The Twitter candidate: Donald Trump's mastery of social media is his real ground game

Donald Trump has embodied what it means to be a social savvy politician

Published February 18, 2016 2:33PM (EST)

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Donald Trump keeps proving political analysts wrong by consistently staying ahead in the polls, and some social media gurus are beginning to think that his online campaign presence may be the real reason for his staying power.

Since entering the race last June, the real estate magnate’s social media presence has grown exponentially and today he boasts 6.2 million followers on Twitter. The political novice who has remained top of the polls in the majority of the Republican race has spent just a fraction of what his opponents have on advertising, yet has gained the most publicity.

Indeed, every time the public would have dispelled Trump from the race, particularly after his outlandish comments about immigrants, Muslims and well, the general population, (“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”), he has inadvertently proven time and time again, that the Trump brand is a force to be reckoned with. He has embodied what it means to be a social savvy politician and cashed into Twitter’s dynamic, real-time messaging tool for his complete and utter enjoyment.

The secret behind Trump’s successful online presence: Justin McConney. The 29-year-old digital strategist of the Trump campaign has reportedly encouraged the presidential candidate to give fans and supporters what they want. “In Trump's case, that means controversy — the more outrageous the content, the better.”

If he does win the election this November, the real estate magnate could possibly be the first "social media" president in the White House. At the very least, he has proven himself as the first major U.S. politician to use social media in a way that truly amplifies his message beyond traditional campaigning.

According to digital political analyst Alan Rosenblatt, there is a conversion factor between social media touches and real-life votes. “Just as campaign consultants have their conversion numbers for the number of door knocks, yard signs, handshakes and baby kisses to secure one vote, there is a number for social media touches to one vote,” Rosenblatt said in an article on SocialMediaToday.

Since caucus voting began in Iowa, indisputably Trump has received a lot of hostility from traditional analysts who have criticized his lack of ground game. But the work he lacks on the ground, he makes up for online, which may be more intent than previously assumed. In a Washington Post article, Paul Schwartzman and Jenna Johnson, allude to Trump's methodical and disciplined campaign strategy despite the appearance of chaos.

Currently Trump tweets roughly 10 times a day, nearly every day. And on some days he posts compulsively, like on Oct. 31 when he tweeted 59 times.

Trump's Twitter feed has a strong sense of community and most of his followers are ardent supporters of his policies, again reflecting on the social media to ground support conversion. His social followers often create memes and witty hashtags for their chosen candidate, perhaps more so than any other presidential aspirant, in part because Trump so frequently retweets their support.

Yes, critics can argue Trump’s campaigning may have been amateurish, inconsistent, disconnected, but in the same respect, whether you love him, or love to hate him, you have to admit that his social media game has been unlike anything ever seen. And he’s set in motion an evolution of social politics.

Perhaps the reason traditional analysts keep getting constantly stunned by his success in the polls is that they are operating out of an antiquated rulebook, for this is no traditional campaign and Trump is no traditional candidate.

Social networks, of which Trump has several — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and his most notorious, Twitter —  have replaced or at least provided a complement to the classic campaign template. As stated by Rosenblatt, in 2008, Obama had an intentional social media program from the start, “but it was still inventing its way as the campaign unfolded,” Trump, on the other hand, has set a high standard for his Twitter followers from the very beginning, “winning” Twitter multiple times, by live-tweeting one of the Democratic debates and other campaign events.

"Trump’s personal participation in his own social media creates a connection to the voter that feels closer than the arms-length sense they get from politicians, generally. And his social media presence dwarfs his competitors," said Rosenblatt.

FDR was the first "radio" president. JFK emerged as the first "television" president, and now perhaps Trump will be an innovator in his own right. FDR was a president who used the most cutting-edge technology of his day, "the fireside chats" to speak directly to an audience of millions. Trump is using mentions and hashtags to convey his personal message. The rules of the game have undeniably changed, and it can be said that the spoils will go to the person who figured it out first.

By Antoaneta Roussi

MORE FROM Antoaneta Roussi

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