Author: Jennifer Watson
The next group to surge into the blogosphere may well be Catholic priests.
In a recent address, Pope Benedict XVI urged priests to blog and to make use of other social media tools, such as images, videos and animated features. His directive was not surprising, given his own increasing using of social media. Through Pope2You.net, he already offers a Facebook application, a Vatican YouTube channel and an application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that features video, audio and text news feeds available in multiple languages.
Rev. James Martin, blogger and culture editor at the Catholic magazine “America,” offered the pope advice, citing reciprocity and responsiveness as key elements of a successful social media program. Although name recognition and interest are unlikely to be problems for Pope Benedict, another blogger shared some joking tips on how to drive traffic to his blog and increase ad revenue.
Perhaps the most interesting commentary, however, involved an issue that leaders of all kinds face. As a theologian who speaks about complex, often controversial topics, the Pope may face difficulties online. Rev. Martin warned about angry commentators and people who take messages out of context and appropriate them for their own purposes.
The pope has evidently decided that the potential rewards are worth the risks. Citing the power of social media to “create deeper relationships across greater distances,” he urged priests to engage the modern world through social media.
Few subjects trigger as strong reactions as faith, and it will be interesting to see how religious leaders of all stripes navigate their online dialogues. Their experiences may offer up valuable lessons about how to engage the public online about emotionally charged topics. We’ll be watching.