When Holy Smokes Meet Holy Tweets

17 Mar


White smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel on March 13, 2013 signifying cardinals have elected a new pope.

White smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel on March 13, 2013 signifying cardinals have elected a new pope.

        In a world that communicates at the speed of light, the most important message in the universe wafted at the speed of smoke. 

         So much for the age of sophistication.

        But in that most ancient of means of communication, the smoke signals drifting from the roof of the Sistine Chapel collided with the ones and zeros that were beamed, typed, and shared around the world.   The strategic message immediately posted on the pontiff’s Twitter account @pontifex simply read, “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM.”   The translation:  “We have a Pope Francis.” 

Figure 1

Figure 1

       In an instant, two memes went viral—the smoke and the Tweet.  

      Score one for the Vatican and its integrated cross-platform communications campaign.

      We now know what followed wasn’t just religious history, but also a significant milestone in social media.  Twitter analytics tracked the number of tweets about the new pope running at a frenetic pace of 130,000 a minute.  It now ranks as one of the mot shared moments in the world, second only to this year’s Super Bowl at 150,000, and nearly doubles that of the Oscars at 70,000. (Figure 1)

Figure 2

Figure 2

       As people watched and waited for Pope Francis to appear on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, they also retweeted  the message from @pontifex to the tune of more than 54,000 times.  That’s an impressive rate of sharing, although it stands in the shadows of President Obama’s election night tweet that was shared  by more than a half a million people. (Figure 2)

       Together they show how an institution steeped in tradition, deftly and strategically used two very divergent platforms to communicate to the world one of its most important messages of the new millennium.   

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