Over the last two years, Pope Francis has famously connected with a younger generation of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Data backs this up. Pope Francis has the most influential Twitter account of any world leader, according to a study by public relations and communications firm Burson Marsteller. The pope’s average “retweet” and “favorite” rate is more than eight times higher than President Obama, according to the study.
In his first year, Buzzfeed listed “19 Best Pope Francis Moments of 2013” that included “When he took this amazing selfie” and “When he inspired men and women all over the world, regardless of their faith.”
“He’s not a regular pope. He’s a cool pope,” one college student wrote in the comments, which were universally glowing.
Today, he has 7.4 million followers on Twitter, and that’s just for his English language account. His 140 characters of wisdom get a huge response, like the 15,000 retweets and 18,000 favorites for a recent tweet to “Beware of getting too comfortable! When we are comfortable, it’s easy to forget other people.”
So how is Pope Francis so successful at social media, other than having God on his side? Here are 7 takeaways we can learn from @Pontifex.
He doesn’t tweet links
People tend to think of social media as a tool to drive traffic, engage or get people to do something for you. Click this link! Visit our website! Do my CALL TO ACTION! But all of Pope Francis’ tweets are self-contained, simple messages with the goal of making you think and reflect. The pope embraces the people and meets them where they are, like Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount or the woman at the well.
He lives offline
Social media doesn’t exist for the purpose of social media. It’s merely a reflection of what you do in your life. If all the pope did was stay walled off from the world in the Vatican, he would be boring. But Pope Francis believes “a shepherd ought to smell like his flock.” When he goes out into the world — whether it’s addressing Congress or kissing a disfigured man — he makes a statement and gets a reaction.
He amplifies his message through influencers
Throughout his entire trip to the U.S., the Pope hasn’t tweeted once. He doesn’t need to. When you connect with people in the real world, leaders and influencers will spread your message for you.
He doesn’t get hung up with the superficial
He targets multiple audiences
One size doesn’t fit all when you have different niche audiences, which is the case with the global Catholic church. That’s why the pope has nine Twitter accounts tweeting in different languages.
He’s not afraid to take a stand
Pope Francis has invited controversy from some for talking about climate change and using blunt language like “a pile of filth.” But challenging people is what has made his messages resonate. In doing so, he’s taking a page from the namesake of his Jesuit order. Jesus stood up to the merchants in the temple and called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” Today, those messages would probably have received a lot of backlash — and a lot of retweets.
He knows the difference between humble and #humblebrag
Imagine if the Pope tweeted, “Your prayers have made me the most retweeted pope in history. #Blessed.” Instead he just says simply, over and over again, Pray for me.
I wrote about social media, Pope Francis and the relationship between online and offline activism in the September 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic. Read more here!