vatican

Credit: DSLR Travel

This week, our office was abuzz with talk about one main topic: who would be elected as the new pope. As we went about our daily duties, we debated whether or not this would be a quick decision or a long, drawn out process like in the past. We kept track of the short list announcements and threw out our random “Didn’t one Pope do…” stories and facts as we waited to hear who would be the next head of Vatican City. The process for this election had captured our attention, especially in light of the unprecedented style of departure made by Pope Benedict XVI.

As the chatter continued, I found myself clicking onto various news websites and around my social media platforms to check if anything interesting had come up every few minutes. I even set up a #hashtag search stream about the new pope and kept tabs on the chatter using my Hootsuite account.

The funny thing is, almost nobody in our office is actually a member of the Catholic Church. The logical question is: why are we so interested in the new pope? From my perspective, it’s because being left out of the global conversation about it wouldn’t be any fun, of course! But beyond that, knowing what is going on halfway around the world, or at least knowing how to find that out, has become the norm.

When we turn on the news, it’s largely because we have a desire to connect with current events. Being informed makes life more interesting and gives us something to talk about. So when the pope became a focal point for major news outlets, it was natural for people to begin a conversation about it… especially the news-obsessed crew we have over here.

Nowadays, it is considered completely normal to expect instant updates on current affairs and issues. The search for a new pope has certainly been no exception. For the past couple of weeks, information about the search for the new pope has dominated airtime and article space. Trending topics on Twitter have varied from the more traditional “#HabemusPapam” to the laughable “#ReplaceMovieTitlesWithPope.” Whether people are celebrating, debating, eager to keep up with global news or just out for a laugh, discussion of the pope has been ruling conversation in the news, across social media channels and in day to day life.

While most companies probably won’t be getting worldwide recognition when they change leaders, brands could take a few notes from the Vatican as it pertains to fanning the flames of public interest.

In all reality, can you think of another time you’ve had this much interest around the color of smoke coming from a chimney? It’s definitely a different way to signal the making of a decision, but it’s their unique style and it’s been shared for all to discuss.

Too many companies, public and private, are determined to be tight-lipped when it comes to times of change or turbulence. Sharing the back stories, processes and procedures, which are unique to every organization, can help explain situations to interested publics and give people something concrete to talk about. Rather than allowing silence to spawn conspiracies, give people something to chew on. Whether you like it or not, there are likely conversations about your brand happening out there.

My favorite recent example of a “Vatican-esque” transparency in announcing a big change? Former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason leaking his own letter of resignation. Yep, in case you missed it, you can check it out here. Mason assumed his farewell letter to the Groupon employees would be leaked no matter what, so he preemptively leaked it himself, allowing the mystery to fade and be replaced with applause for his unique approach, mostly derived from his opening line: “After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today.”

So as a business owner or marketer, what do you think? Why not be a participant instead of a spectator?