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The Big Picture: An ongoing conversation analysis of religion in social media

This post was written by Erin Hoffman, a social media analyst at Cision.

To illustrate the difference between topical social media analysis (think Steven Slater or BP’s “small people” gaffe) and ongoing conversation analysis, this post takes a look at a huge social media conversation—religion. It compares comments about three unique groups—Catholics, Mormons and Muslims—by applying semantic filters to group conversations that use similar vocabulary and grammatical structure.

This kind of ongoing conversation analysis educates PR professionals about conversations related to their objectives—conversations that maintain volume of mentions and create online communities because of their universal interest—empowering professionals to prepare for threats and take advantage of opportunities.



Most conversation about Catholicism (and we’ll see the same is true for Mormonism and Islam) surrounds the doctrine and practices of the Church. It includes both positive and negative mentions, most of which are in some kind of conversation, rather than stand‐alone. In fact, almost 20 percent of all comments are in forums—an exceptionally high engagement in a format that lends itself well to influencing the opinions of participants.

Catholics are actively sharing how their religion impacts their lives and their families. They are creating frames and educating interested publics rather than letting antagonists set the stage.
The Church gets positive coverage from tourist destinations. It could add valuable “insider” information to these conversations, increasing the positive exposure.

Crimes committed on Church properties and an investigation into the Church’s role in a decades‐old story in Northern Ireland also received attention.

Unlike Catholicism, Mormonism has two distinct criticism conversations: formal criticism, which consists of longer, analytical comments, and informal criticism, which consists of shorter, blustery comments.

Informal commentary is almost impossible to respond to effectively, since anything you say can and will be used against you in social media grandstanding. Fortunately for Mormons, those comments are relatively few in number.

Being Mormon is a unique enough characteristic that it gets mentions in conversation about books by Mormons—think Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Since their religious affiliation is apparently a noteworthy topic, the Church garners automatic positive sentiment as its membership excel in their professions.

The shooting of a Mormon bishop in Visalia, Calif., received attention.

Catholic or Mormon conversations both had large, distinct themes that centered around how religion effected life as usual. These  were easy to group because they used similar words or formats. However, there was not a similar conversation theme for Muslims, perhaps because of lower volume, or perhaps because of more diverse vocabulary and content. Conversations about current events and issues take the stage with everyone from news hour pundits to high school students chiming in with what they think Islam is and does and should do. A concerted effort by Muslims internationally (one‐sixth of the world’s population, though often in developing countries) to tell their own stories could drastically reframe conversations.

Since Islam is relevant in many different areas of study—religion, politics, current events and culture—Islam is the only conversation to have a healthy “miscellaneous” category. Further analyzing those comments may yield smaller conversations that could be enlarged by membership involvement to their benefit.

About Cision Staff

Cision's research staff makes over 20,000 media updates to Cision's Media Database each day! For more updates and other thought leadership in the industry, follow @Media_Moves.

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