We had an interesting discussion in MIS class a couple of weeks ago about how social media affected the 2016 presidential election. It was fascinating to note the differences between Trump and Hillary’s online strategy and how Trump seemingly did a better job engaging with his supporters. While this wasn’t the sole cause of his win, Trump’s Twitter use certainly contributed to why 60 million people at the very least identified with the brand he represents. Trump is also an expert at keeping the media talking about him, and as they say – there’s no such thing as bad press.
Immediately after our class on that Wednesday, I sat down and watched the vice presidential debate. I started thinking – is this election shaping out the same way? Is Trump tweeting his way to victory yet again? What are Biden and Kamala doing different from Hillary Clinton? And what about the star of the show this week – Mike Pence’s fly? Even though the two candidates talked about very important issues and this election is imperative to the future of the United States, as the Forbes article I found below stated, “Instead of real issues being discussed on social media, it was all about the fly – #pencefly!” After the debate, social media exploded and memes featuring the fly dominated every platform from the second it landed on his head. Everyone from reporters to celebrities had something to say. The Biden campaign was quick to chime into the conversation, posting a picture of Joe with a fly swatter and linking to the website, flywillvote.com in another tweet. They’re even selling Joe Biden fly swatters.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has pressed on, entirely ignoring the fact that the fly incident even occurred (much how Pence completely ignored the fly while it was actually on his head). Since the 2016 election (according to NBC News), Trump’s Twitter strategy has shifted to promoting his administration’s policies and objectives from engaging with his supporters. Over the last four years, the president has also used the platform to deflect and deny scandals (such as the Russia investigation and the impeachment) that have followed him throughout his campaign. In 2020, the majority of Trump’s tweets have about how he has been handling COVID-19. The amount Trump has tweeted has also grown since 2016 – from over 160 times a month on average to over 980 in 2020. One day this month, the president sent out numerous all caps tweets about random campaign initiatives urging people to vote. And seemingly Americans aren’t impressed – 63% of people think Trump tweets “too frequently” according to an Economist/YouGov survey from June.
Based on our discussion in class and the Generating Capital from Social Media reading however, it does not appear that Trump has shifted from his “Listen and Brand” strategy. Trump is still attempting to use his social media platforms to engage and converse with his base. However, to me it seems like Trump has fallen victim to one of the risks that comes with solely using this strategy according to the reading: “Encouraging complaints and surfacing problems without an appropriate reaction system.” For years, Trump has encouraged his followers on social media to engage with him and discuss their issues with politics and policy. However, when complaints, critiques, or even a light-hearted mocking come in the direction of his campaign, he refuses to address it.
While the Pence fly meme is silly, do you think that Trump/his campaign not acknowledging it and thus refusing to participate in a viral conversation perhaps reflects a larger flaw in the Trump 2020 campaign strategy overall? Is not responding to complaints losing him support? Is it possible that Trump is tweeting too much about policies that no one cares about or that no one even believes? Is he losing the personal social media connection he once exceled at? Or does his base simply not care? I guess we will see how this shapes out come November.
Mandviwalla, Munir, and Richard Watson. “Generating Capital from Social Media.” MIS Quarterly Executive , June 2014.