3.1. CEE Social Media Landscape
Currently, the Spanish Episcopal Conference is active in five of the eight most relevant and popular social media. The CEE manages active profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Flickr. There is a significant contrast between the opening dates of CEE‘s different profiles in each social media. Illustratively, it is worth mentioning the more than six years difference between the opening of their Facebook page, 28 September 2009, and the beginning of their activity on Twitter, January 2015. The third platform under study, in this case YouTube, started to have a CEE presence on 20 October 2009, almost synchronously with messages posted on Facebook by the institution.
Nowadays, CEE also has two networks in Spain, among other traditional media. On the radio, we find COPE, with a clear leading position, and on television, 13TV with more modest audience figures. Here we focus on the presence they have on social media, more specifically on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as stated in Table 1
. These networks have even more audience online than offline, and they are even more popular than CEE’s official social media.
In short, messages and ideals of the Spanish Episcopal Conference are much more far-reaching through social media. They are being able to generate a greater number of contents related to current social interest and, consequently, this favors opportunities for conversation or entertainment. The COPE station manages to generate a wide community on their own official channel. This fact can be explained, in general, by monitoring radio in Spain, because this medium, unlike the press and despite the generation gap in its audiences, still endures the challenges of other leisure and information alternatives linked to Internet development. Spaniards consume an average of 104 min a day on radio, and more than a quarter of listeners are under the age of thirty-four (Santín and Álvarez Monzoncillo 2017, p. 90
Within television consumption in Spain, 13TV’s audience ratings are in fact much lower in than the ones from other general networks. During the last quarter of 2019, 13TV reached an average of 2.1% of share, with a slightly rising trend (Barlovento Comunicación 2019
). The high conversion rate of CEE’s television audience into social followers is relevant, both on Facebook and Twitter. If we consider that their current average prime-time audiences are around half a million viewers and look at the data obtained, we can certify a strong loyalty with the proposed editorial line and a very valid communication channel for CEE.
3.1.1. CEE on Facebook
The Facebook page shows a growth in followers since its creation, as seen in Table 2
, with less intensity during 2018 and with an evident slowdown during 2019. During 2017, CEE managed to add a total of 13,722 followers, and obtaining 1713 likes with a monthly average of 142.75. Growth was steady during 2018, with a monthly average progression of 124.16 more followers, reaching 15,298 at the end of the year, but with a lower outcome than in the previous year (−223). In the first half of 2019, this progression slows down significantly; with an average monthly increase of 37.6 followers and a total of 15,576, and a lower growth (−458) compared to the one experienced in the same period of 2018.
Regarding the publication rate, the average registered during 2017 was 37.6 monthly publications, which reached a total of 452 publications that year. In relation to publication seasonality, the months that coincide with vacation periods were the least profuse: Summer months, August (12 messages) and July (23 messages), together with December (12 messages). On the contrary, the months of March (63 messages) and September (52 messages) were identified with having the most activity.
In 2018, the publication rate was higher, with a monthly average of 53.83 publications and an annual total of 646. The months with the fewest publications are again August (40 posts) and July (42 post). March was again the most active month (72 messages). However, instead of September, January (64 messages) was the second month with the most publications.
During the first semester of 2019, the average of monthly publications continued with an evident dynamism (99.98) and CEE spread a total of 499 during this period; the month of April being the most abundant month in messages (115 messages) followed by January, in which we registered a smaller number (88 messages).
From the data explained so far, we can see the absence of a direct relationship between the proactive attitude from the organization and the increase in followers. Among the reasons that allow us to argue this reality, which will be dealt with more precisely in the conclusions section, it is possible to infer a certain decline in the Facebook platform itself.
Among the relevant research data, it is worth highlighting the scope achieved with the publications stated previously. The average number of impressions of the Episcopal Conference Facebook profile during 2017, as stated in Table 3
, was 137,433, having the highest impression rate in the months of September (279,508) and March (229,274). On the contrary, the months of December (24,849) and August (60,158) registered a lower rate. We found a correspondence with the participation rate, identified by the number of interactions generated by community members, since the months with the best level of interactivity were September (2315 likes) and March (2157 likes). In the same way, the latter happens with the number of comments received, a total of 1672 in 2017.
In 2018, impact was lower, the average number of impressions or people reached was 135,310, obtaining the highest level in the months of July (360,987) and December (193,328). Again, the month of August (70,369) registered the worst data for impressions, along with the months of March (80,068), April (95,241), and June (95,368). The CEE received a total of 560 comments throughout the year, a significant reduction, representing less than half of those received the previous year; instead it appreciably improves the “likes” received, a sign of acceptance by followers of the contents generated.
During the first semester of 2019, the scope data improved appreciably in April (229,274) and February (159,085). However, the average number of impressions (154,273) and the interaction, according to the comments generated (308), remain in line with 2018 impact.
3.1.2. CEE on Twitter
The growth of CEE followers in this platform presents a better evolution than previously analyzed on Facebook, as shown in Table 4
. In 2017, CEE’s virtual community on Twitter added 2754 individuals, which increased by 1947 in 2018, although in a lower amount (−737) compared to the previous year, and that recovered the upward trend (+190) in the first semester of 2019, increasing its users by 836.
Regarding the number of publications or tweets, the monthly average was 73.1, with a total of 881 publications during 2017. August (38) and July (62) were again the months with the lowest publication rate, while January (97) and February (90) registered greater activity. In 2018, the average of monthly publications increased (99.08), and also the annual total (1189) by 308 more messages or tweets. Unlike the previous year, the months of the year with the lowest publication rate were May (78) and February (80). Meanwhile, October (120), September, and March (108) were the most active months. In the first semester of 2019, the total number of messages rose (499), with an average of 99.08 results more than 2018 in more than 198 tweets. The months of the year with the lowest publication rate were April (115) and May (106). Consequently, no seasonality has been detected in the increase or decrease in message diffusion during the period under study.
As shown in Table 5
, the average number of impressions of the CEE Twitter profile during 2017 was 213,961, with November (314,000) and March (256,357) being the months with the best rate and, on the contrary, the months of August (95,998) and February (154,135) the worst. Its relationship with the interactivity rate is direct. The months with the highest retweet rate (RT)—that is, to share and make messages viral with all your followers—were March (1788 RT), December (1681 RT), and November (1424 RT). The same occurs with another variable interrelated with the rate of impressions—the mentions received. The total annual average is 393.91 mentions, with September (600), November (590), and March (559) being the best months in this regard.
In 2018, the number of impressions obtained an average increase of 67,452 (with a total of 281,413). Regarding seasonality, although March (383,000) was again one of the months with the most impressions, February (371,000) had the best figures, although the previous year had one of the worst records in this area, and during 2019, it did not achieve relevant results. The interactivity rate with the highest RT on CEE account occurred in November (2304 RT) and December (2150 RT), in the same way this happened with the number of mentions received, again showing its relationship with the rate of impressions.
One of the most striking issues, related to the management of this social media, is the use of two similar accounts: @confepiscopal and @prensacee. The first has been chosen in this study, as it is the official account of the CEE, which “retweets” many of the contents of the second, but with greater activity and periodicity.
3.1.3. CEE on YouTube
Regarding the type of audiovisual content distributed by CEE, videos’ characteristics coincide with the research carried out previously by several authors (Cancelo et al. 2015, pp. 119–28
; Pérez Dasilva and Santos 2017, p. 1376
), which highlight how they are directly related to the liturgical calendar, messages from religious leaders, and social activities supported by the institution. Consequently, unidirectional communication prevails with a manifest promotional intention of religious beliefs and values. The use of audiovisual platforms such as YouTube as a complement to further distribution is carried out in a manner which misuses the two-way nature of social media and their clear potential for creating an environment for dialogue with their followers.
The inclusion of videos in CEE’s messages is also significant, a very successful practice to increase the degree of satisfaction of the community towards the content, as evidenced by the increase in the percentage of “likes” received in response to those that only use texts. In general, the practice of including videos is widespread in CEE’s communication actions, as shown in Table 6
, with Facebook achieving the most views. In turn, the YouTube channel stands out for its excellent results.
With the intention of illustrating the ability to generate more visits in a short period by using audiovisual messages and, at the same time, as an example of the controversies raised in the community regarding the messages proposed by CEE during the time frame of the investigation, it seems appropriate to dedicate a space to a specific case study: The video published on the occasion of the festivity of Santa Cecilia, patron saint of music. This video was the one that caused the most impact in a shorter time. Produced by the CEE’s own communication office under the title of “the importance of music for the Church”, it sparked the greatest controversy among the followers. The message was intended to highlight the importance of music in liturgical celebrations and encouraged followers on CEE’s social media to participate with their voice or playing any instrument in these religious events. According to the CEE communication office, one of the main objectives here was to connect with younger followers, trying to express the concept of how music is a valuable element for the celebration and prayer of their faithful supporters. CEE realized that the most popular videos have a musical background which connects to young people’s consumption patterns regarding popular culture. On the contrary, more textual and traditional contents provoked rejection or contempt, particularly from teenage audiences.
The video provoked numerous comments and reactions with contradictory opinions in just over two hours. The generating element of the controversy was the use of the song Despacito, by composer Luis Fonsi, very popular at that time. In just over two hours, it had an impact of more than 6800 views on Twitter, 168 RT, 114 likes, and 88 comments; while on Facebook the video got a total of 8325 views, being shared 135 times, with 90 likes, 110 dislikes, and 77 comments. Although the video tried to convey that music helps to celebrate and pray better, in the face of numerous negative reactions from followers, the Episcopal Conference decided to withdraw it from its official channels.
In order to deepen the study of this case, in a timely manner and due to the increase in Instagram use in Spain during 2019, which was widely used by young audience profiles (International Advertising Bureau (IAB) 2020
), we observed that in this platform the content had a good reception, with 90 reproductions in that short period of time, with an average reproduction superior to one visualization every 120, and no negative comments. This data allows us to elaborate certain hypotheses related to the heterogeneity of audiences that we developed in the conclusions section, although this assessment exceeds the scope of our study.
3.1.4. CEE and Latin American Episcopal Conferences Social Media
Spanish Episcopal Conference presents results comparable to the rest of countries with Episcopal Conferences with a presence on social media, especially in the Ibero-American region. By way of illustration, we can appreciate the data obtained from the Episcopal Conferences of Brazil and Mexico, which triple their statistics on Facebook and Twitter profiles. The case of Brazil is significant, with more than 87,000 followers on Twitter and 257,582 on Facebook. The figures obtained by the Mexican episcopate, with 38,300 followers in the first social media and 54,763 in the second, are also relevant. Undoubtedly, the numbers are still very far from the current figures of CEE. It’s true that these countries have a population greater than that of Spain, more than four times in the case of Brazil and almost three times in the case of Mexico. Nonetheless, Venezuela, with a population similar to the Spanish one, presents better results on Twitter than the CEE. Additionally, the Nicaragua, Argentina, and Colombia Episcopal Conferences considerably exceed the results of Spain in the number of followers on Facebook.
By contrast, the Spanish Episcopal Conference performs above average on YouTube. In fact, it leads the ranking with respect to other Episcopal Conferences in Latin America in terms of views, as Table 7
shows. The official channel of the CEE has more than 6,645,154 views, quadrupling figures with respect to other official channels of the rest of the episcopal conferences.