How Metaphors Helped Make Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical Go Viral

Pope Francis' EncyclicalPope Francis’ recent encyclical about climate change was 183 pages long, yet he was able to get his main points clearly across to millions of people. How? By choosing a few key phrases and sending them out through Twitter and other media outlets. As this Forbes article explains, the Pope’s twitter account, @Pontifex, tweeted out over 60 messages from the encyclical on the day it was released. The most popular tweet, which was retweeted some 30,000 times, said: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
A powerful visual image, and one that clearly struck a chord. The immediate global response to the Pope’s messages shows him as not just a master of media, but also metaphor. Metaphors and analogies are excellent communication tools because they create mental pictures that tap into the emotion-processing part of your brain. These rhetorical devices help make abstract ideas easier to grasp and relate to.
For more tips on using images, metaphors, and storytelling to improve your climate messaging, download our report: Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Communication.

The 17 Words That Made Pope Francis’ Climate Change Letter Go Viral

By Carmine Gallo, contributor to Forbes
On June 18, Pope Francis released this encyclical on the topic of climate change, the environment and other global challenges. Everyone, it seems, is talking about it, but few people have actually read the entire 183-page document, including the very people who are instructed to pass along its teachings. “It traditionally takes months for papal teaching documents, known as encyclicals, to be read, understood and disseminated,” according to an article in the New York Times.
Pope Francis knows it will take time for people to discover and read the document, but as a skilled communicator who has studied the art of persuasion as a Jesuit scholar, he knows how to make complex subjects simple to understand—and more likely to be read and shared. You see, Pope Francis is a master of metaphor and analogy.
For example, among the 38,000 words contained in the climate change letter, Francis chose to post the following 17-word tweet:

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.

The sentence was re-tweeted 30,000 times, repeated in more than 430,000 articles and used in many headlines, like this article in the Guardian.
Read more
Image credit: Aleteia Image Department / Flickr

One Response to “How Metaphors Helped Make Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical Go Viral”

  1. Leah Missbach Day (LMD) January 6, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Nice piece!

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