By blowing up Twitter with controversial comments and posting 15-second political videos on Instagram, Donald Trump is proving to be a master manipulator who understands social media more than any other presidential candidate, according to experts on politics and social media.
"Donald Trump would not be where he is today without the amplification of social media," said Mindy Finn, who has worked for President George W. Bush, 2012 candidate Mitt Romney, Google and Twitter. Donald Trump is 'essentially trolling the Republican Party'.
I have never seen a thin person drinking Diet Coke.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2012
"Facebook has the widest reach by far but Trump has understood that you go to Twitter, erupt a controversy, say something outrageous to drive controversy, and then you dominate the news cycle for 24 hours."
A staffer to former Republican candidate Mitt Romney revealed 22 people had to approve one tweet during the 2012 presidential race, underlining the caution politicians demonstrated with social media engagement.
This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2014
Trump, by contrast, is boosting his following by writing tweets himself — locked caps and spelling errors included.
"It is incredible to see a leading candidate like Trump tweeting personally," Finn told Fairfax Media. "He understood that carefully scripted soundbites on Twitter weren't going to get the attention needed to dominate."
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
Trump's social media strategy is run by 29-year-old Justin McConney, son of 28-year Trump Organization veteran vice-president Jeffrey McConney. Justin McConney has overseen Trump's Twitter following leap from 300,000 followers in 2011 to over 5.5 million today.
"It should not be a surprise that Donald Trump is this great phenomenon," added Finn. "He has written books about how to manipulate the media and has a greater understanding of the media than any other candidate."
The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2014
Joe Rospars, founder and CEO of Blue State Digital, a leading political digital media agency, suggested Trump's tweets were as calculated as all other candidates and not as authentic as many supporters believe.
"I don't think Trump is doing authenticity," said Rospars, who was chief digital strategist for Obama for America during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
Remember, new "environment friendly" lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful— the idiots who came up with this stuff don't care.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2012
"Contrast Trump with super-calculated Jeb Bush. Trump is calculated too but on the celebrity, tabloid, map. He is doing something different but I wouldn't call it authentic."
Rospars said for some 2016 voters, social media is their sole source of information about candidates — a challenge for candidates wanting to appear authentic.
Wind turbines are not only killing millions of birds, they are killing the finances & environment of many countries & communities.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2012
"Some candidates are really engaged — or disengaged — on social media," said Rospars. "You can see some who don't have anything to say or too much to say. And you can see people who behave like a troll. Donald Trump's campaign is essentially trolling the Republican Party."
How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2013
In 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama used social media to win support and solicit donations to raise record amounts of campaign money from grassroots supporters — a strategy repeated by 2016 Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
As Mitt Romney demonstrated, other candidates remain cautious about the role of social media in a political race.
I am being proven right about massive vaccinations—the doctors lied. Save our children & their future.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2014
"A campaign is about controlling the message and creating a particular brand that is managed and scripted," said Finn.
"A medium like social media thrives on authenticity, humour, and controversy, and that is uncomfortable for political campaigns."
Glad to see that @RondaRousey lost her championship fight last night. Was soundly beaten - not a nice person!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 16, 2015
In Australia, voters waiting for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to fire up a tweetstorm may be out of luck, according to Philip Dalidakis, the Victorian government's Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade and a Twitter advocate.
"While Australians are regarded as one of the world's best technological early adopters, we have been largely conservative in using that technology publicly and certainly professionally," he said.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Dalidakis, who followed President Obama's recent State of the Union address in Washington DC on Twitter, said younger politicians were slowly changing the culture in Australian politics.
"Twitter allows for an immediacy that other older forms of communication do not," he said. "It's a real-time conversation that others can see and participate in as they see fit."
— Lenny Jacobson (@Lennyjacobson) April 17, 2015