Sunday’s New York Times included a fascinating print and interactive section on the president’s Twitter Feed. However you feel about this president, you must agree that his tweets have been an effective if incendiary communications tool. The next president will use Twitter, but how? Based on observing not just Trump but other politicians and authority figures, here are some suggestions.
(Please note that these suggestions are policy neutral. I’m analyzing how the president communicates, not what the president’s policies should be.)
The next president should use Twitter to communicate regularly
Trump has developed a personal connection with his followers and antagonists. His Twitter feed is central to his ability to maintain an approval rating of about 40% regardless of what else is going on in his presidency and America. There is no confusion about what Trump believes, because it’s on display, in a highly personal way, ever day.
I’m sure there are people who would be more comfortable if our next president went back to a system of daily press briefings with the press secretary, occasional televised addresses and press conferences, and bland tweets that were clearly created and vetted by a social media staff. Joe Biden’s homogenized Twitter feed is clearly built on this model. But a 2020s president can no longer communicate in a twentieth-century way.
That’s not to say that I’m looking for the next president to duplicate the unmanaged firehose of impressions that is Trump’s feed. I’d be happier if the president set aside 15-30 minutes a day for tweets for tweeting personal impressions, combined with regular and notable tweets about events of the day as they happen.
Some of Trump’s tweets are authored or posted by his social media director Dan Scavino Jr. The next president needs a small social media team (but more than one person) who can identify items worth commenting on or responding to, draft tweets, suggest retweets, and post media packages with video clips or infographics.
Twitter should be part of a communications strategy
It’s pretty clear that Trump is his own communications director. In any other presidency, the president would work with a professional communications director, a press secretary with assistants, and a staff of writers to identify messaging and stay on message to highlight the president’s priorities.
It would increase my confidence in the next president if their Twitter feed appeared to be designed to manage a specific set of priorities that were consistent from week to week and aligned with events like summits and legislative debates. This is what is typically called “message discipline.”
A good example of an executive that manages this effectively is John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile. His feed regularly prods AT&T and Verizon for being out of touch, promotes the benefits of T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint for 5G, and at the same time reflects Legere as an actual human being. It’s clearly part of a communications strategy, but doesn’t come off as wooden and corporate.
Tweets should respond to the public
According to the Times, Trump will riffle through his mentions in the morning (there must be thousands of them) and occasionally retweet things he likes. This has highlighted some questionable accounts and content, and it’s clear that foreign agents are actually tweeting some fake content and directing it at the president in hopes that he retweets it.
A much better method is the one employed by politicians like Brianna Wu (a candidate for a house seat in Massachusetts) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC doesn’t just tweet her own content, she actually responds to and engages in dialogue with both supporters and critics. While the president is (or ought to be) too busy to scroll through mentions and respond to people on their feed like a regular person, staffers do have time to do this and bring items worthy of response to the president’s attention.
Tweets should take advantage of links and media
I’d like to see a whole little team of people working in the communications office creating infographics, video animations, and presidential video clips to share. (Trump does this occasionally, with little video segments filmed outside the White House.) The presidential feed should be full of media, and not just selected clips from Fox News or CNN.
The feed should also link to longer and more detailed information. The feed is a starting point, not an endpoint. The president’s followers deserve the chance to see interviews, tweets from other members of the cabinet, white papers, and other deeper content elements so that they can apply their own intelligence and learn more about the president’s perspective. If the president does this, other politicians will respond, and we’ll all have a more diverse and deeper set of content to review as we engage with our government.
Finally, let’s cut back on the attacks and the nicknames
Here’s a shocking revelation: ridicule is not an effective negotiating tactic. (Perhaps that would be more persuasive if I wrote “Ridicule is not an effective negotiating tactic, you suppurating moron!” Perhaps not.)
The challenge with these attacks has been not just that they are nasty, but that they are too frequent. They reflect a president who always seems angry and has little respect for anyone who disagrees with him.
So how should the president deal with those that he disagrees with?
A Twitter feed that posts facts and refers to people in a neutral way might do better. Take a look at how Mitt Romney responds to people he sees as opponents. It’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable. A president that acts this way might actually create space to find common ground with opponents and get something done.