Here comes the tweeter in chief, President Trump

The Presidents residence

We now live in a world where the President of the United States is Donald J. Trump. President Trump, regardless of your views on him and his politics, is markedly different to his predecessors in so many ways. One of those ways is, of course, his ardent use of Twitter.

Politicians around the world have adopted social media over the years, first with apprehension and now, I think, with a realisation that Twitter – and Facebook, Instagram, and everything else – can be effective media for communicating with the citizens. Under President Obama, for example, the White House’s communications office had a social media team and frequently used a variety of social media channels to get the administration’s messages out to the public.

Savvy uses of social media in presidential elections goes back a number of years, starting with Howard Dean’s campaign to be the Democratic party’s candidate in the 2004 election (John Kerry ended up being the Democratic candidate, and lost the election to George W. Bush). Back then “whiz kids used ‘the Web’” and those “kids” went on to play key digital roles in Obama’s campaigns, as well as found the highly respected digital marketing agency Blue State Digital (acquired by WPP in 2010). President Obama’s campaigns in the 2008 and 2012 elections were also lauded as exemplary with respect to the use of social media and digital marketing to engage voters, drive campaign fundraising, and encourage voter turnout. Clearly, social media has become an important media channel in politics, and it can be an effective one, too.

ENTER DONALD J. TRUMP…

March 18, 2009 is a seemingly meaningless day, but it shouldn’t be, as it is the day that President Trump’s embrace of social media, specifically Twitter, began. The then Mr. Trump opened his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account that day (this is according to a public search using Twitter’s API). Since then, at the time of writing this post, he has made a whopping 34,333 tweets (also according to a search using the public Twitter API). If you average it out since he joined, that’s an average of roughly 12 tweets per day.

This, according to recent research I have done with Israeli colleagues at the Interdisciplinary Center and Hebrew University, makes President Trump what we call a “social pump.” Social pumps are users on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, who post VERY frequently. In fact, in some of our analysis of Twitter data, a very high frequency of posting was around the 12-tweets-a-day mark – just like President Trump. What we find, and what’s pertinent to the current state of affairs with the U.S. president’s proclivity for Twitter, is that content or information posted by “social pumps” tends to spread wider than content posted by all of us regular folk who don’t tweet/post as frequently. (Disclosure: in the 2,768 days since I joined Twitter, at the time of writing I’d tweeted 8,860 times – about 3.2 tweets per day on average…making me active, but not President active.)

This research finding helps us understand the important role of Twitter for the then candidate Trump during both the Republican primaries and the general election campaign. Indeed, President Trump have a large audience across his social media channels (46 million in total, apparently, and about 20 million on Twitter), but our findings suggest that it isn’t this megaphone that resulted in lots (and lots and lots) of his “information” spreading over Twitter and everywhere else – it was driven, at least in part, by his very high level of tweeting frequency. We find in our studies that Twitter users, for instance, are more inclined to retweet something from someone who is a “social pump” than someone who is not (e.g., in one study, about 50% more likely to retweet). Being a social pump, therefore, helps get the message out and spreads it all over the place, which is necessary for social influence to happen.

This use of Twitter is different to other presidents, administrations, and politicians in general. They focus on posting every so often, when they have something worth saying. It is a carefully planned, thoughtful exercise. President Trump, on the other hand, during his pre-campaign, campaign, and president-elect transition days seemed to just tweet whatever he was thinking at the time – often as a means of attacking opponents, trying to influence the news cycle and the press, and venting frustrations with everything from the United Nations to Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live. (Sad!) This frequent posting, seems to help spread his message and, presumably, that influences people.

The uses of digital marketing and social media in U.S. politics back in 2003/2004 now seem so quaint and simple. But times have changed, and we now have a Tweeter in Chief pumping out all manner of “content” and “information” via Twitter. I guess we’ll see how this plays out now that President Trump is in office. One would think there are many more pressing matters than tweeting his various unfiltered thoughts and opinions, so we’ll see a drop in his (average) 12-a-day habit. But who knows. If recent press reports are anything to go by, I think we may instead see more of the same, if not an escalation.

For more insights from Professor Andrew Stephen and the Oxford Saïd faculty on the latest challenges for the future of marketing, we will be holding a webinar series from 6 Feb 2017 – ‘Will 1 in 3 CMOs be fired this year, and why?’. Register for the webinars and find recordings here or discover the full Oxford Strategic Marketing Programme.

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