In his remarks for the first World Communications Day (WCD) of his papacy, Pope Francis challenged Catholics to use communications media of every kind – but especially Internet-based social media to create “An Authentic Culture of Encounter… expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church.” “Today,” said the holy Father, “the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ.”
As an estimated one million visitors descend on Rome for the upcoming dual canonizations of Blessed Pope John Paul II and Blessed Pope John XXIII, countless millions more will take to the Internet from around the globe, via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, Pinterest, and other regional social media services to share ideas, images and experiences in unprecedented numbers.
Whether you’ll be in Rome “IRL” (In Real Life), or following the EWTN Global Catholic Network’s gavel-to-gavel coverage of the canonizations with all-stars Teresa Tomeo, Joan Lewis and others, here are some specific recommendations to help maximize the potential of your own, personal social media activity to inform and inspire others.
Facebook: Sharing is Caring
In our conversation this week, EWTN’s Director of Communications, Michelle Johnson, emphasized to me the importance of proactively sharing and re-sharing posts about the lives and ministries of the two newest saints, with Facebbook friends. “Because Facebook has changed the algorithms (i.e., programming methods) that determine what gets displayed in your news feed, you can’t assume that others will see what you’re seeing or even ‘liking.’” Instead, she advised, it’s essential to actively share content directly from reliable sources, and re-sharing it when it appears in your newsfeed.
#Hashtags: Reaching New Audiences, Leveling the Field
Hashtags. They’re those odd, omnipresent words, acronyms (and witty asides) that begin with the # sign. They’re incredibly simple to use, and one of the most potentially effective tools for the New Evangelization. How so? First, millions of people around the world follow or track particular #tags that reflect a specific interest or event. Originally associated closely with Twitter, their popularity has led to their use on Facebook, as well as photo sharing services Instagram and Pinterest. They’re clickable and searchable in nearly all services, so you can easily reach out to see who else has something to say about #canonizations, the #TheologyofTheBody, or the celebrated #humor (or #humour, depending on your geography) of #JohnXXIII.
On Thursday, The Vatican announced the official hashtag, #2popesaints, for the canonizations. This will prove valuable in helping to provide a common focus, especially for English language social media users and media. Otherwise, there’s no central body that says you must use, say, #JPII, #JohnPaulII, #JXXIII, or #JohnXXIII to refer to the individual pope-saints themselves. And your hashtags can be formed in any language supported by the social networks. So, #JuanPabloII, #2papisanti, and #Catholique should all work just fine.
Hashtags can also be strategically combined in unique and powerful ways to reach entirely new audiences. Want to help educate a new generation about Pope John Paul II’s role in bringing about the downfall of Communism, or even his historic 2000 visit to Israel, in solidarity with holocaust survivors? Combine hashtags #2popesaints, #WWII, and #YadVashem in a single tweet, along with well-chosen, descriptive text and a short link.
Most importantly, hashtags in your tweets or posts potentially put your ideas, images, and links in front of everyone else who shares that interest, no matter whether you have 10 followers or 10,000. If the privacy settings on your content are set to public, then others don’t need to follow you to view it. Once enough people around the world get interested, a hashtag can even become a global “trending topic” on Twitter, engaging even more hearts and minds.
“The internet,” writes Pope Francis, “represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.”
Michael J. (Mike) Russell is a Catholic digital media consultant and trainer who writes from Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.