3 billion results and around 5,400 searches per month; whereas results were only at 775 million at the end of February, once again showing drastic growth. There are also quite a few phrase matches that show a general interest in the pope, what he does, where he lives, who the last pope was, and so on.
For the majority of the past 12 months (apart from a month or two wherein a single ad appeared), there were hardly any ads relative to the keyword "the pope". That fact has changed lately as websites such as aleteia.org (a worldwide Catholic sharing network) and Vatican Insider are keenly taking immediate advantage of the announcement of Francis as the new pope to provide news and promote their sites simultaneously:
Despite the event of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, results for "pope benedict" also increased from 313 million at the end of February to 455 million. And with the now pope emeritus' resignation announcement, " resignation" was also a top keyword.
However, for the keyword "pope benedict", no ads were active in February, but that is no longer the case.
Once again, aleteia.org is taking to their PPC and really utilizing Pope Benedict's resignation to their benefit, and recently employed an ad for "pope benedict". As of right now, aleteia.org is bidding on various keywords of and relating to the pope such as "pope hats", "roman pontiff", "pope benedicts health", "popes of rome", "popes and papacy", "Vatican ii pope", "youtube pope benedict".
They are also bidding on keywords that aren't necessarily related, but contain the word pope (or close to it) such as "alexander pope salon", "pope joan dvd", "photo pop art", and "ron pope cds". Moreover, their most current ads texts are promoting Francis and Twitter is even applied Twitter to their copy (they are also bidding on the keyword "francis i" and "francis 1", which previously had no ads):
Keyword: Francis I
So where might the keyword "francis I" be headed? Even though a dispute ensues that he prefers to go by Pope Francis, not Francis I, it doesn't mean that it isn't searched for. Already from the conclusion of January until now, there has been a vast increase in the number of results for the keyword, from 166 million last month to over 2 billion:
The keyword "francis I" presents a similar result, with 2.1 billion results this month as compared to 767 million in February. Of course, all results for these terms aren't necessarily in relation to Pope Francis, but a great deal consist of those that have appeared since March 13. With a little time, "pope francis" could be the next big keyword, as it already has 1.3 billion results in Google.
Upon Francis' election and induction into the Vatican as the new pope, the Internet has responded in a short period of time, as has the public. The proof is in the searches, tweets, and Likes.
Is it possible that the Vatican is gradually becoming more open to the idea of the Internet and social media as a means to reach out to society and their followers, particularly with Twitter?
As Pope Francis leads the Catholic Church, it will be interesting to investigate how searches, search results, PPC habits, and social react and change.
But for now, keep on tweeting, Pope Francis.