02/26/2013 05:33 EST | Updated 04/28/2013 05:12 EDT

What the Pope's Twitter Can Teach Us About Business

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI pushes a button on a tablet at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012. In perhaps the most drawn out Twitter launch ever, Pope Benedict XVI pushed the button on a tablet brought to him at the end of his general audience Wednesday. It read: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."Later in the day he was to respond to a few messages sent to him from around the world.As the countdown to his first tweet from his Twitter handle (at)Pontifex neared, the pope had garnered nearly 1 million followers in the eight languages of his account. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, ho)

As the world watches for puffs of smoke from the Vatican signaling the selection of the 266th Roman Catholic pope, I'll be wishing I could watch for @Pontifex's comments on Twitter. I can only imagine what Pope Benedict XVI would tweet. Maybe, "Praying for patience! #OhTheSuspense"?

But Vatican Radio reported @Pontifex would retire with Pope Benedict, according to a CNN report. No one has said whether the 85-year-old pope's replacement will launch a new account. I hope he does. I was amazed when, last December, the pope joined the Twitter-verse. As PR moves go, it was an excellent one.

Pope Benedict was an immediate hit on the social network, amassing more than 2.5-million followers in multiple languages in less than three months. Which made me wonder why he didn't sign up a long time ago?

That thought led me to a more important question: How many of you are not yet using this marvellous social networking platform?

Whether or not you're Catholic, you should follow @Pontifex's lead. Because the pontiff took to Twitter for the same reasons entrepreneurs, professionals, business people and authors, and anyone else with something to market should:

• He needed to generate leads. Said Greg Burke, senior communications adviser for the Vatican "Part of the pope's job description is to spread the word. Twitter is turning out to be a very effective way of doing this."

The Catholic Church must generate leads for the same reasons any other business does -- to bring in new customers.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, while there are 66.3-million Catholics in the United States, the growth rate has slowed in past years, and only 24 per cent of those Catholics attend Mass every week. The church also has a problem with declining numbers of U.S. priests. The shortage has left nearly 3,400 parishes without a resident pastor. And book and product sales? The Vatican has dozens of books on the market including its newest one for children, The Mystery of the Little Pond. It also sells rosaries, scapulars, CDs -- all sorts of gifts. Word of mouth to the world's 1.2-billion Roman Catholics could only help.

• He wanted to keep the customers he already had. It wasn't just about growing clientele -- the pope wanted to keep his existing church members coming back. Interacting with them regularly through the give-and-take of a platform like Twitter helped him create a more personal relationship with them. (On his first day of tweeting, the pope responded to three questions posed by followers using his #askpontifex hashtag.)

It also kept him in front of his target audience as he posts tweets and responded to followers. Ideally, he would have also retweeted their messages.

• He had an important message to share. The pontiff had thousands of followers even before his first Tweet! Why? Because many people were already interested in his message, and they expected his posts would have value for them. Followers retweeted his first message more than 64,000 times making it his No. 1 most retweeted when last I checked.

Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.

The pope had a message he wanted the world to hear, which was a good sign he'd be very successful on social media.

While the Catholic Church is a centuries-old institution steeped in tradition -- still using smoke signals to communicate! -- it recognizes the need to be where its audience is if it hopes to remain visible and relevant in their lives.

If you're in business, or marketing anything, that's not only true for you, too, it's essential.

Leading Christians on Twitter