There is something going on.
Twitter doesn’t win anymore.
Now, a lot of smart people are saying that Twitter has stopped growing, that it has big problems with usability, and that other social networks like Instagram are taking away its users. Something has to change for Twitter to become great again, and the man to do it is Donald J. Trump.
To be clear: I am not endorsing Trump for President of Twitter (or CEO), but I do think that Donald Trump’s campaign and the influence that his Twitter account has can serve as a case study for how Twitter should be used by individuals and brands in 2016. Unlike presidential candidate/casualty Scott Walker, who used his Twitter account to post pictures of his bagged lunches and his house chores, Donald Trump uses his Twitter account to earn overwhelming (and free) media attention, organize his supporters, release official responses to real-time controversies, and grow his already “yuge” personal brand.
Recently, the Moz Blog performed an audit of several presidential candidates’ Twitter accounts using their FollowerWonk tool. You can see Donald Trump’s analysis here; it gives an overview of the habits and demographics of Trump’s 6 million+ followers. One interesting data point is the “retweet percentage,” since Donald Trump’s feed is only 5.5% retweets, while the other candidates have over 30%.
That big discrepancy is due to the fact that Donald Trump doesn’t use Twitter in the same way as anyone else. Instead of using the retweet function, Donald Trump will copy and paste a tweet into an entirely new tweet, then add a few words of commentary. Like so:
This method of retweeting works to Donald Trump’s advantage in many ways. For one, his tweet and profile image shows up in full in his follower’s feeds, instead of someone else’s tweet with an added “@realDonaldTrump retweeted.” Second, while the quotes are being pushed through his official Twitter account, this method gives him deniability if anyone takes offense to the content. Take this photoshopped image of Jeb Bush, for example, which Donald Trump retweeted from a white supremacist account.
Third, Donald Trump’s method of retweeting helps him create a sense of community among his Twitter followers. One common complaint about Twitter from new users is that it feels impersonal. This blog post does a great job of explaining why Twitter users feel like they’re “screaming into the void.” What Donald Trump does by copying-and-pasting everyday users’ messages into his own original tweets is to show that he is listening to his followers and cares about what they have to say.
If you go through Donald Trump’s most recent tweets, you’ll see how many responses they get within minutes of being posted. Users share their photoshopped images and gifs, their opinions of other presidential candidates, and their reasons for supporting Donald Trump – all of which Donald Trump loves to retweet. It is this feedback loop of retweets, responses, and retweets that has driven the growth of Trump’s influence on Twitter, and it has likely been helping Donald Trump’s campaign. There is data to back that assumption up, too:
The site “TwitterWonk” tracks volume, engagement, and follower data of each of the presidential candidates. They update this graph (above), which they say “tracks up to a +0.9 correlation with National Polls.”
If you look at Donald Trump’s FollowerWonk page from Moz again, you’ll notice a map showing where his followers are located. They seem to be evenly spread across the United States:
The FollowerWonk page also contains a graph showing Donald Trump’s most active hours, or when he is most likely to tweet. The hours between 6am and 9am are his “prime time,” which works in his advantage for a few different reasons:
His followers become more active between the hours of 9am and 12pm, which gives the tweets he sent out that morning to gain some steam. When his followers scroll through their feeds at 11:30, they get to see tweets from Donald Trump that have already garnered thousands of engagements.
From my personal experience as a @realDonaldTrump follower, the tweets that he writes early in the morning are usually direct responses to the popular news from the afternoon/night before. It is quite often that I will learn about a Republican primary news story from Trump directly, getting his personal take on it first.
Then, when I go to Google News and read a few articles about the latest Republican controversy, I see Donald Trump’s tweets embedded in the articles.
Twitter has long said that their audience is “larger than Facebook’s” due to their embed function, which allows media outlets like The New York Times and CNN embed tweets directly into their content. Well, with a politician as controversial as Donald Trump, his tweets are a huge source of social shares and search referrals. Here is a small article from Salon that is about a single tweet from Donald Trump. That article, according to SharedCount, got thousands of engagements and shares across other social networks. That is the kind of free brand amplification that marketers dream of!
Better yet, Donald Trump’s tweets make it onto television. The same tweet as before was directly mentioned in this Fox News town hall event, and the crowd went wild when Sean Hannity brought it up. Here is a CNN segment that is all about how “Donald Trump uses Twitter to attack his opponents. Some politicians have been using Twitter to fight back against Donald Trump, too, including Mitt Romney:
Twitter has also been a very popular destination for pre-, live, and post-debate commentary. Here is a blog post of “The 33 funniest reactions from comedians to the latest #GODdebate”, for instance.
It is these kind of interactions that I believe make Twitter unique among the ranks of social media networks, and will help “make it great again.” Nowhere else do you get such high-profile profiles being used to make public statements alongside real-time community feedback.
Facebook might have the most active users, but Twitter arguably has more influence on culture. Just look at how much media attention Kanye West or Martin Shkreli get from their Twitter escapades, or look at the impact that the “#WhichHillary” trend has had on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Speaking of #WhichHillary, I just went and looked at the live feed of tweets with that hashtag without being logged in, and saw this promoted tweet from unSend. No other advertising network then Twitter Ads can allow you to specifically target “millennials who are angry at Hillary Clinton.” While I personally don’t find the accompanying gif with that ad funny, I do see the hidden potential in Twitter Ads for “Social Moment” targeting. When a hashtag like #WhichHillary starts trending, brands can start running promoted tweets within minutes that are specifically tailored to the moment.
Remember the famous “Oreo lights-out Super Bowl tweet”? It’d be very difficult to reach that level of virality, but it seems to me that Twitter is reworking their Twitter Ads network to allow smaller, more localized brands market “in the moment.” Their Amplify program, for instance, is an instant-replay service that allows advertisers to serve video snippets to highly targeted audiences during an event such as the Oscars.
To recap all of this, here is how “Donald Trump Will Make Twitter Great Again”:
Trump tweets his personal responses to popular news, which are then incorporated into various forms of media
Trump incorporates content and thoughts from everyday users on his main feed, creating a sense of community that Twitter has been lacking
Twitter’s advertising network allows marketers to cut through the noise during viral moments, creating the same impact as if their own content went viral
With more characters like Donald Trump using the Twitter social network, Twitter can become a major arena of public discourse and a major source of entertainment. That would make the network far more effective for marketers, and it would bring Twitter out of their current slump. The only thing to do now is to sit back and watch.
Thanks for reading this post, if you have any comments/questions feel free to leave a comment,
or contact us at Streetwise Studio,
or me directly @KyleSGibson.