It seems the head of communications for the Vatican has embraced social media. In a news release issued yesterday by the Catholics Communications Network, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, Director of the Holy See’s press office, encouraged communicators to meet the challenge of using the Internet to engage positively to further the Gospel message of the Church.
This followed Pope Benedict XVI’s call for the Church to speak to “the digital generation” – and from what we can tell, pretty much the only way to do that is through technology. Now, full disclosure – I am not Catholic and I am suspicious of large, organized religious groups. But in reading the release, it made me wonder whether the Church is interested in social media because it provides a real opportunity to have a conversation or they see it as a “marketing” channel.
The Vatican has a YouTube Channel, it has Vatican Radio, it even has Vatican Television. One of the things about what they are doing currently is that it is all “information out”— it’s not a conversation.
It will be interesting to see how the Catholic Church joins the conversation. According to a USA Today story, on May 24th the Vatican is going to launch a new website (pope2you.net) developed to engage youth. They even have some iPhone Apps on the way.
Now – whatever your spiritual or religious beliefs, think about the impact of the Catholic Church using social media. I mean, this is an organization that dealt with some very serious issues in the past, its reputation is not exactly about being open and transparent about these issues or even some its day-to-day operations. Using social media and saying you want to create interactivity is a big thing, and it isn’t just about getting out there, it’s culture changing. And I think that it will be interesting to see how they use social media – as a broadcast platform or as a true interactive, community building effort.
Anyone can say they are embracing social media and use the tools, but what is the strategy and how will you respond when your stakeholders or community starts to include you in the conversation – both good and bad. That’s where it matters.