As reported in various news channels before the recent Holiday weekend, the Vatican launched www.pope2you.net last Thursday to celebrate World Communications Day, or Inter Mirifica: an outcome of the Second Vatican Council. This year, the Pope’s message directly addresses ‘the digital generation’ through a website, e-mail outreach, and yes, a Facebook app. No, you won’t be able to poke the pontiff or learn what his Smurf name might be, but this action represents a conscious, if occasionally unwieldy, move by this ancient organization into social media.
The Pope’s message invites young people to become instruments for peace and promote a culture of respect built on ‘great synergies of friendship.’ Beyond the dismaying fact that the Pope himself resorted to saying ‘synergies,’ this move by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications drills home just how quickly our media environment has evolved over the past five years. Obviously, technology has changed, but that’s not nearly as remarkable as how human behavior has changed. The Vatican’s decision to turn to the internet as a means of spreading church gospel shows a practical awareness of where their congregation lives, plays and exchanges ideas. With this new site, Catholics can now interact in this rich dialogue environment with a limitless supply of e-cards and banners from the Pope. They can also follow and forward news and updates on YouTube or through a new iPhone app.
What marketers refer to as viral messaging is merely a 21st century update of missionary work: a central organization creates a strong message, then sends out true believers with an imprimatur to take that message and spread it to people in far off lands. The big difference is that today, you can do that simply by pressing ‘send.’
As Clay Shirky explains in his engaging, imminently readable book “Here Comes Everybody” (You still haven’t read it? C’mon…), we live in a time where communications technology makes it incredibly easy to organize without organizations. Because of this, organizations need to think beyond their own walls and self interests to consider outside communities that might share their thinking, values or interests. These communities are not officially sanctioned extensions of the organization, because they exist solely on the strength of their members’ passion; call them ‘intramural organizations.’
Every large organization with a message to market must become aware of their own ‘intramural organizations’ and find ways to foster and encourage them. When done deftly, large organizations can extend their marketing almost exponentially because these intramural groups excel at driving recommendation and word of mouth.
The best way to spread any message—religious or secular—is to define your brand’s mission, and spread that. The Pope’s doing it, why aren’t you?