Pope Francis is blowing up the Twitterverse.
With many of his nine multilingual accounts actively pulling in thousands of new followers every day, the polyglot pope has already become a force to be reckoned with in the land of social media.
Though the Argentine-born pope has tweeted only a handful of times since last week's papal election, his few tweets garnered plenty of attention. On Tuesday, for example, Francis -- a native Spanish speaker who is conversant in English, Italian, French and German -- tweeted a message about papal ministry in multiple languages. Within five hours, at least two of those posts went viral, having been retweeted thousands of times.
True power is service.The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) March 19, 2013
El verdadero poder es el servicio. El Papa ha de servir a todos, especialmente a los más pobres, los más débiles, los más pequeños.
— Papa Francisco (@Pontifex_es) March 19, 2013
According to Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today, the pope's nine @pontifex handles have been attracting about 200,000 new followers daily.
As of Tuesday, Pope Francis -- who, incidentally, follows only himself on Twitter and has been identified as a social media newbie -- boasts a total of about 3.98 million Twitter followers. This number includes the 2 million people who follow the pope's English-language @pontifex account and more than a million who follow the Spanish-language @pontifex_es.
Though papal predecessor Pope Benedict caused quite a stir when he first entered the Twittersphere in December, insiders say Pope Francis' presence on social media will likely be even more significant in the coming months and years.
For one thing, Sean Hudgins, a social media intern for Pope Francis who attends Villanova University, told Mashable that the new pope will likely be tweeting much more often than his @pontifex forerunner.
"We're hoping it becomes even more frequent than what Benedict had before," he said. "Benedict's [tweets] were kind of sparse, and I think a lot of people want to see with this Twitter how to be more connected to the people, and I think Pope Francis, that's something that his brand is -- to be more of a people person. So we're hopeful these tweets will be that."
Moreover, Vatican communications strategist Greg Burke told USA Today that the multilingual social media reach of the world's first Latin American pope will also be important for the pope's ministry.
"It's a global church, and the Twitter followers are starting to reflect that. Clearly we expect to see a bit of a jump with Pope Francis, and not only in Spanish," Burke said Monday of the popularity of the pope's Spanish-language @pontifex_es account. "I can't wait until @pontifex in Spanish passes up the English. Latin America is where we have to get the message out, and Pope Francis can do that."
Ultimately, experts say that social media will be an important tool that Pope Francis and the Catholic Church could use to reach believers and non-believers alike, especially as Twitter and other social media platforms gain in popularity and social importance.
Case in point: On Mar. 13, Twitter played a standout role in the spreading of the news of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's election as Pope Francis. According to Twitter, the announcement generated more than 130,000 pope-related tweets per minute, totaling more than 7 million tweets about the papacy that day. This, according to Mashable, was the "second biggest Twitter event of all time," topped only by the 20 million-tweet deluge triggered by President Obama's reelection in November.
"[T]he @Pontifex account is likely to be a central piece of the Vatican’s new media strategy for years to come. As a new pope takes over, it will be interesting to watch how the strategy evolves," wrote Forbes tech writer Alex Kantrowitz after the pope's election.
What do you think? Will social media play an important role in Pope Francis' ministry and media strategy? Tell us in the comments below.