What can we learn from Donald Trump?

March 5, 2019

Dr Mariann Hardey, assistant professor in marketing at Durham University Business School, shares her thoughts on the power of social media and its use as a platform for gloating, hate speech an an environment for the ‘influencer’

The power of social media is an often- trumpeted asset of these new digital times. During his election campaign and beyond, President Trump has been very vocal, often using multiple platforms to accuse, abuse and then to duck and cover from his political opponents and other critics.

What, then, can we learn from Trump’s approach to Twitter and the rest of social media? It is hard to register whether Trump feels differently regarding the scrutiny and review of his tweets. Reading his content, one of the things we have learned is Trump is bold, and clearly enjoys being able to hold a visible position on social media.

Like other influencers, Trump publishes with hyperactive frequency, moulding his content to the moment. Though much of Trump’s content invites ridicule, disbelief and parody, which has (so far) successfully lifted him up out of reality television notoriety to the leader of the free world, we can also admire the rate with which he extends his voice (his influence) to his digital profile.

Following Trump’s social media content, his audience cannot take the opportunity to look the bragger in the eye. This aspect accounts for the sway of reactionary posts to Trump where followers state they are justified in feeling got at, manipulated against or just plain fed up.

There’s a lack of explanation to Trump’s method of engagement; gone is the etiquette of truth that can be trusted and hello the truth of one individual as he sees it. One might state that Trump is directly straight talking, but another interpretation is the uncomfortable (at best) realisation this President cares more about being brand Trump.

Research analysing social media influencers establishes a significant disconnect between what individuals learn about online and the ability to decode the impact of such content. Trump is a good example. Never before has a President played such a visible role – or put such personal effort into achieving broad influence with his audience.

Yet, for all that’s been written about Trump, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, he is influencing us. We live in an era increasingly at risk of inaccurate reporting – the fake news, fear and supposed favourable dishonesty.

Some of Trump’s followers may suspect character inflation and corruption, then even an emerging concept of ‘influencer’ (whether academic, commercial or cultural) may allow us to navigate inconsistencies, competencies and a commercially-constructed character.

In short, the seductive and compulsive nature of the digital landscape easily distracts followers from important questions about the quality
and trustworthiness which networked content produces. Trump has been using Twitter since March 2009, and there has been a gradual, inescapable embedding of self-promotion that has altered not only the presidential candidacy and campaign but has now gone on to affect interrelated activities of his presidential term.

Durham University Business School
For more examples of work demonstrating research excellence and societal benefit from Durham University Business School, visit www. durham.ac.uk/business/ research/case-studies/.

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