What to do if the president tweets you

president tweets you

By Mark W. Schaefer

I was interviewed this week about my views on how the new U.S. President has used and abused Twitter. I was asked if Donald Trump has changed Twitter, perhaps even pumped the channel with new life and vitality. And even more important, how has he changed the dynamics of PR … any company or public figure could become a tweet target!

Twitter is consistently underestimated by the press. It’s had some bad PR because it’s not meeting Wall Streets expectations for profitability and user growth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important and powerful network. They still have 330 million active users and for many, Twitter is part of the fabric of their lives.

Has Donald Trump changed Twitter? Yes and no.

First, the “no” part.

Twitter is the ultimate viral channel

It always amazes me when I see a news story that begins like this: “Today Ukranian leaders announced on Twitter that Russian tanks have been placed along its borders.” Why would a national leader announce anything on Twitter? Simple. They know there’s no better platform on earth to send news on a viral path.

For years, national and local leaders have used Twitter to connect directly with their constituents. Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, may have been the first national leader to tweet freely, as far back as 2010.

Twitter has been used effectively at every level of government to create transparency and take a message directly to the people.

So Donald Trump has hardly been the first leader in history to broadcast his views and opinions on the world’s viral machine. However, his use of the platform may be … unique.

Twitter as a weapon

The beauty of Twitter is that it is the most human-powered social media platform. All the best stuff on Twitter has been invented by its users, not by the company. Hashtags. Twitter Chats. Twitter games.

But the thing that’s different now is that Donald Trump has invented a new role for Twitter, a use that might be forever unique to him. He is using Twitter as a weapon of mass destruction.

People have always argued on this platform. “Twitter wars” usually involve short, angry outbursts and sometimes they’re even fun to watch.

But the most powerful person on earth has never used social media quite this way before. While president, Barack Obama tweeted 352 times. You’d be hard-pressed to think of a single tweet of Obama’s that was really memorable, let alone newsworthy.

Trump’s tweets have become a source of dread and fear. There’s a growing business right now in getting companies ready for a presidential tweet. If you’re the target of a Trump tweet, your response may define you for years. It’s an unprecedented situation and in this way, I do think Donald Trump has changed Twitter.

He has 20 million followers. He’s the president. The world is watching. You can’t ignore that.

What to do if the president tweets you

Every good PR plan should focus on single-point accountability and speed in a crisis, and the same is true if the president should tweet at you. There should be preparation, a social media policy in place, and a clear line of accountability, involving legal and your PR agency if necessary. The ultimate spokesperson should be a senior company representative, not an agency.

If a company does react to a tweet from a high-profile person, it should do it carefully. Here’s a case study: A CNBC report noted Skittles’ response to a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., when he likened the candy to refugees, in September 2016.

Parent company Wrigley’s response was: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”

This is a perfect response. If the tweet represents misinformation, the strategy is clear-cut. State your case and end the discussion.

But if the subject matter is a gray area, the response has high stakes. When President Trump threatened Toyota with a border tax if it moved jobs to Mexico, its share price tanked. When he tweeted about Lockheed Martin, the company lost $4 billion in market value in a matter of hours.

The risk is so great, a new app called Trump Triggers alerts investors of potentially damaging tweets.

A fundamental piece of the response strategy is to have a social media strategy and an established Twitter presence in place before something happens. If your response begins with figuring out who is managing your Twitter account (or worse, opening an account!) you’re already too late. You’re not going to get any warning about this. The only plan is to be prepared.

A response to a presidential tweet is a big deal. It is a story that could define your brand image for years. So resist a reflexive response, have a plan ready, have the team in place, and get it right. No response is better than a bad response.

A response should be:

  • Respectful of the president
  • Rapid
  • Focused on facts, citing sources
  • Authentic, coming from a company leader
  • Succinct and final. Don’t keep the conversation going

Keep in mind that a presidential tweet and a response may elicit thousands of responses from supporters and detractors. It’s usually best to let this tide of tweets quickly calm down on its own. It may also attract unprecedented press coverage. Get professional PR support immediately if you don’t have a full-time person on your team.

Even a positive tweet from the commander-in-chief can have a negative impact if it politicizes a brand. In this case it might be best to let the issue blow over. Most of the time the impact of a positive tweet is short-lived.

In any event, we’re in for an interesting four years, especially if you work in corporate public relations.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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  • Claytonjay101

    I had heard about the Lockheed Martin drop in stock, craziness that one Tweet could do that.

    I’m not aware of what happened with L.L. Bean I just heard they got pro-L.L. Bean Tweets from Trump. I don’t know how that worked out for them but really tough to be on whether its the good or bad side of the Tweet.

    All big companies, any company for that matter, should be ready for this type of thing because it probably will not stop with Trump.

  • LOL Mark, I too feel this way: “It always amazes me when I see a news story that begins…” What is happening in the world today that Twitter can usurp the “unbiased” news as a channel – that can “send news on a viral path”!!! The world is changing so fast!

    Love the response by Skittles. I don’t expect to be targeted by a Trump tweet anytime soon (I am in Canada and WAY under his radar 😉 but I will be watching to see how others handle this, hopefully after following your advice!

  • Mark – thank you for this. I work in DC, and have been to less than 4 policy discussions on “Communications in the Age of Trump” over the past month. All dealt with crisis scenarios re. “what to do if Trump tweets about your client.” More than one client has said, “my main goal for the next four years is not to have us mentioned by President Trump on Twitter.”

    A welcome corollary to this were discussions about how social media is now seen (appropriately) as too important to be left to 22-25 year-olds. Rather, Twitter (esp.) is the front line of crisis communications with the public, and needs to be handled by someone with direct access to (if not actually in) the C Suite. Netflix made history a few years ago when it announced relevant financial information not via a press release, but via Twitter. And the SEC changed its policy to rule it was ok. President Trump has taken it to an entirely new level, however.

  • one way to measure the value of engagement!

  • very true.

  • Wow. Amazing observations Peter. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

  • No one is safe : )

  • Well said sir.

  • Hey Mark, great observations! I’d like to add just one more perspective about the relevance of Twitter. Yes, it has had bad press and the investor community is not happy with its performance. However, these recent activities prove their issues are because their perspective is all wrong. For anyone to have impact with in a platform the way Trump has, there must have been a very engaged audience. Not just engaged with him but also among themselves. And, I’d be willing to bet that although Twitter may have gained a few new members because of the DT effect, they majority of those engaged users had been active on the platform for a long time.

    In my mind, this is absolute proof of the uniqueness, impact and value of Twitter.

  • Long-term Twitter will only succeed as part of another company. Financially, it can’t stand alone (at least by Wall Street standards) but that does not mean it does not provide great value.

  • It’s a stunning state of affairs that this blog title and topic is so immediately relevant. Some of the very recent financial impact of Trump’s tweets you reference is shocking. I heard a media critic today having a discussion with a news anchor while pointing out that the media magnifies 90% of the attention to Trump’s tweets by reporting on them so incessantly. I’m one that could get twisted out of shape ranting about how we got here but the fact is, we are here. It is what it is and he is what he is. The President of the United States of America is a bully in the bully pulpit and he has a reckless twitter habit. I can only hope the world learns to adapt and respond to what matters and ignore what doesn’t. If it wasn’t really happening, I wouldn’t believe it.

  • You could make an argument he won the election via Twitter. He got so much coverage via tweets without spending the ad dollars. He had to do something bold to stand out and he did. Every time he tweets I cringe. But it worked. I’m not sure it will continue to work but time will tell.

  • Great post. It’s fascinating to me how important Twitter has been through the campaign season and into the initial weeks of this administration, though I’m a little baffled that it hasn’t functioned more as a way of holding Mr.Trump accountable for his many contradictions and, ahem, “alternative facts.” I’m also curious to see whether presidential Twitter fatigue will set in in cases where a specific company is criticized. Most of those who’ve been the subjects of presidential tweets have bounced back fairly quickly, though I couldn’t agree more that some have handled it far better than others. Anyway, my thoughts here, though I have a feeling this situation will keep evolving! http://cren.cm/2ifYZ4m

  • my prediction is the Twitter fascination will increase, not decrease. Kind of like watching a schoolyard fight. You know it’s wrong, but you can’t look away!

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  • Very well written, Mark.
    Informed, balanced, restrained. What’s interesting is the caliber of the comments our post attracted.

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