You’d think that being president of the United States is enough of a bully pulpit, seeing how whatever you say or do gets reported and analyzed around the world.
It’s not enough for Donald Trump, who’s clearly addicted to Twitter, despite the fact that his tweets keep getting him into political and legal trouble.
If you remove politics—I know, this is hard—Donald Trump presents a unique case in messaging and media strategy, especially when it comes to how he uses social media.
Somehow, he steamrolled a field of Republican candidates so big they all couldn’t fit on one stage. Yet using the same media tactics keep backfiring as president.
Let’s drill down on why.
1) Trump truly believes the myth of Any Press is Good Press
When you’re trying to do anything on a big stage—become a famous rock star, actor, artist, writer or politician—most of the battle is simply becoming known. Because if nobody knows you exist, they can’t see your movies, buy your singles on iTunes or vote for you in a primary.
So at first, it’s all about name ID.
Trump clearly buys into this. His name is his brand, and he’ll do anything to boost that brand.
There are two main schools of thought to generating free press and dominating the news cycle. The first school says dominate the news cycle by, I don’t know, making actual news. Saying something bold and fresh. Announcing a new policy (“We will put a man on the moon!), revealing a secret, saying who your veep will be. That sort of thing.
The other school of thought in PR—an evil school I don’t subscribe to—says, “I don’t care if the story is good or bad, as long as they spell my name right.”
Trump doesn’t just buy into the theory that all press is good press. He *needs* press as a form of attention and validation.
That didn’t hurt him as a businessman, or even as one of 17-bazillion candidates for the Republican nomination. Because it’s true that you can boost your name ID and make money by doing outrageous things. His business goals and personal needs were in alignment.
So the first thing you have to think about is why Trump uses Twitter, and it’s not four-dimensional chess. It’s to gin up press and attention, like he’s always done.
2) The pro’s and cons of constant controversy
Gaffes that would slay ordinary politicians failed to kill Trump’s candidacy.
People expect craziness from him. It’s not a shock. He’s vaccinated himself by doing it so often for so long.
Trump’s go-to move is something that’s guaranteed to generate tons of free ink: insult other famous people. Give them frat-boy nicknames, make fun of their size, call women ugly, attack minorities—whatever it takes.
Yet the downside is huge. Even as an unknown, hustling to make it big, generating controversy boosts your name ID at the expense of your reputation.
Becoming president changed everything for Trump.
Every single spelling mistake, provable lie and temper tantrum he tweets gets dissected on the global stage.
Trump didn’t adjust. He still acts like he’s hustling to get known and make it big, posting risky tweets because that’s what worked to boost his name ID and get earned media.
Except you don’t need to boost your name ID when you’re the president of the United States of America.
And when you pick fights as president, you’re always punching down, attacking people with less power than you. There’s no way it’s seen as anything but bullying.
Trump doesn’t care because he’s still generating attention. Sure, the press will cover his tweets, and people will read those stories.
People will always be entertained by watching human train wrecks. It’s just lot less fun being a passenger on that train when Trump’s driving it off a cliff.
3) There is no plan, only emotion
Most public figures and leaders tweet with a purpose. They have a plan and check with others, including professionals who understand media and message, to make sure they avoid self-inflicted wounds while making progress toward tangible goals.
Political candidates and leaders usually try to gain support and build bridges. Because that’s how you get elected and get things done for the folks you represent.
Trump tweets for himself, based on his needs and emotions. The primary emotion is rage, but even his positive tweets are ones that focus on his favorite subject: Donald Trump.
Tweeting gives him instant gratification. He doesn’t have to wait until tomorrow’s newspaper or for what he said to hit CNN or FOX. The retweets, likes and comments show up in seconds.
So I don’t buy the theory that Trump is doing insanely complicated things on Twitter and somehow playing four-dimensional chess. When he gets mad, he tweets. And he continues to do so despite the obvious legal and political damage. He’s blown up deals with the Republican-controlled Congress with a single tweet, started trade wars and threatened nuclear war. I’m not sure how he could use Twitter to do more damage. He’s pretty much got it covered.
His political goals and personal needs are out of alignment.
Trump isn’t building bridges and making friends with controversial tweets, attacks on his enemies and provable lies. He’s motivating those that oppose him and giving Robert Mueller evidence of obstruction of justice.
This is a key point. Prosecutors need evidence of intent for a crime like obstruction of justice. This is ordinarily hard to get. Trump has turned his tweets into a permanent, written record of his intent, a stream-of-consciousness monologue for everyone to see. It’s a peek inside his brain, and that picture isn’t pretty.
The last argument you could make is Trump uses tweets as fan service, to feed his base. Except when pollsters and pundits talk to people who voted for him, one thing keeps coming up: they wish he’d stay off Twitter.
Not even if it costs him the White House.