You’re fired! @realDonaldTrump: social media and the #2016election

Greg Daniel, National Practice Leader, Social Media Intelligence Group
Greg Daniel, National Practice Leader, Social Media Intelligence Group

“Many people would like to see @Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!”

So tweets US President elect Donald Trump in the latest in a long line of commentary that shaped the Trump campaign and redefined the global political and media landscape.

Trump mastered Twitter in a way no candidate for president ever has. Unleashing and redefining its power as a tool for political promotion, distraction, score-settling and attack turning a 140-character task, that other candidates farm out to young staff members, into a centrepiece of his campaign.

Trump sends anywhere from 10 to 59 tweets a day, broadcasting raw and unpolished thoughts to his 15 million followers. His victory as US President elect speaks to the importance of effective and edgy social media strategy.  I, like many other, see the immediacy and transparency of his messaging as a captivating albeit risk-laden asset in his communication strategy. It has been crucial to draw audiences across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, building support and refining his pitch to voters.

To deny the influence of social media and the President elect’s communications strategy is to be caught in the mindset that led pollsters to favour his opponent. Trump may have received fewer newspaper endorsements and more personal criticism than any candidate ever to run for president, but even the highly critical USA Today paper only has a circulation of 2,301,917, whilst the most popular television news, Fox News Channel, has 1,860,000. Their popularity fades in comparison to social media, with Facebook alone drawing 170 million daily users in North America.

Trump has not only used the omnipresence of social media, but also its editorial freedom as a tool to subvert the mainstream media, giving his campaign and its supporters another host of channels to distribute counter-programming.

Louder or ‘better’ journalism would have been unlikely to change the outcome. What is undeniable is that the traditional media no longer have a monopoly on information about a candidate. Indeed the influence and trust they wield is at a tipping point.

As then Senator Obama understood in 2008, the internet provides political candidates (and businesses) a previously unimaginable opportunity to identify, communicate and organise supporters. An opportunity that exists outside the traditional party apparatus. Trump, like Obama before him, was able to connect with voters outside the more stifling confines of political party organising. Trump not only threw out the conventional political ‘playbook’ but likely didn’t read it to begin with.

From the outset, much of the Trump campaign commentary seemed chaotic, contradictory and emotional. He presented an ethos based on ‘deal making skills’, allowing himself to be seen as manipulative and mean spirited. He appealed directly to the fed up and angry, who sought empowerment through an outside voice.

Trump’s traction across free online media was coupled with targeted spending in key swing states. The Trump campaign was outspending Clinton online 3 to 1 in these states. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign focused on ‘old world’ media airtime and radio spots, skewing the analysis of ‘old’ data and giving a false impression of the campaign’s presence.

Following the success of his campaign, the President elect does not look to be easing his social media presence. I believe he will continue to redefine communications strategy as President and the Twitter commentary on issues such as the UK’s Ambassador will change the way the public engages with the new administration.

The implications for business are clear. Social media cannot be ignored. Understanding the new landscape, its stakeholders and the challenges, opportunities and threats is crucial engaging with the community. Businesses might not be able to engage in Trump style Twitter antics, but employing a comprehensive online engagement strategy is still crucial to staying relevant.

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