March 1, 2016
Twitter launched as a social media platform 10 years ago last week, and its ability to both unite and divide people is indisputable.
It’s not the technology itself uniting and dividing, but rather how we users have shaped Twitter. The Arab Spring came to life largely because of Twitter’s ability to quickly and efficiently organize people from all walks of life to protest – and overthrow – authoritarian governments.
However, Twitter has also become an echo chamber, where people’s feeds are merely a reflection of the people who they choose to follow whose views and preferences coincide with their own. Arguably, this effect – and the amplification of these like-minded views – limits opportunity for discussion among people with different beliefs, and leads to discord and hostility — not only when the groups intersect, but in real life.
These days, the most visible example is at Donald Trump’s presidential rallies – which truly are Twitter hostility brought to life. Social media has merely acted as the fertile soil for discord.
No one knows this better than the Trump campaign, whose strategists use Twitter in much the way as a savvy social marketer — to appeal to their audiences and generally spread his Trumpness, in whatever way you would like to define that.
Smart data-oriented marketers already know that if you penetrate the echo chamber or filter bubble in which your target demographic exists on Twitter, the echo is noisier and resonates more strongly. We do this by understanding the social conversation and learning the language that best communicates in the echo chamber. We find influencers who might help amplify our messages to a crowd that is listening.
Trump has done the same. Twitter is a proving ground where he can test a message first – see how well it plays in the form of hearts and RTs among his followers – and bring the most resonating to life. Hillary and Bernie (and in the last two cycles, President Obama) do the same, but for Trump, it’s truly about not just applause lines, but what the professional wrestling industry has long called the “pop.” Trump, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame for his appearances on “Wrestlemania,” gets this. It’s “pop” that fuels his crowd, and he knows this probably because he’s hired people who understand his demographic to a T.
He uses key messages frequently, which are not outright attacks against anyone he opposes. Rather, he has far more success pointing out that others are not being respected or are being laughed at with the underlying message that the person is being humiliated because he or she is not up for the job. (This is another WWE technique.) Some recent examples of these key messages:
Marketers who post on social media for their clients’ brands often settle upon a “persona” that allows for them to communicate in a consistent way that resonates with their target audience. In this way, it feels as though the brand is actually speaking. Trump’s social media community managers do an excellent job of maintaining his persona in their social posts. Exclamation points make it sound like he’s there in person, yelling snide remarks. They also depend on the tried-and-true technique of complimenting the audience on its intelligence:
Every few days, his Twitter community manager simply tweets the campaign slogan in caps with an exclamation point. It provides repetition and frequent opportunity for his echo chamber to RT it to their networks. By posting this campaign slogan at different times of the day, the campaign is able to reach users who log on at different times of the day. This is likely based upon analytics that show them the best time to post certain kinds of messages – reactions to news, reaffirmations of his previous ideas, insults to other candidates, vague messaging appealing to nationalism and so on. Sometimes the messaging has an element of “pop,” and sometimes it is just repetition appealing to his base.
Again, these practices can be seen simply as Twitter marketing that does its best to target an audience — and rile up the echo chamber to the point that it isn’t just pushing his message out of the chamber. It’s also pushing the conflict into the public eye, and as we’ve seen over the past several months, news organizations cannot help but to cover the conflict. In the spirit of P.T. Barnum, Trump sees it as free publicity, and he’s right. Even negative coverage has not affected his standing in this presidential election.
Of course, he will sell all of this as simply good business instinct or truly knowing how to represent his voters. Those of us in marketing can actually see that lie.