Donald Trump is trying to change America. In the process, is he changing political Twitter?
News coverage of the social media platform itself often focuses on its financial woes, but in the political and cultural worlds, it reigns supreme as a tool to inject an idea or phrase into the public conversation. Donald Trump’s tweets in particular have shaken corporations and thrown politics into chaos, but interestingly, he’s not actually following the common Twitter success template, as I argue in the most recent C&E Technology Bytes column:
Notably, Trump breaks what is usually described as a fundamental rule of Twitter: he rarely engages or interacts. Except for the occasional retweet or brief Twitter-feud, his feed is mostly self-contained. While his tweets make news, he rarely responds to others on Twitter, and he may not look at other people’s feeds much at all.
Violating a sacred commandment of social media! “Thou shalt interact”…except when you’re Donald Trump and you don’t need to. But while HE’S not looking at your tweets, others might be — if you’re interesting and relevant.
…though he may not be scanning Twitter to find new voices, others are — including reporters. Embedded tweets are now common in news stories about the Trump administration, and not just from him: surrogates, observers and opponents often make the cut.
This creates an opening. Trump may not see a tweet from Planned Parenthood or the ACLU on his phone, but it may break through the bubble if it makes the jump to the New York Times, Fox News or CNN. Even if he never sees it, the right tweet at the right time will still reach far more eyes than it might.
If Twitter is extra-prominent under Trump, what can activists and organizers do to take advantage of it? Get on the field, for a start, and don’t tweet out mealy-mouthed statements (bland does not sell). Get allies and others to boost your signal, and reach out directly to people writing and talking about your issues. But don’t sell your mission short in search of Twitter glory! Words can come back to haunt you, as President Trump keeps finding out.
What about other politicians?
Could a state legislator from the sticks ride Twitter to Congress and beyond?
Possibly, but it won’t be common. Trump is not a normal candidate. He comes from celebrity-land, a place where outrageous publicity stunts are a proud tradition. For people like Trump, bad press is better than no press at all — what matters is that they are the story, not their rivals. Trump’s background somehow shields him from the full repercussions of his words — for now. But normal politicians won’t be protected by a Trumpian aura, and their tweets can and will derail careers.
Reality can catch up with celebrity politicians, too…
What’s the future of Twitter under Trump? What will we do if the tweetstorms stop? More on that soon.
Top Photo: Donald Trump speaking with the media at a hangar at Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.