January 31, 2018

Trump's Twitter Torrent Doesn't Have Legs

Last week I was interviewed by BBC World Services. The topic of the interview was Trump and Twitter. One of the questions they asked was whether the fascination with Trump's tweets would be the new normal for politicians. My answer was no.

Historically, large social media successes have mostly been one-offs and have not been repeatable. Here are a few social media phenomena that were supposed to change everything and changed absolutely nothing.

First was The Blair Witch Project. It was a super-low budget film that became a smash hit through clever use of social media. It was hailed as the turning point for movie marketing, and was "proof" that movies would no longer need expensive TV advertising. Tune in to the Super Bowl to see how wrong this turned out to be.

Next is Zappos. They built a very successful online shoe retailing company (eventually bought by Amazon) on the back of Twitter. This was supposed to disrupt retailing forever as clever marketers would use Twitter to replace paid advertising. There has never been another Zappos.

We then had The Ice Bucket Challenge. Charitable fund raising would never be the same as non-profits learned "The Five Essential Lessons Of The Ice Bucket Challenge" as defined in hundreds of insufferable Powerpoint presentations by every marketing and social media nonentity on the planet. There was only one essential lesson to be learned -- sometimes crazy shit catches on.

Finally, social media brought us the revolutionary "Arab Spring." The less said about this delusional horseshit the better.

Now we are told that Trump's Twitter tornado will change politics. It won't. It is most likely another social media one-off that will work for Trump and no one else.

First, the whole Twitter phenomenon is not a Twitter phenomenon. In April of 2016, at the height of Republican presidential nomination hysteria, Trump had 7.5 million followers on Twitter. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say they were all American voters (which they most certainly were not) and they were all humans and not bots (not a chance in the world.) He still had a following that constituted only 3% of American adults.

How was it that only 3% of Americans followed him on Twitter but 100% knew about his tweets? Simple - TV, radio and newspapers decided they were big news. Think about it - how did you find out about Trump tweets? Did you follow him on Twitter, or did you hear and read about them on TV, radio and newspapers? The mass media enormously amplified his tweets and still does.

Journalists are bewitched by Twitter. A recent survey showed that 96% of journalists use Twitter on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, about 20% of Americans have a Twitter account (Pew Research.)

Obviously, journalists put a lot more value on what happens on Twitter than you or I do. They became enthralled with Trump's tweets. Let's face it, his tweets are good copy. But journalists are probably already regretting that they made such a fuss over them and spread them all over mass media. Journalists eventually learn their lessons. No one will ever again get the kind of mass media free ride from tweeting that Trump has gotten.

Twitter, like all social media, is a corrupt and sordid thing. It works most effectively for athletes, pop stars, actors, and other famous people because average people want to bask in the reflected glory of their famous heroes. After starring for 14 years on a "reality" TV show Trump fits this profile. He's a made-for-Twitter politician. Most politicians don't even come close. Who the fuck wants to bask in the glory of Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell?

You can bet the farm that every half-assed pol in the world is currently trying to emulate Trump's Twitter formula to aggrandize him/herself. In 99.9% of cases it will come to nothing.

What are "The Five Essential Lessons Of The Trump Twitter Phenomenon?" There is only one - it won't happen again.

my interview with BBC World Service can be found here.

No comments:

Post a Comment