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Exclusive: An interview with Justin McConney, Trump’s director of social media


By Natan Edelsburg, SVP

September 22, 2015 | 17 min read

If you’ve been on social media recently, turned on the TV, or consumed any type of media then you’re probably very familiar with Donald Trump. The real estate mogul turned reality star turned presidential candidate is not only leading in the polls, but leading on social media.

Donald Trump at Facebook's HQ by Justin McConney

Donald Trump at Facebook's HQ by Justin McConney

Whether you agree with his politics or not, his uncensored, unfiltered and bite size social media efforts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram seem to be paying off as he stays in the lead in the polls. Trump’s social media success didn’t begin when he announced his run for the president. The Trump Organization has been using social media to promote his properties and bring the company’s chief into the devices of all his fans and followers.

His consistent and dedicated tactics, with a focus on video have been developing over the past four years with the help of Justin McConney The Trump Organization’s Director of New Media.

Yesterday, following Trump’s #AskTrump Q&A that trended worldwide, Found Remote sat down with McConney, who has a degree in video editing, for his first interview about working with with the most high profile social media personality on the web right now. Here’s the in-depth interview.

Found Remote: What's your background and how did you start working for The Trump Organization?

Justin McConney: My original background is in video editing, which I still use quite often on this job. Someone in the golf division at Trump that I had known was looking for a Donald Trump intro video for a big meeting for the golf division in Florida. I put together a quick paced, fun, best of Donald Trump montage set to hard rock music. It played really well in Florida and Mr. Trump enjoyed it. At the same time, I had looked into the company's social media and noticed they had no YouTube channel and that Mr. Trump’s Twitter and Facebook really was not being used like it should. With such a huge brand that involved entertainment, real estate and hotels there was a huge opportunity for social media. I suggested to the company that they could use someone to run a New Media department. I was lucky enough to pitch Mr. Trump and he loved the idea.

FR: How many years has it been?

JM: I started here in February 2011. When I started working at the company, Mr. Trump, on Twitter, only had about 300,000 followers, and on Facebook only had 100,000 followers. As I’m talking to you today, he has over 4 million followers on Twitter and is about to hit over 4 million followers on Facebook. The numbers have gone up considerably since I walked in the door. When I started we didn’t have a YouTube channel for the Trump brand. Now we have a YouTube channel and it has over 20 million views altogether.

FR: Over the last four years, how specifically have you developed the social channels and are there any other highlights?

JM: The key thing in the beginning of my employment in early 2011 once I started was to build out Mr. Trump’s personal social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. I believe the two most important things for a celebrity on social media are to be authentic and to give your fans what they want. As a fan of Mr. Trump, I was always fascinated listening to him speak on various broadcasts over the years on so many different subjects, from business to entertainment to politics. I suggested to him that we should bring that to social media. I started by having him do video blogs on a wide range of subjects and I would upload these to YouTube and then embed them on his Twitter and Facebook. This immediately not only built out our YouTube channel but also rapidly increased his followers on Twitter and Facebook by the amount of engagement the videos would get from comments and retweets.

At the same time, I suggested to Mr. Trump to tweet multiple times on a daily basis. I would stop in each morning, we would discuss current events to talk about on social media, and we would figure out what he’d want to tweet and what would be a video blog. I wanted Mr. Trump’s social media to be like his own little news network. At the same time, I also put my video and photography skills to use and started documenting all of our property openings and various other events, which not only gave us content for social media but helped build a photo and video library here that we could use for multiple purposes.

Another idea that I put into practice was having Mr. Trump live tweet events. These would range from the GOP debate in 2012 to the Oscars for the last few years and Celebrity Apprentice. It always helps to be talking about what’s trending at the moment. I think it’s great for his fans to be able to watch these events and see his thoughts on them simultaneously.

Highlights of the job have been seeing the tremendous growth and engagement of our accounts, and also seeing something go from an idea to a discussion to an actual viral reality, which I think is any social media director’s goal. The Instagram shorts that have been so popular over the last few weeks has been the latest example of this.

Other highlights have been the great places I have been able to visit. From Scotland to Panama to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or the WWE Hall of Fame.

But the biggest highlight of all has been working with Mr. Trump. He is a marketing and media genius. There is no better experience than learning from the best. I really enjoy working for him and he really does get social media which makes this job fun. I appreciate the interest and involvement he has in all forms of media that we release, from social to promos to photos.

FR: Can you tell us more about the video blogs and why they worked so well?

JM: When I first came here, one of the first ideas I came up with was for Mr. Trump to do video blogs. I figured this would be a great way to build out our at the time new Trump YouTube channel and also post them to Facebook and Twitter and build engagement on those platforms. The key to the video blogs was that I wanted them to not feel professional but feel like your friend’s video blog, in a very social media type of way, which meant no lighting, no professional camera, no back drop, I just wanted them to be real, right from his desk and in your face and not have a specific schedule to them. Most people stick to a schedule and decide “I’m only going to do a video the the first Wednesday of the month.” Mr. Trump and I wanted his social media to be run like a news station, we didn’t want to stick to any schedule we wanted to be current and follow what’s out there.

Each morning we’d meet and discuss the daily plan for social. I would suggest maybe doing a video blog on the Mac Miller song or he would suggest vlogging about the latest political development. We would work together and figure out great things for him to talk about. We’d film these little videos from his desk, initially on for YouTube (then relocated them to Vine and now currently on Instagram) and we’d put them out there very fast and instantaneously. These videos would cause tremendous engagement because we could put them on all three platforms - Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which would help build out all three accounts and we’d also have cross over to traditional media.

You can then go home and see it on TV, on Extra and Entertainment Tonight, or CNN and Fox News and the next morning you’d see it in various newspapers. It was a win for us throughout all media not just social media, it crossed over to all media which is what we were really after.

FR: What platforms do best for Trump and the organization?

JM: All of the social media platforms have helped us in various ways. Twitter has been a quick way for us to release news. We could put something out there and within minutes all of the media sees it and it gets media coverage. Back in the old days you’d have to hold a press conference to do that and you’d have to send out press releases. Now Mr. Trump can just tweet and the whole media has his statement and all of his fans have the statement and it makes things so much easier. Twitter was made for Mr. Trump - he definitely knows how to use the 140 character limit better than anyone else out there.

I look at his Facebook page as like his ultimate fan club page. You go on there now and there’s thousands and thousands of posts of support now for his run for president.

YouTube has been really great to build up a catalog of our various properties of our brands. So if someone was interested in our apartments or our golf courses they can go on YouTube and search for them and they can see all of our properties that are available. The live stuff is great now with Periscope and Facebook Mentions Live. We’ve used both to broadcast press conferences so for someone that might be at work or at lunch or on the train who can’t see him on TV they can watch him on their phone and be live with him as it’s happening. I think that’s fantastic and it’s something we’re going to do a lot more of in the future.

When we launch the use of a new platform, for us, I always believe in tying it into a major media event. His first use of Instagram was tied into the WWE Hall of Fame, where I posted behind the scenes photos as the show was airing on TV. With Periscope - it was the live streaming of his presidential announcement. For Facebook Mentions Live I streamed the plane arrival to the GOP debate this summer. And Mr. Trump's first Vine was to tell Anthony Weiner to stay off Vine.

FR: It’s been quite busy the last couple of months, what’s it been like since the campaign started. What kinds of content are doing the best and what’s it like working with him in general?

JM: Since the campaign has started as you can imagine,our engagement and followers have exploded on social media. As big as our engagement has always been on social media, it’s obviously off the charts now that he’s running for president. Just in the last 28 days on Twitter we’ve had tweet impressions of 304 million We’ve grown our accounts tremendously, before he announced he was running for president we had under three million Twitter followers, now we have over four million followers. We had just under two million followers on Facebook pre announcement and now we have close to four million since he’s announced.

One of the things that has been doing very well over the past few weeks for us obviously has been the mostly humorous, sometimes serious political Instagram videos. Similar to video blogs on Instagram we used to do and still do, the political Instagram shorts have also had huge crossover into traditional media. Not only do they pick up tons of earned media online, you go home at night and they’re running them all over TV. All around these accounts are translating into media coverage everywhere.

Donald Trump Facebook by Justin McConney

FR: Why do you think his content has stood out so much among other candidates?

JM: I think his content stands out because it goes back to being authentic. @realDonaldTrump is Donald Trump. He’s very involved with his social media. At night, he's tweeting and reading replies from fans. He sees everything that goes out and he’s giving his fans what they want. We do live Q&A’s on Facebook and Twitter via video to connect with his fans as well.

Another part of our success is we do things differently from the rest. Like I said, the video blogs another person might have traditionally done one video a month where they set up lights, and are at a studio answering questions or talking about their week. We have no set schedule and do them in a very personal way right from his desk whenever he has something he wants to discuss via video. Most political videos are longer in nature or done as TV spots, but I suggested 15 second Instagram shorts. With so much media competing for people’s attention it is important to be short and direct if you want to be successful at getting your message across. These Instagram videos over the last few weeks have been proof of that. Also as an editor it's interesting to see how much content you can fit into 15 seconds. I have to admit sometimes it's tough to fit a story, punch line and logo in 15 seconds, but I always figure it out.

FR: Are you working with any of the social platforms?

JM: I have had a great experience working with Twitter and Facebook. We visited Facebook headquarters a few months ago in New York City and did a really fun rapid fire questions live from their headquarters. Also, with Facebook earlier in the year, I collaborated with the Miss Universe social media team and Facebook to have the final question sourced from their Facebook page. Within a week the Miss Universe account gained 500,000 followers just from having this contest.

With Twitter we just did that #AskTrump Q&A which was trending worldwide. Mr. Trump was the first candidate to use the new Twitter Q&A video app.

FR: How big is your team and how do you accomplish all of this?

JM: It’s interesting. I oversee it and there are a few other people in the office that do help post since there's so much content and I might be busy on a shoot or cutting a video. Mr. Trump also tweets himself at night and on the weekend. I usually do most of the editing for the majority of our videos. I do occasionally act as a videographer and photographer but sometimes we bring in someone else if it’s more of a complicated shoot like a real estate tour or golf promo video.

FR: If you had to sum up the top pieces of advice you have for someone in the industry based on your experiences, what would they be?

JM: My advice would be, if you have a new and different idea, just try it. That’s the great thing with social media, you get an instant reaction and you can just try something and see if it works very fast and if it doesn’t try something else. A lot of times I’ve gone with my instinct on stuff and it’s worked out wonderful for us. From the general tweet and video blog about anything approach, to doing 15 second shorts. Also don’t be afraid to take on new responsibilities that can add valuable content to your pages. I wasn’t content with just smartphone photos when I was covering events, so I trained myself in using an SLR. Now I have professional photos that we could also use for other purposes down the line. Sometimes things would happen spur of the moment in the office and I didn’t have a videographer on hand, so I taught myself how to shoot video better.

I’ve done a little bit of everything. I’ve learned so much on this job. It’s not just learning about social media, I’ve learned about photography, I’ve learned about videography, I’ve learned more about editing and putting together shoots and doing budgets. It’s been a tremendous learning experience here. The Trumps let you get a very hands on experience which has helped me a lot on the job and in life.

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