It has been announced that Pope Benedict XVI has begun posting messages on Twitter under the handle @pontifex, a term for the pope that means “bridge builder” in Latin.

The one man on earth with a purported direct line to God now has a direct line to his flock as well, and with Twitter that means almost all his flock. One wonders how long before he has a Facebook page and LinkedIn profile! Seriously, though, now that religious leaders have adopted social media (no doubt as a result of the success political leaders have already gleaned from the media) it’s like an official stamp of approval.

Parents trying to control social media use of their children will now be met with the response, “It’s OK, Mummy, the Pope Tweets so it must be a good thing!”

It’s going to be interesting how many followers the Pope gathers. Will he be as popular as Justin Bieber? Can you imagine how many requests for clemency he will receive, and how will the Vatican be able to cope with the volumes? I’m guessing a special social media team will be assembled in the Vatican to manage all of this. Or maybe tasks will be distributed to members of the clergy spread around the globe as the internet comes into play for the church’s media activity.

By the way, don’t expect the Pope to be following you. The same will apply as in the real world, he will be the ‘followed one.’ Last year, Pope Benedict wrote that new media and social networks offered “a great opportunity,” but he also warned that they carried the risk of alienation and self-indulgence. Let’s hope he doesn’t fall into the same trap.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 5 December, 2012