Darren Richardson

Move over, Lady Gaga - there’s a new sheriff in Twitter town, and he just might knock you off your top Twitter perch.

The pontiff blazed onto the social media scene by opening a Twitter account Monday, and he’s already gathered more than 230,000 followers. Benedict’s account is @pontifex, which is Latin for pontiff. British bookmakers Ladbrokes predicts a million or more followers for the pope by the end of the year.

Although there was much to-do made over the Vicar of Christ’s social media move, Benedict has yet to send out a Tweet. The first papal Tweet will be sent on Dec. 12, according to the Vatican. The pope will respond to questions from around the world. Submit yours on Twitter by using the hash tag #askpontifex. Reports say Benedict, 85, will likely respond to at least three tweets, maybe as many as five.

Such a move could be just what the Roman Catholic Church needs to make itself more relevant to the youth of America and the Western world. The Holy See will be able to find cool websites and rockin’ links that promote the Catholic message, such as this great YouTube video on Albino Luciani, better known as Pope John Paul I, “The Smiling Pope.” Sadly, Luciani died after just 33 days as pontiff.

With the Christmas season upon, Punditty is predicting a “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men (and women)” Tweet from the holy father in the not-too-distant future. Look for the pope to really turn it up a notch when it comes to connecting with the in-crowd, making every effort to come across as hip and with it. The pope started getting with the scene in early 2011, when he gave his blessing to social networking. He warned, however, that the Internet should not replace human-to-human contact.  The pope currently has more than 11,000 likes on Facebook.

Twitter’s director of director of social innovation, Claire Diaz Ortiz, told Vatican Radio why the firm was so keen on getting the pope to come aboard:

As a company it’s important for us to have influential leaders and the Pope is perhaps the most important religious leader in the world who’s joining our platform. We’ve seen great work done by other religious leaders in terms of what it means to reach so many people, so we’re eager and hopeful the Pope will be able to connect with believers and non-believers alike.

Right now, the pope follows seven other accounts, all of them his own but in a variety of languages.  As he takes the power of his papacy to the Web, however, look for him to strike a more ecumenical tone and follow the examples of successful Twitterists like Gaga (@LadyGaga) and Justin Bieber (@JustinBieber), following lots of people he doesn’t even know.

Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger, may not be able to climb past Gaga as the top Twitter account unless he takes her approach to reciprocal following on Twitter. The Dalai Lama (@DalaiLama), for example, has had a Twitter account since February of 2010. But he’s only gathered some 5.6 million followers, far behind the sizzling pace set by the likes of Gaga and Bieber. The Dalai Lama does not follow anyone on Twitter.

Gaga, raised Catholic, and Bieber, who has a huge tattoo of Jesus’ face on one of his legs,  rank No. 1 and No. 2 in Twitter followers with 31.7 million and 30.9 million, respectively.

The pope, however, has other tools for building his Twitter fan base. For example, the official Vatican newspaper is asking readers to follow the pope on Twitter, and if the Vatican put out the word for all parish priests to mention the holy father’s new Twitter account – especially during Christmas services –  tens of millions of loyal Catholics could push the pope past Gaga in a matter of days.

The Vatican’s YouTube channel seems to be in need of a hit video, since it only has some 35,000 subscribers to date.

For the record, The Punditty Project (@PundittyProject) is now following the pope on Twitter and is looking forward to the big tweet on Dec. 12.



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