Social media experts say the Pope will be lucky to break into the top 20 of the site’s most followed people. Matt Warman analyses the numbers.
Nearly 32m people follow Lady Gaga on Twitter; just behind her is fellow popstar Justin Bieber. Of the top 10 users, eight are celebrities, from Kim Kardshian to Taylor Swift and Rihanna. Only Barack Obama, with 24m followers and YouTube (20m) break the mould.
Where, therefore will the Pope’s new account, @pontifex, get to in the rankings? His closest religious rival on Twitter is the Dalai Lama. His 5million followers put him below Ryan Seacrest, FC Barcelona, Tyra Banks, Paulo Coelho, Russell Brand and a range of celebrities so famous you’ve almost certainly never heard of them. Let's hope it's quality, not quantity of followers that count.
If we assume that the distribution of Buddhist access to technology is, on average, similar to that of Catholics’, then at the very most one in a hundred followers have chosen to follow the Dalai Lama. By some counts there are 2bn Buddhists around the world, taking the numbers to one in 400.
If we assume that the same proportion of the 1.25bn Catholics follow the Pope, he’ll come in at number 22 with 12.5m. Just behind Eminem.
Of course, mapping number of Catholics directly to number of followers is totally inexact, but it produces a far more optimistic estimate than bookmakers Ladbroke's suggestions that they’ll offer odds on the Pope getting over a million Twitter faithful by the end of the year. Given that he already has over 360,000 followers, it might be worth placing a bet today.
A stark reminder of the challenges facing the Pope, however, comes from his current official news channel on twitter - @newsva_en has just 1,225 followers, even though this was the account used to send Benedict’s first tweet.
Ian Maude, of Enders Analysis, says that “The Pope’s going to be enormous, but I’m not sure he’s quite going to get to Lady Gaga levels.”
He points out that “The demographics of the most faithful might be older and therefore less likely to be on Twitter, so there’s quite a lot stacked against the Pope.”
But he adds that, of course, Twitter is now a force for rather more than simply the trivial. As a major platform followed by the media around the world, Benedict’s tweets will carry more weight than most of Gaga’s. “I’m guessing Pope Benedict’s tweets won’t be as casual as Lady Gaga, tweeting where she’s just landed,” he says.
The pontiff will tweet in eight languages, starting on 12 December, initially responding live to questions about faith during his weekly general audience, the Vatican has said.
The 85-year-old’s Twitter handle means both Pope in Latin and bridge builder, but it will be a struggle to reach most Catholics, especially the burgeoning populations in the developing world. And as Maude puts it, while many Twitter users will follow the Pontiff out of curiosity, for the majority “it will be a Christian thing”.
“He’s got a bigger overall fan base than Lady Gaga – but it’s whether that will translate to Twitter,” he says.
With 11,000 Facebook fans and 35,000 subscribers of YouTube, the Pope is clearly a star, but not one whose appeal will translate immediately to the social media world that he blessed in January 2011.
Twitter’s Claire Diaz Ortiz, told Vatican Radio “As a company it’s important for us to have influential leaders and the Pope is perhaps the most important religious leader in the world who’s joining our platform. We’ve seen great work done by other religious leaders in terms of what it means to reach so many people, so we’re eager and hopeful the Pope will be able to connect with believers and non-believers alike.”
The success of author Paolo Coelho, indeed, demonstrates that interesting content, rather than global fame or power, can also encourage huge numbers of followers. With that, perhaps, the Vatican might consider upgrading the status of the account. Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Vatican’s social communications office, has said the papal tweets aren’t to be considered infallible teachings. They’re just “pearls of wisdom” in the Pope’s own words, he said.
Back in his January proclamation, entitled “Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age,” Pope Benedict said “I would like to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible.” His own debut will no doubt encourage more to do so, but his place in the modern world, certainly as represented on Twitter, is unlikely to eclipse a global culture of celebrity worship.
Pope gets some 370000 Twitter followers in 24 hours