Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a major factor in American politics today. Not only has he used his celebrity status to dominate the airwaves, he may just be the savviest candidate when it comes to social media use.
Trump’s social media accounts are a direct extension of his brand in a way that other candidates’ aren’t. On Twitter in particular, most candidates use social media to spread campaign slogans and capitalize on viral waves. Trump, however, doesn’t just have a campaign Twitter account, he tweets aggressively.
Trump’s twitter is brash, abrasive, often offensive and utterly brilliant. The genius of @RealDonaldTrump is in the way he connects with his voter-base. The vast majority of his timeline is Trump quoting and commenting on the snarky statements that average users tweet at him. The level of interactivity this offers goes above and beyond the other candidate’s strategy’s, because Trump’s account tweets in bulk and he never once strays from his off-the-cuff bravado.
Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2015
Christians need support in our country (and around the world), their religious liberty is at stake! Obama has been horrible, I will be great
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2015
So many “politically correct” fools in our country. We have to all get back to work and stop wasting time and energy on nonsense!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2015
It’s a constant stream of Trump simultaneously advancing his worldview and validating the opinions of his supporters. When Trump himself takes to Twitter, it’s just as off-the-cuff as he is in his stump speech. Twitter Trump rants and raves and makes mistakes. It’s a stark contrast with the heavily managed accounts of candidates like Hillary Clinton, whose tweets feel like they are run through a committee before posting.
It’s not just on Twitter where Trump has nailed how to connect with an internet audience. Instagram is another arena his team has mastered. If Trump wants to make a campaign announcement, he posts a short rant on Instagram. If he wants to run an attack ad, like this clip painting Jeb Bush as low energy, he just slaps it on Instagram.
Regardless of the content of his message, a number of voters are craving authenticity and fire from their candidates, an attribute Trump personifies on social media in a frankly terrifying way. His campaign’s social media seeks to portray Trump the person instead of Trump the politician, which seems to be resonating with his supporters.
And this is where we come to the ultimate masterstroke of Trump’s social media. He takes full advantage of his celebrity and combines it with his inflammatory online posts to incite extensive media coverage of his every tweet. When Trump posted that Jeb ad, CNN ran it almost non-stop for an entire day, giving it even more play and setting the stage for the narrative that Bush is a boring candidate.
In this way, Trump leverages social media to dictate the terms of the campaign and the flow of media coverage. He takes the theatrics to an insane level, and it’s just another way that new media has radically changed American politics.