Golin Case Study: How Papa Francisco’s Visit to the U.S. Turned into a Social Media Sensation & Evangelization for the US Catholic Church
Client: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
Implementation: July – September 2015
For America’s Catholics and the bishops who hosted Pope Francis during his first trip to the United States in September 2015, his visit was akin to the Super Bowl. But, it proved to be even bigger.
Beyond intricate logistics and the coordination of a vast media infrastructure, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had another goal: use the most cutting-edge 21st century social media tools and techniques to bring the pope’s message, developed over the first 20 centuries, to the people, in English and Spanish, like never before.
But the USCCB is not the NFL, nor does it have a similar social media infrastructure in place to deliver its message via the modern and fast-paced madness that is social media. There was no precedent, nor playbook to follow. It was a first for the USCCB and the Catholic Church.
The challenge was immense. How do you protect the most delicate of messages within the chaos of the social media landscape? That’s where Golin came in.
- Protect and promote the Church’s message and reach all Americans
- Leverage the pride and affinity Hispanics had for the first Latin American Pope
- Find the conversations and join them
- React to the unexpected events
- Create the unexpected moments
The plan to bring the mission to life:
- Take Golin’s innovative real-time social response team, The Bridge, on the road, and for the first time also en español
- Develop one single “total market” strategy for both general market and Hispanic audiences that also took into account culturally-relevant executions
- Implement tools to sort through the billions of Tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagrams
- Collaborate with the USCCB to respond in the most impactful way possible
The plan worked. We shattered records during a critical time for the Church – the first time it used social media to reach millions of people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, simultaneously in English and Spanish. The results were nothing short of breathtaking.
Research & Insights
The Golin team knew we needed to better understand the issues surrounding the Catholic Church and the pope. And even more importantly, we needed to understand how all Catholics in America, including the ever-growing Hispanic Catholics, felt about them.
Given that millions of people were already talking about Pope Francis, we needed to cut through the clutter. Golin leveraged the Brand Voice process to develop a new social purpose for the USCCB: Joyously Move People to Merciful Action. This purpose was quickly adopted by the whole U.S. Catholic Church as a mantra for the visit and infused into all messages.
Guided by this purpose, we rebranded the USCCB’s social presence. Our team developed a total market content strategy highlighting the “Francis Effect,” inspiring the faithful to action through quotes and multimedia content in both English and Spanish.
Additionally, we updated the USCCB digital ecosystem and created new handles for the visit. Existing USCCB social channels (@USCCB and @USCCBespanol) housed all content, while new handles (@PopeInUS and @PapaEnUSA) curated the best, most relevant and inspiring content on Twitter and Instagram. The distinction between channels allowed each to be more focused and, in turn, valuable to their audiences.
In partnership with Twitter, Golin negotiated and secured a hashtag emoji around the official visit hashtags, #PopeInUS and #PapaEnUSA. The hashtag auto-populated an emoji of the pope in front of an American flag, one of the first dozen such emojis in Twitter history.
To prepare for His Holiness’ visit, the team relied on robust keywords to identify and focus conversations into actionable engagements and trends. In tandem, we developed reactive messages and tracked conversations around top influencers in English and Spanish.
We readied our rapid responders, nicknamed the Papal Army, from the Chicago Bridge during the final two days of Pope Francis’ visit. Their task: engage one-to-one, in English and Spanish, with the faithful following at home or attending one of the pope’s events in Philadelphia.
Execution & Tactics
With two teams – one on location and another at the Chicago Bridge – Golin was ready to tackle a major moment in U.S. history with a multi-day, bilingual, real-time social activation across six social handles. At 4 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 22, Pope Francis stepped foot on American soil for the first time. Here’s how we set out to reinvigorate U.S. Catholics with Pope Francis’ message:
We had a preview of the day’s activities and speeches from the Vatican Press Office, allowing us to select themes and pope quotes we knew would resonate with our audiences.
We identified key real-time moments: the Pope stepping off the plane, visiting Ground Zero, speaking with President Obama, greeting children and being introduced to Congress. In true real-time fashion, we seized unexpected moments, like when Pope Francis:
- … asked his security to let Sofie Cruz, daughter of Hispanic immigrants, deliver a letter about immigration reform
- … went off script in his native Spanish to talk about globalization and used the now-famous polyhedron analogy
- … asked all to join in prayer for el Padre Nuestro
In minutes, the team turned those moments into something engaging and relevant, supplementing up to 10 pieces of pre-approved content developed in advance.
Our Bridge identified potential issues and noteworthy conversations. Each evening, we monitored for trends and developed a one-pager to brief the USCCB and Vatican on trends, themes and potential questions they’d receive during daily press conferences. When impactful news arose the team moved quickly to analyze, provide a point of view and develop proactive responses.
We deployed our Golin Chicago-based Papal Army when Pope Francis was at Philadelphia’s World Meeting of Families. On the USCCB Twitter handle, rapid responders engaged directly with thousands of people expressing admiration and love for the pope. Inspired by Pope Francis, we asked, “What do you pray for?”
When Pope Francis left for Rome, it was clear he made an impact on Americans. For weeks leading up to and during his visit, he was the most relevant figure in the country. Golin inserted the USCCB into the conversation in a meaningful way, expanding the halo of relevance to include the Catholic Bishops.
Our joyful messages reached our audience on a scale never been seen before by the Church*:
- 30 million impressions from an astounding 2,462 pieces of social content shared, including 62 planned and real-time videos (equal balance of English and Spanish content)
- 4,865 impressions/minute
- 65 million video views in English and Spanish
- Over 19,500 views/hour
- 1 billion impressions of campaign hashtags #PopeInUS and #PapaEnUSA
- Nearly 10,000 hashtag impressions/second
- 8% of all pope conversations included our hashtags, content or reference to the USCCB
- 75 high-tier influence engagements
- 1,300 people touched by the Papal Army through 1:1 engagements
- An unprecedented 75% of people responded back with their prayers. Many let us know how Pope Francis inspired them to reconnect with religion and their Catholic roots.
Furthermore, our analytics team created a masterful, dual-language social and traditional listening and monitoring process. We distilled more than 73 billion pope mentions into clear, concise, on-point media and conversation insights preparing clients for nearly every question posed during daily press briefings.
Post-visit, the Pew Research Center issued a survey and released results supporting the effectiveness of our efforts. Highlights:
- 28% of U.S. adults say they have a more positive view of the Catholic Church because of Pope Francis
- Far fewer – just 6% – say they have a more negative view of the church because of Francis.
- Both Catholics and non-Catholics are more likely to say Francis has had a positive rather than negative impact on their view of the Church
Papal Visit Sample Social Media Content:
Created video content in real time by pulling the most important clips from the live feed of the Pope’s movements:
- Final video recap:
- The pope steps on US soil for the first time:
- Our Father:
- GIF of the pope blessing the future of the Church:
- GIF of the Pope checking his watch:
Shared compilations or other videos to help tell deeper parts of the visit’s story and encourage people to convert enthusiasm to merciful action:
- Prayer of Peace from school kids (posted on 9/11 and during his visit to Ground Zero):
- Little Sisters of the Poor interview:
- Salt and Light montage including “What about you?” quotes from the Pope—shows ‘Francis Effect’:
- Nun montage (post visit):
- 15 points of Pope Francis (post visit):
Helped people share in the enthusiasm of the visit and ensure they know the Church is listening to them:
- Coordinated delivery of a gift on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert:https://twitter.com/USCCB/status/647425217258782722
- Influencer engagements (reached out 120 influencers during the visit in both English and Spanish):
- Bette Midler: https://twitter.com/USCCB/status/646443604509073408
- Jim Gaffigan: https://twitter.com/USCCB/status/647953014469316608
- Anderson Cooper: https://twitter.com/USCCB/status/647216171675176960
- Response to Mashable editor Christina Warren on iPhone delays: https://twitter.com/PopeInUS/statuses/646488449998938113
- Shakira: https://twitter.com/USCCBEspanol/status/647457350572445696?lang=en
- Maria Antonietta Collins: https://twitter.com/USCCBEspanol/status/647174113656733696(seasoned Univision reporter and part of the Vatican Press Corps)
- Beyond influencers, engaged with almost 1300 consumers directly, and encouraged them to tell us what they are praying for: