How Pope Emojis Re-Engaged The Largest Generation Alive Today



This event took place at Social Media Week in New York. You can get the SMW Insider Digital Subscription to access the full video of this event and 60+ other #SMWNYC sessions.

“If you want to build a virtual Cathedral, social media will be your bells.”

That’s what Kathleen Hessert, the CEO of Sports Media Challenge (SMC), told the Catholic Church when a representative approached SMC for help engaging with millenials in the United States.

Over the years, SMC’s clients have ranged from P. Diddy to the Rockettes—sports entertainment and beyond when it comes to social and digital media. Hessert’s task? Figure out what her team was doing with sports that could be applied to the Pope’s target audience.

The result was the #PopeIsHope #GoodIsWinning campaign.

“The goal was not to get to Catholics,” Hessert explained. “The vision goes back to sports: we look at the fan funnel, from future fans, to casual fans, to avid fans. We were aiming for young people only loosely affiliated with the Church—the casual and the future fans—to propose the idea that good really is winning in this world.”

During the Pope’s visit to the United States, SMC built a digital street team of 60 millenials, 30 of which were on the ground in Washington D.C. and NYC, and 30 online all over the country. Their task was to feed content to the core team at headquarters—based in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia—that could then be edited, amplified, and shared with millenials across the US using social media.

At the same time, the team at headquarters leveraged WhatsApp to communicate major online trends they were seeing about the Pope to those on the ground, which helped direct their efforts most effectively.

SMC initially leveraged Tracx—a company that analyzes mass amounts of data to help brands manage customer experiences in social media—to identify who their digital street-team members should be during Pope Francis’ visit. SMC continued to gather insights from Tracx’s data for longer-term strategy throughout the campaign.

Pope-emojis were launched with an event in Times Square, where SMC gave out 7,500 sticks with Pope-emojis on the top. The emojis were a way to interact with teenagers on a daily basis.

At the end of the day, Pope Francis’ visionary leadership was critical to the movement’s success.

“Not only is [Pope Francis] a visionary, but at the same time he’s trying to build a Church for the future,” Hessert said. “He’s trying to connect with a younger generation in a very different way by making sure the Church is communicating where people are communicating, not just where it’s easiest to do so.”


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