Brands should harness Twitter, Donald Trump-style
A view from Andy Pemberton

Brands should harness Twitter, Donald Trump-style

Brands such as McDonald's can learn from the way the US president-elect uses the platform to listen to his audience and test the water.

Donald Trump loves Twitter. 

Interrupting a stream of tweeted criticism of Broadway show Hamilton and other targets of his rage, the US president-elect recently used Twitter to heap praise on Mitt Romney, raising speculation that the former presidential candidate could become secretary of state in Trump’s new Republican administration.

Over the past 18 months, Trump has garnered more than 229 million mentions on Twitter, while Hillary Clinton has earned 127 million, according Brandwatch figures reported in Campaign. Trump typically posted more than 25 pieces of content a day – 17 on Twitter alone. Ninety per cent of his tweets were direct, with only 10% being retweets and almost no replies. Crucially, about 70% of Trump’s tweets were sent by the man himself; Clinton’s were generally sent by her 500-strong team. 

So it is perfectly natural for pundits to believe that Twitter was somehow instrumental in Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. Richard Edelman, chief executive of PR company Edelman, believes Trump’s use of the platform and reduced reliance on TV ads highlighted the power of "peer-to-peer" communication. 

This sounds exciting. Certainly, according to Bloomberg, Clinton’s TV adspend was $211.4m – more than double what Trump spent ($74m) and, lest we forget, she lost the election. 

So that’s it for TV ads! They are a waste of time and money! We should all prepare ourselves to be bombarded with a barrage of tweets about how terrible everyone else is. 

Or maybe not. 

"Trump is a television creation," The Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffman, says. "Do you think he’d be president if The Apprentice was a fucking webinar?"

Critics point to the fact that, in the US, only 20% of adults have a Twitter account, and only 15% of rural adults (strong Trump supporters) and 11% of people over 50 (those most likely to vote) use the platform. Indeed, only half of Twitter’s own board use it. (Imagine being on the board of a jam factory and never eating any of the company jam!)

Take away TV coverage and Trump’s tweets would have been "dust in the wind", Hoffman argues. But still, it’s obvious that Twitter had some kind of impact. It’s just that the impact was given the loudhailer effect by TV news reporting of the things Trump tweeted. 

In fact, Trump knowingly manipulated this fact two weeks ago. 

When he sent vice-president-elect Mike Pence to get booed at Hamilton, Trump would have known it would cause a news storm, especially after he tweeted how outraged he was about the whole business. That tweet got picked up by TV news and social media, conveniently drowning out the fact that Trump had also just settled his lawsuit over the discredited Trump University for a whopping $25m – despite saying he never would. 

So how can this be of any use to McDonald’s, which has just hired 200 people to bolster its digital capability in an effort to win back young adults? (Just one in five millennials has tried its flagship Big Mac, fact fans.) In case you are wondering, a typical McDonald’s tweet runs like this: "We’re here for you when you are ready! What’s your go-to breakfast food?"

But maybe there is something else at work here. 

Using Twitter, Trump was able to poll himself. He could try out denying climate change, attacking Obamacare or threatening to throw Clinton in jail and then see how his base reacted. The louder his supporters cheered, the more Trump said the crazy things that excited his base. And the more votes he got.

So while Trump worked on the content, the content (and his audience’s reaction to it) worked on him. 

Right now, eight of the 13 companies that have outperformed the S&P 500 five years straight are gleaning data about their many users and then using that data to seamlessly improve their customers’ experience. Every time you conduct a search on Google, you make its algorithm 0.000000003% better. Amazon changes its prices 2.5 million times a day. And so on. 

The lesson from Twitter and Trump for McDonald’s is a simple one: identify your audience, listen to them and then, crucially, let them change you. Being so close to audiences, social media is very, very good at telling you what is going to work and what isn’t. 

For better or worse, that is what success looks like in 2016. 

Andy Pemberton is the director of Furthr
@andypemberton