Keep Up the Tweets,Mr. President

bird    Donald Trump is the first social media President. The Obama campaigns were said to be the first to make significant use of the internet but that was primarily to raise money and organize events and volunteers. There has been nothing like the personal, pointed and persistent messages that emanate from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.

This innovative practice at the intersection of politics and media partially replaces television and radio, the previous means for direct communication between a politician and the people. Franklin Roosevelt pioneered cozy fireside chats on radio; Mr. Trump has pioneered emotionally engaged social media messaging.

But the interesting comparison is with advertising. Like TV and radio ads, Tweets bypass journalistic editing. But unlike TV and radio ads, Tweets are free and can be sent out at any time, in any quantity, on any subject. And they are personal to a degree advertising rarely if ever reaches.

Mr. Trump’s messages gave rise to derision. During the primaries and the presidential campaign other candidates mocked his Tweets for brevity – famously the platform has a140-character limit – and superficiality. Op-ed columns earnestly explained the shortcomings of Twitter style politics. Outgoing Vice Present Joe Biden recently chided Mr. Trump to grow up—once he is sworn in, the President is supposed to become serious, long-winded and portentous, thereby outgrowing the quick and brief Tweet format.

Yet social media served Mr. Trump remarkably well. He got across his messages at little cost, indeed for free except for time his staff spent in the endeavor and promotional expenses—he had minimal staff compared to Hillary Clinton. He communicated directly with the electorate at a tiny fraction of the cost of TV and radio ads. This countered Clinton’s edge in raising funds, which would have given her an unbeatable advantage if advertising had been the only way to communicate directly to large swatches of the population. His Tweets made it possible for Mr. Trump to get his ideas across with much less campaign money. The Clinton’s campaign’s use of social media was less successful, mainly because the messages were conventional liberal slogans with no distinctive touch.

Given that the need for vast sums of money for advertising has been a fundamental source of political corruption, Mr. Trump’s ability to win on a shoestring budget – compared to other campaigns – should be a hopeful sign for those worried about corrupting role of campaign finance. But the media ignores this novelty of the 2016 election.

The President of the United States has special access to television time without taking out ads. No doubt Mr. Trump like past Presidents will make use of TV time. But it cannot replace social media. Televised speeches are once-in-a-blue-moon formal affairs; social media is 24/7, allowing immediate responses to news and personal comments that appeal to people much better than official bulletins. The common criticism that nothing substantial can be communicated in Tweets is nonsense—chains of multiple messages can disseminate complicated arguments, one point at a time.

Mr. Trump faces more controversy and opposition than presidents usually do at the start of their first term. Much of the media is hostile to him. To keep his popular support he will need to explain his actions and decisions, not once in a while but  continually. It will be up to you, @realDonaldTrump


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