The papal conclave is one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most sacred and secretive traditions. So how does a tradition centuries old fit with technology, 24-hour instant media and social media? Well, you don’t have to be Catholic to be impressed by the positive impact technology played during the 2013 Papal Conclave. Leading up to, and especially the past two days, much of the world remained connected to the selection process of a new pope.
Tech meets Old World- The creation of a virtual Papal Conclave
In the past, the College of Cardinals conducted the business of electing a pope exclusively behind the closed doors of the Sistine Chapel. Any sharing of news or details took hours, and in some cases, a few days to disseminate. But times are a changing in our socially connected world and the Vatican granted unprecedented access to the conclave workings up to the voting process. There were even large LED screens set up to keep the tens of thousands gathered outside in St. Peter’s Square informed.
Social media apps – Adopt a Cardinal
Thanks to social media, a variety of creative apps and websites popped up creating a virtual papal conclave. It created a global following and a groundswell of emotion as a record number of people a connection to their religion. As an example, over half a million people joined and provided their e-mail address to a German-based http://www.adoptacardinal.org. The website, nicknamed the “Adopt a Cardinal” e-mailed participants the profile of a cardinal to “adopt” in prayer throughout the conclave and for three days after the election.
Cellphone users were able to subscribe to a“Pope Alarm” app to receive a vibrating message at the first sign of white smoke billowing from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel and tens of thousands people in Rome participated in a form of a flashmob (but with purpose) by immediately racing to St. Peter’s Square to become part of history and watch the introduction of the new pope to the world.
Fake Twitter accounts popped up for the papal chimney (@PapalSmokeStack), the Sistine Seagull that temporarily rested on that chimney stack (SistineSeagull @SistineSeagull Hanging out at Conclave. Loving Life. And Cheetos), and for Pope Francis I such as Jorge M. Bergoglio @JMBergoglio. And there were the assorted Internet memes and an immediate update for the 2013 Papal Conclave on Wikipedia. When Pope Francis I sent his first official tweet yesterday it set Twitter atwitter. It seems the pope used capital letters throughout the tweet.
Re-energizing the religious brand
As we have seen, there is sometimes an upside and downside risk for brands that are scrutinized through the social media lens. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church brand it has only reaped the rewards. Social media facilitated an unprecedented and rapid evangelism of Catholicism (broadcasting and dissemination of information) rekindling the connection between the Church and many of their followers without having to reach them via the pulpit. The irony: the conclave election results were initially communicated via the low-tech method of a white plume of smoke announcing the “habum papum”- We have a Pope.