Trump’s Truth Social is soaring, but can it survive without advertisers?
Former president’s social app has had an influx of users since the FBI’s raid on his Mar-a-Lago residence. Still, it has yet to bring on any paying advertisers, leaving some skeptical of its staying power.
Truth Social gained an influx of new users following the FBI raid of Trump's Mar-a-Lago home / Adobe Stock
The February launch of Donald Trump’s social media network Truth Social – the former president’s retort to being booted from Twitter after repeated policy violations – was riddled with issues. The app went live prematurely. Users had trouble signing up and were added to lengthy waiting lists. And while the iOS version was up-and-running, Truth Social was nowhere to be found on Android devices. Then, less than two months after its launch this spring, the platform saw the resignations of two of its top technology executives, leaving many with the suspicion that things were going downhill at the company.
The widespread consensus? Truth Social was a flop.
But then something happened. The platform quietly ironed out some of its problems. And then Trump started posting on Truth Social beginning in May – which began attracting more users. Forbes data indicates that, by late spring, the app had gained approximately 2 million monthly active users (compared to Twitter’s 300 million).
Then, the FBI raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home earlier this month – in which more than 150 classified documents were seized, per reporting by the New York Times – enraged and energized the political right. In the week following the raid, Truth Social downloads leapt by almost 88,000 – an influx greater than the app had seen since early May, according to Axios.
It would seem Truth Social has a bright future ahead.
“It’s gaining momentum because we're getting closer to the midterms and [also because people are considering] possible election runs for Trump in the future,” suggests Matt Navarra, a social media consultant and industry analyst.
Of course a growing user base means more eyeballs – a potential draw for big brands who often dedicate millions of dollars to online advertising every year. But while the platform has seen a number of fake ads for products like a Covid-19 vaccine ‘radar’ and ‘patriot powder’, Truth Social has yet to attract any real, paying advertisers.
Trump built it – will they come?
Some experts are skeptical of the possibility that mainstream brands will want to allocate ad dollars to a platform that bills itself as the internet’s uncensored wild west.
It’s primarily a matter of brand safety, according to Navarra. “I've struggled to see a future – certainly the near-term – where advertisers start consistently booking ad space with Truth Social.” Considering, he says, “the controversial, divisive, troublesome content that other platforms desperately try and steer away from and block and remove through content moderation,” advertisers are likely to see too many suitability and reputational risks to dip their toes into the water. He expresses doubt that this resistance will change anytime soon, even if the app’s user base continues to balloon.
Other experts agree with the sentiment. Tim Lim, a political strategist, PR consultant and partner at creative agency The Hooligans points out that there’s been an uptick in calls for armed violence on the platform in the wake of the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. The app “seems like the next iteration of 8chan, a place where incredibly racist, sexist, violent offenders are flocking to and organizing,” he says. “It’s for these reasons I don't expect advertisers to spend money on the platform – they can’t risk their brand next to calls for murder and civil war.”
Some, however, think it’s too early to make any real predictions. “It’s still way too early to be talking monetization for Truth,” says Joe Pulizzi, an entrepreneur, podcaster and author of various marketing books. “They are still working to build a minimum viable audience. They’ll need time and consistent usage, and then they can figure out their revenue strategy.”
Truth Social’s parent company, Trump Media & Technology Group, has confirmed it’s hemorrhaging cash as it attempts to get the app up-and-running; in a recent regulatory filing it said it “expects to incur significant losses into the foreseeable future.”
In the end, though, Truth Social may not even need advertisers. Pulizzi stresses that the key pull for users is, of course, Trump himself. “Donald Trump is the core to Truth Social’s success,” he says. “The more he posts and the more he’s in the news, the more people will want to follow him and use Truth’s platform.” If Trump’s appeal is big enough – and his fans have time and again proved that it is – Truth Social could potentially employ a paid, subscription-based model and cut advertisers out of the picture entirely. A third possibility consists of some combination of ad dollars and subscription tiers.
Plus, argues Pulizzi, it doesn’t need to be huge to prove successful. “They could be an exclusive platform of the right, generate solid cash flows and be just fine with it. A social app business can succeed without being the size of Instagram or Twitter.”
Though the app’s long-term monetization strategy remains unclear, Pulizzi says it’s not worth anyone holding their breath over. “A few good weeks of downloads don’t mean anything. Brands remember what happened to Clubhouse – it’s too fresh at this point.”