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6 January 2017

Will 2017 be the year Trump explodes the Twitter timebomb?

Written by: Alex Eeles, Principal Writer at Edelman

Government Affairs, Media

The President’s been tweeting again. This time, the twin targets of his 140 character missiles were North Korea and China but in the last 12 months, you could pretty much replace them with Obama, Clinton (Hillary or Bill), Mexicans, NAFTA, Miss World, women in general, the list goes on.

Yet wherever we sit in the great Trump divide, one thing we may all agree on is that his use of social media, and Twitter in particular, has changed the game of government forever. Where once politics was often a mysterious, behind-closed-doors kind of art, punctuated by the odd anodyne joint press conference, Trump’s willingness to publicly shoot across virtually anyone’s bows in a handful of words promises a whole new era of diplomacy.

How the world’s leaders respond to this let’s call it ‘direct’ approach may well define America’s geopolitical role for generations. Meanwhile for the communications industry, these regular Twitter tirades continue to make for fascinating reading. Not just because of their content but because, so far at least, they’ve worked.

After all, it won’t be long before Trump is sworn into office on a groundswell of populist support, thanks in no small part to his ability to spread his message so widely. In fact, even the most passionate of Democrats would have to admit their candidate lost the 2016 election’s newest battleground state: Twitter. A state that lets Trump reach more than 18 million followers (and counting) every time he touches finger to keyboard.

Earlier this week, GQ ironically suggested that Trump’s prolific tweeting comes from a lack of ability to do anything else. And while this may or may not be true, his success does emphasise something else: the ongoing erosion of media influence outside the so-called middle class elite. This is likely to be further underlined by the findings of the Edelman Trust Barometer later this month.

Whereas once the public looked to national newspapers, magazines and news sites for information, in a post-authority, post-truth world, most people now prefer to take things undiluted and unproven, straight from the horse’s (or President-elect’s) mouth. This means they get the information when and where they want, but, crucially, hear exactly what they want to as well.

Of course, any brand with a modicum of sense wouldn’t dream of being as controversial and confrontational a tweeter as Trump. But in some ways, that doesn’t matter. The point is they could be if they chose to.

Nowadays, any business can offer insight, opinion, information and more with the click of 140 buttons…and then watch as their words either spread like wildfire or drown unseen in a sea of content. It’s like having a finger on the trigger of a weapon that can simultaneously placate, provoke or piss off at an unprecedented scale in a matter of seconds. And just like any weapon, in the wrong hands it has the potential to do great harm.

So, if 2016 was the year of shockwatching (Brexit, Trump, Bake Off), 2017 may just be the year of clockwatching. Thanks to the likes of Trump, Twitter has become more of a ticking timebomb than ever. We must all use it wisely.

Image: txking / Shutterstock.com

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