March 21, 2019
The Resurgence of the Trump Twitterstorm
Managing a 280-character crisis
America’s Twitter-happy president had a record-setting day on Sunday. It was a St. Patrick’s Day torrent of 32 tweets and retweets covering a range of concerns and complaints. In a return to previous practice, it also included specific criticisms of a number of global companies, which were sent directly to President Trump’s 25 million Twitter followers and an exponentially larger audience fueled by an echo chamber of press and outside supporters.
With the Democratic presidential campaigns now in motion, we should expect an increasing number of social media criticisms of major companies to come from the other side of the aisle as well. The leading (and expected) Democratic candidates together bring with them more than 25 million Twitter followers – and, from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren, they are ramping up the dialogue with stinging rebukes of top companies – including Amazon, Google and Facebook among others. This is red meat for Democratic voters and an ongoing opportunity for other leaders of the resurgent left, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez whose engagement with a combined social media audience of more than seven million followers across Twitter, Facebook and, especially, Instagram is redefining American political outreach.
With significant threats to reputation, confidence and share price now on the line from members of both parties and the opinion environment for companies becoming more complex and contentious, what should companies be doing to manage or mitigate this risk – or even turn it into an opportunity? While every situation is unique, here are six things U.S. and multinational enterprises should be prepared for before and during a social media storm:
- CONSIDER COMPANY DEVELOPMENTS AGAINST THE POSSIBILITY OF A CRITICAL SOCIAL MEDIA POST
Take the time now to do a clear-eyed, unflinching assessment of what your company’s “soft underbelly” might be in the context of the current political environment. Outsourcing, off-shoring production, trade issues, border security and telecommunications infrastructure have been prominent issues for the president. Income inequality, immigration reform and corporate earnings have been a focus for many Democrats. Prescription drug prices, foreign investment, corporate consolidation and the impact of automation have been areas of interest across party lines. Anything that can be perceived – accurately or not – as having a negative possible impact on American jobs, competitiveness or national security continues to be a ripe target.
With this knowledge in hand, are there steps to take or changes to implement now that could help your company steer around a serious potential issue? Likewise, are there opportunities to present an important program, update or investment as a “win-win” or a clear opportunity for the American people or economy?
- KNOW YOUR VULNERABILITIES AND IDENTIFY YOUR OPPORTUNITIES
The global political lens that companies typically use to analyze strategies and associated risks in the U.S. is no longer sufficient. Today, President Trump’s stated goals and plans – especially ones he has been prone to tweet about or discuss on the campaign trail – need to be considered carefully when planning major announcements, commitments or executive speeches.
Moving headquarters? Considering layoffs? Pursuing an international partnership? Changing where you source parts from or where you produce what you sell in the U.S.? As author, consultant and former journalist Frank Ahrens has put it: “WWTT? — What Would Trump Tweet?” Today, the same thing goes for candidates on the campaign trail and other leaders who are shaping opinions with broad swaths of the U.S. public.
On a related note, are there issues that outside critics of your company could try to highlight via social media in the hopes that they could get the president or another official to respond to them? This also should be factored into your planning.
- HAVE YOUR STORY, YOUR FACTS AND YOUR QUICK RESPONSE TEAM READY TO GO
Speed is critical. Social media and news coverage move fast, and damage to reputations and stock prices can happen in minutes. It is critical to have a credible narrative about the important role your company plays in the American economy prepared in advance, especially for reporters covering this issue. This includes important facts about your U.S. footprint – number of jobs, number of U.S. suppliers, total capital investment, etc. – formatted for easy reading and fast, digital distribution. Also, reach out now to help get trusted journalists up to speed on your company and your issues. Should criticisms arise, having reporters who understand your story and perspective in advance can pay significant dividends.
It is also important to have a quick response team and a process established in advance for updating any responses and gaining all necessary legal, regulatory and executive reviews.
Should your company find itself targeted on social media:
- ACT BUT DON’T OVERREACT
In the event of a cutting post that is false or misleading, it will be tempting – but likely counter-productive – to lash out. While the urge to issue an emotional response is understandable, this is likely to escalate the issue, drive additional news and lead to negative backlash on social media from the president-elect’s supporters. In general (but with exceptions), the most effective course of action is to correct the record and stick with your narrative, deliver your key message assertively and move on.
In certain circumstances, it may be better for your company not to respond at all – something that should be considered carefully. Be careful not to overreact.
- BE SUCCINCT
President Trump has mastered the art of using few words to draw big contrasts between his positions and those of his perceived opponents. While there may be significant nuance to the matters affecting your company (especially regarding capital investment decisions that may have been made years ago), remember that in today’s polarized, fast-moving media climate, winning arguments are often the ones that effectively and succinctly draw clarity amid the chaos. It is imperative to make your points quickly and concisely.
- KEEP EMPLOYEES AND OTHER KEY AUDIENCES INFORMED
Be sure to keep your employees informed and, when appropriate, equip them to share your company’s perspective with their own social networks. Investors and financial analysts, elected officials, opinion leaders and pundits – on Twitter and other social media platforms – should also be part of your communications strategy as their collective reach can help to reinforce your response.
We can be sure that President Trump is going to continue to harness the power of social media to communicate his perspective. And we can be certain that politicians of all stripes will keep “building on his shoulders” to extend their impact. Expect the unexpected – and plan now for how to manage the risk of a Twitter attack or possibly transform it into an opportunity. Yours will be a stronger company as a result.
This article was updated and adapted from a piece originally published in PR Week.