The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

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December 4, 2012

5 Twitter tips for the Pope

The Vatican announced this week that Pope XVI will begin tweeting under the handle @Pontifex. Though his first Tweet is not expected until Dec. 12, the English-language papal account already has over 112,000 followers:

"We are going to get a spiritual message. The Pope is not going to be walking around with a Blackberry or an iPad and no-one is going to be putting words into the Pope's mouth," Greg Burke, senior media adviser to the Vatican said.

"He will tweet what he wants to tweet," he added, though the leader of the world's 1.2 billion or so Roman Catholics is expected to sign off, rather than write, each individual tweet himself.

We applaud St. Peter's successor for embracing social media, but navigating Twitter can be tough for even the holiest of noobs. Here's a bit of unsolicited advice for His Holiness:

1. Learn from your peers

As Nick Kristof suggests, Benedict could do worse than to study the Dalai Lama's extremely popular account as a model for how religious leaders can use Twitter. @DalaiLama is mostly short nuggets of Buddhist teaching with occasional commentary on current events and some non-obnoxious self-promotion. The Pope may also want to get a translation of Salman al-Odah's feed to see how the Saudi cleric has built up nearly 2 million followers or look at Twitter-loving American evangelist Joyce Meyer who has more than 1.5 million.

2. Follow some people

Too many celebrities and leaders on Twitter make the mistake of using it only as a transmission system without following any other users. Benedict could start with other religious leaders, or political figures like Barack Obama and David Cameron. Nobody's expecting Benedict to follow biologist and avowed atheist Richard Dawkins just to prove he's open-minded, but perhaps following a few slightly critical feeds such the National Catholic Reporter -- which advocates ordaining female priests, for instance — could broaden his information diet a bit without angering the man upstairs.

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