I was invited onto The Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2 recently to talk about the differences in the way Donald Trump and Barack Obama use Twitter. In these few days leading up to the new president being sworn in, the behaviour we’ve seen from Trump on Twitter is especially poignant.
You can see the interview here while it’s on iPlayer – it’s an interesting debate on how the two men differ so much.
How do the Twitter feeds of Trump & Obama differ?
The way in which Barack Obama and Donald Trump use Twitter is worlds apart. Barack Obama, the first American president of the social media age, adapted to new social networks and very quickly became social media savvy. He employed a team of young people who would go on to craft a highly successful, professional and polished social media presence that positions the president in the desired way. The tone is positive, articulate and appropriate; we get what we expect from someone in such an important position. There is, however, a sense that Obama is very removed from the account as it is clear it is managed by a team.
Trump on the other hand, has embraced the very nature of Twitter and uses it to communicate directly to American people. It is very personal, often inarticulate (remember the tweet where he confused unprecedented with unpresidented?) and many tweets are very negative. He tweets a great deal, on average 11 times a day, but actually gives very little away. Much of the content involves attacking the media or other individuals or is often provocative, reactive or controversial.
Trump’s tweets portray an impatient, angry man who is ready and willing to attack others. However, his insistence on publishing them himself, or at least dictating the message verbatim to his staff, mean he has achieved a high degree of authenticity which, on social, is highly influential.
Obama also has a great degree of influence on social media but at no point has anything unprofessional or vindictive ever been published; his Twitter feed is positive, informative and inclusive. Trump’s Twitter feed does seem to be a perfectly accurate reflection of his personality, displaying none of the maturity or professionalism of Obama’s feed which is particularly shocking considering the role he now has in global politics.
Managing Public Perception
Their respective Facebook cover photos makes it quite clear how Trump and Obama want to be perceived.
This image presents Obama as a happy, down to earth man who is connected to the people. He seems approachable, personable and at ease with people. The ‘Sign Up’ button on this page links to the ‘Organizing for Action page’. It’s easy to see why this image was chosen for his Facebook page.
Trump’s page on the other hand presents him as a self-important, powerful man. The camera is looking up toward him and he looks serious and business-like. I was surprised to find the “Shop Now” button link to Trump’s merchandise page; more commercial than presidential and what you’d expect from a ‘brand’ rather than a president elect. But, having said that, nothing Trump has been doing is what we’d expect from someone about to be sworn in as the next President of the United States.
Why is Trump’s Twitter feed so newsworthy?
Despite Twitter having significantly less users in America than Facebook, Trump has embraced the network, making it his campaign weapon of choice and still, despite having won the vote, is behaving in much the same pre-election style.
Trump’s tweets are a stream of consciousness in real time and he is to the point, clear and simple. With Twitter there is no need to add detail or context to his comments and I’m sure that suits him perfectly well. His style is brief, rather SHOUTY and he doesn’t care to elaborate. The recent press conference highlights exactly why a microblogging site is the best way for him to communicate; when speaking at length he is exposed, yet within 140 characters he is comfortable.
Trump has strategically and consistently used social media to attack certain news organisations, creating a situation where his Twitter stream is monitored by journalists and regularly dictates the headlines.
Because much information has only been released over Twitter, prior to the press conference, his feed has become a source of news for reporters and has therefore grown in popularity and notoriety.
The future of Trump on Twitter?
After January 20th, when Trump takes over the @POTUS Twitter account, it will be interesting to see if he will continue to use it in the same way. Will it be a continuous source of controversy or will his team manage it in a calmer, more reasonable manner?
Or maybe he will continue to use Twitter in the way that has worked so successfully for him in the past and distance himself from journalists and press conferences, perhaps changing the way Americans and the rest of the world learn about his decisions as President. Whichever route he chooses, he has certainly gone down in history as a controversial tweeter who has sparked much debate on social media and political discourse.
Even some of his supporters have had enough and want him to stop tweeting!