Governing in the Age of Twitter

A social media CEO weighs in on a social media pro

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 17: President-elect Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Chairman's Global Dinner, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in on January 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. The invitation-only black-tie event offered an opportunity for Trump to introduce himself and members of his cabinet to foreign diplomats.

President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

No single person has benefited more from social media than President-Elect Donald Trump. He’s also created new rules of engagement, defying conventional wisdom about how a candidate for President should run a campaign.

In a matter of days he’ll be sworn in, and we’ll have a sitting President who will continue to take his message—usually unfiltered, and often provocative—straight to Twitter.

But Tweeting as President is different from Tweeting as a candidate, or even as President-Elect. The process of composing and issuing the Tweet may remain the same, but the result from the Tweets needs to be different. Governing is a complex, messy business, and President Trump will be held to a different standard from Candidate Trump.

The Media Provides the Power

While it is true that Mr. Trump has taken his message straight to the people, it’s also true that the real power of Mr. Trump’s Tweets comes from the immense coverage they receive from traditional media outlets.

Trump has 20 million Twitter followers, and historically has Tweeted between 100 and 150 times a month. Compare that to the top 20 media outlets on Twitter: they have more than 300 million combined followers, and issue nearly 30,000 Tweets per month. The media outlets magnify Trump’s message by a factor of 300x on Twitter alone—and many thousands of times when you consider the impact of television and other forms of media coverage.

President Trump will certainly have the ability to create spikes in coverage—and based on past behavior, one would expect him to continue to do that. But people are already becoming more sophisticated in dealing with this. The stock market is learning to parse Trump’s statements, and while he certainly has the ability to move a stock price, the markets often rebound to a more normal position after temporary blips.

Further, President Trump will find himself the target, rather than the aggressor, on social media. Trump has shown that he can be provoked into responding to criticism—and there seems to be no shortage of people and outlets who are willing to provoke him. News outlets such as Vanity Fair and BuzzFeed, and entertainment outlets such as NBC’s Saturday Night Live are starting to embrace and even solicit Trump’s criticism, using it for their own commercial purposes.

The Uproar Over Fake News

“Fake News” is an umbrella term used to describe everything from accurate reporting of untrue statements, to inaccurate reporting of true statements, to outright fabrications. At SocialFlow we see tens of millions of social posts from media companies, and the combined 2016 reach from those posts exceeded one trillion impressions. The posts encompassed a wide range of topics and political viewpoints, and none of them were Fake News.

We should focus our attention on news that is entirely fabricated, and from sources that make no pretense of being accurate. These are, for instance, teenagers in Macedonia creating wholly fabricated stories such as “The Pope endorses Donald Trump for President.” These content creators can make money from the click traffic they generate to their websites, and create the Fake News to make money.

The profit motive is a key driver of this type of Fake News, and with concerted effort, it can be controlled, by cutting off the path to monetization.  We already see tech titans such as Google and Facebook engaged in a cat-and-mouse exercise to deny such sites a consistent stream of income.

The Fake News topic does invite a discussion of the role of the media. And as President Trump takes office, one of the roles the media may need to play is to validate whether Trump’s Tweets reflect a true policy position, or an off-the-cuff statement. Message discipline is clearly not one of Trump’s priorities—and that creates both an opportunity and an obligation for the media.

Jim Anderson is the CEO of SocialFlow, a social media software used by more than half of the world’s Top 150 media companies to distribute their content to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

Governing in the Age of Twitter