PR experts spell out what went wrong with Trump’s Truth Social
The iOS app launch of Trump’s Truth Social was riddled with problems. Now, as two top executives step down from their posts just months after joining, the whole operation appears to be in peril. Political strategists and PR pros discuss the fallout and what could have been avoided.
Former US president Donald Trump’s social media venture Truth Social appears to have had a false start. In the aftermath of its rocky iPhone app launch in late February, it was widely reported that two top Truth Social executives resigned from the company. Now the whole endeavor is being labeled a flop by business and PR experts.
Is Truth Social a flop? Some say so, as Trump privately floats the notion of joining Gettr
The two former executives in question are Josh Adams and Billy Boozer, who together served as chiefs of technology and product development. Both came onboard in 2021, tapped for their tech backgrounds as well as their Trump brand of political conservatism. Both were proponents of Trump’s vision for a new kind of social media platform: one that stood in stark opposition to the proliferation of censorship and social ostracization that has become broadly referred to as ‘cancel culture.’ Now, per multiple reports, the two technologists have left the company high and dry amid its floundering efforts to get its mobile app up and running.
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And things are looking bleak; an anonymous source told Reuters: “If Josh has left ... all bets are off.” The source dubbed Adams the “brains” behind the platform’s technical infrastructure.
Donald Trump’s social media venture, Truth Social, was created under Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), which launched in October of last year. The former president had spoken publicly about the desire to launch his own social network since he was banned from both Facebook and Twitter last year in the wake of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
Now, the resignations of Adams and Boozer come less than two months after the platform’s iOS launch on February 20 – which did not appear to go according to plan, per reports. The app was allegedly launched prematurely; a month-plus after the kick-off. Reuters reports that many users remain stuck in limbo on a long waiting list. It’s estimated that just a few hundred users were on the app in February, per Reuters.
David Nunes, a former US representative for California’s 21st and 22nd congressional districts who now serves as chief executive of Truth Social’s parent company TMTG, assured consumers that the app was to be fully functional by the end of March.
The company has yet to develop a mobile app designed for Android devices, though its website says it’s “coming soon.” Without an Android app, Truth Social is passing up the opportunity to reach some 40% of US smartphone users.
What the PR pros are saying: ‘one of many mistakes’
Experts aren’t exactly surprised by the apparent flop. “This is indicative of the Donald Trump approach to business: hype up a product, get lots of buy-in at the beginning, then utterly fail at delivering a quality product,” says Tim Lim, a political strategist, PR consultant and partner at creative agency The Hooligans. “Trump himself won’t even use the platform, so why should anyone else?”
Lim also suggests that putting Nunes in charge – who “has absolutely no experience in tech or developing a platform” – was “just one of many mistakes.”
Beyond any leadership challenges it may be facing, other industry experts point out that it’s difficult for any category newcomer – let alone one as divisive as Truth Social – to break into the crowded field of social media. “It’s a mature field now, and it’s very difficult to break a new platform unless it’s tied to an existing and established one,” says Dr Karen Freberg, social media expert and associate professor of strategic communication at the University of Louisville. “Social media app development and execution is extremely difficult and needs a lot of planning, promotion, buy-in, strategy and components to make it work. Apps have to also determine what makes this app and platform different from others – and make sure these features, benefits and other elements are highlighted and understood by audiences.”
Plus, while the TMTG team may have seen a waitlist as a symbol of exclusivity and clout, Freberg says it probably did more harm than good. “Yes, this builds demand and interest initially – but if people can’t get on a platform for themselves, they lose interest.” She conjectures that Trump and his team would have been better off trying to carve out a niche on an existing platform before trying to launch their own endeavor. “Look at what Elon Musk has done with Twitter,” she adds.
It could have happened. Parler, a social network that bills itself as the place “where free speech thrives,” has in recent years become a haven of the right wing as well as conspiracy theorists. When Trump was booted from Facebook and Twitter, the platform offered Trump a 40% stake in its company if he agreed to post exclusively to Parler – the app of which has now been downloaded nearly 11.3m times globally since its launch, per data from Sensor Tower. The deal was never finalized.
The social site Gettr, started by former Trump aide Jason Miller, also reportedly tried to court the former president.
“Trump likely has remorse for having turned down offers from Parler and Gettr. While his ill-conceived and rushed app may in fact die someday soon, it will be his team’s silence around these issues – not the issues themselves – that will lead to the app’s ... demise,” says Aaron Kwittken, founder and chairman at strategy and PR agency KWT Global and president at the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
However, reports from the Washington Post published today indicate that Trump has expressed anger at the lackluster rollout of Truth Social and has privately voiced the idea of signing up for platforms such as Gettr, according to an anonymous source who spoke with the Post.
It’s not the first time that Truth Social has faced public crises. In late October of last year, following an announcement by Trump that a handful of invite-only users were already trying out the beta version, Aubrey Cottle, also known as Kirtaner – a Canadian software engineer and member of hacktivist group Anonymous – shared what appeared to be a public domain for the beta service. This led to an onslaught of trolling. The URL was soon wiped from the internet.
Per its website, Truth Social “encourages an open, free and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology.” But whether or not the “global conversation” will ever get rolling remains to be seen.
Truth Social did not respond to requests for comment.