We're in an era of radical political change, and if we've learned anything it's that unexpected results are the new normal. That's also true for how politicians are using social media. Learn how Donald Trump is breaking all the predictable social media "rules" and winning the social media wars.

This is a summer of political upheaval and change, and there is no doubt that social media is playing a pivotal role.  We are living through a period that will be analysed by PR experts in the years to come.

We have previously taken a look at how social media was used influentially in the EU referendum that resulted in the UK’s decision to leave the EU, so now let’s take a look across the pond to learn how Donald Trump is using social media to galvanise a new political energy that is a reflection of the nation’s mood.

Trump May Be Rich, but He’s Not Buying Press Coverage

The first game changer in this presidential race is how the candidates are spending their budgets.

In this National Public Radion (NPR) breakdown of presidential candidates TV ad spending we see that Trump is spending relatively little of his campaign war chest on TV advertising.

He’s spending little, and he’s spending well. Analyising this data in a bit more detail, NPR determines that Trump has only spent about half the money ($2) on TV advertising for each vote he has gained as compared to the other candidates.

Trump TV advertising spend

Trump Is a PR and Social Media Machine

No matter how small his expenditure is, as the figures below show, Trump is benefiting from free media more than any other candidate from the beginning of his campaign. Up to Feb 2016, figures show that Trump has received almost $2 billion in free media attention, which is twice the amount that Hillary Clinton has received. In monetary value, Trump earned $400 million in free exposure in the month of February alone:



According to data from the Tyndall Report, which tracks nightly news content, through February 2016 Trump alone accounted for more than a quarter of all 2016 election coverage on the evening newscasts of NBC, CBS and ABC. This is more than all the Democratic campaigns combined. Observers have noted Trump’s ability to garner constant mainstream media coverage “almost at ANY cost”.

And to add fuel to the fire, stats below show that Trump has only used a third of the budget Clinton has. One if left wondering ‘what would have happened if he had spent it at all?’.  


In an interview with CBS, Trump said that of his campaign’s plans to purchase advertising:

“I think I’m probably wasting the money. But I’m $35 million under budget. Look, I was going to have 35 or 40 million spent by now. I haven’t spent anything. I almost feel guilty … I’m leading by, as you all say, a lot. You can take the CBS poll. You can take any poll and I’m winning by a lot. I don’t think I need the ads. But I’m doing them. I almost feel guilty”.

Trump Breaks All the Social Media “Rules”

Trump’s political success is predicated on being a maverick, anti-establishment, and saying what he thinks.

And he applies this opinionated, antagonistic and individual approach to his social media with great success.

Most importantly, he takes all the bland, vanilla social media “rules” and simply ignores them.

# 1 Best Practice: Join a community of people just like you. Offer friendly encouragement to like-minded individuals and organisations.

What does Trump Do? The opposite

He only put his ‘like’ stamp to a mere 92 tweets, whilst Clinton’s more amiable nature lists a total of 1,104 tweets, 12 times more than Trump’s. Trump’s main likes include his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., daughter Ivanka, a Happy 241st Army Birthday (liked on June 14th) and a few other big US media names as well as personal endorsements from close allies and friends.


# 2 Best Practice: Follow like-minded individuals for inspiration and business advice/networking.

What does Trump Do? The opposite

Mr Trump follows only 41 people, 16 times less than his opponent Mrs Clinton, who follows 669.

This chart below shows Trump’s self-confidence, and almost egotistic attitude. You can just hear him saying “Me? No, thanks. I don’t need to follow anyone. I am the leader”.  Not surprisingly, the 41 people Trump follows include his family members, his business assets (hotels, golf courses), big US media names, and his long-time friend Piers Morgan.

second table

# 3 Best Practice: Be Politically Correct

What does Trump Do? The opposite

Trump never shows signs of fear to express in words very strong abuse, something some others may only think about and would never say. Team Trump and the man himself have built their own PR campaigns by using daring bravery, edging towards audacity, when communicating with voters. And in PR, original and authoritative viewpoints produce results.

He’s bold. That’s what Donald Trump is. He doesn’t mind taking a stand and even upsetting people on his way. We witness a lot of corporate organisations and brands being every day prudent about their choices, their ad campaigns, their statements. Therefore, when you hear somebody like Trump condemning important public figures (e.g. The Pope), it comes across as bold and almost refreshing to some people who are the same way inclined.


(Democratic pollster, Geoff Garin)

Here is an example of a signature Trump tweet. In just 140 characters he’s managed to insult the Clinton campaign team, fill the tweet with evidence and numbers to build trust, and build in a discussion point for his followers.

Most importantly, his perfect composition has delivered 170,000 retweets and 290,000 likes.  This is amazing traction and endorsement from his fan base:

Trump's social media

# 3 Best Practice: Don’t use hashtags aggresively

What does Trump Do? The opposite

Social media etiquette dictates that you shouldn’t spam hashtags. Don’t be pushy or forward, and try hard to make a good impression. You can just imagine what the Trump social media team makes of this Moz beginners guide to social media:

Social Media Best Practices The Free Beginner s Guide from Moz

He certainly discards etiquette. Trump knows how to use hashtags. He uses them to great effect, in a way that’s punchy, direct and clear. Trump’s PR messages are exactly that. As well as #MakeAmericaGreatAgain and #Trump2016, Trump exploited hashtags with brilliant fervour:

  • #CrookedHilary
  • #AmericaFirst
  • #Imwithyou

Clinton’s use of straplines instead is almost invisible in comparison. Her strapline ‘Stronger Together’ is used, but you can tell she is not a fan of hashtags. Clinton’s way of exploiting social media is to retweet other’s messages: #NoBillNoBreak and #NoMoreSilence and #gunviolence:


Trump’s Iconoclastic Social Media Works

Despite everything, in terms of followers, Trump wins. As of 28 June 2016, he has 9.34M followers (approx. the same number Pope Francis and Lindsay Lohan have, and three times more than Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Twitter itself) compared to the 7.13M of Clinton:

Trump's social media

PR and marketing professionals and business leaders in general can improve their PR messages and tactics by studying Trump, although I don’t recommend replicating word for word the content of his messages.

Whichever camp you are in, love him or hate him, we have to admit Trump has a clear flair for self-promotion. He is a media-magnet machine that generates publicity just by being what he is. He recognises what pushes the buttons of his body of voters (his “customers”) and distinguish himself from his competition (Washington political leaders).  All those tactics are usually successful when applied to digital PR campaigns too.

And here is one of the latest Fox News Poll which ended last week (28 June). So, are we going to witness Trump winning and be shocked the same way the UK remain voters were early on Friday 25 June?

Trump's social media

Trump’s Social Media Lessons to Take Away

Please let me stress here: I am not suggesting adopting Trump’s political views, offensive messages, or even copying his hairstyle. However, his campaign has shown a great deal of purpose, from which PR lessons can be learnt and adjusted to our own marketing campaigns:

Budgets: Not all big budgets equal to bigger results. Trump has some of the lowest TV advertising spends, and is instead focusing on leveraging “free” social media

Stand Out: The UK Leave campaign and Trump represent change in the eyes of voters. Clinton is identified with the existing scenario, whilst Trump outspoken and controversial manifesto stand for radical change.

Target Your Audience: Trump knows what tunes to play and what songs to sing. He is a master at grasping his potential voters (the audience) and make them join his wagon. His style is  extravagant. But his blasted diatribe is a strategically planned move.

Consistency: The Trump brand is not politically correct. He has purposely decided to force his messages and develop his brand by a series of controversial statements. When corporate sponsors got scared, Republicans admired him. Trump knows his voters’ hot buttons and he knows how to press them consistently. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has been less consistent in espousing her positions.

Working closely with the media: Mainstream media fuels on brash and heavy submissions and controversial manifestos like Trump’s. Maintain the focus with additional bold comments or stunts. Trump’s back stagers have helped him getting closer to the media and how welcomed figure he is becoming.

Which method used by Trump do you think works better? How do you see Trump’s campaign tactics implemented in business? I’d love to hear your views.

Do send me a message @NadaGiuffrida.

If you need help with your don't hesitate to contact us.

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