During his four years as US President, Donald Trump has taken Twitter to a new level. He’s used it to hire and fire staff, set public policy and conduct international relations (below). Trump has used Twitter like the key player in his master plan. It’s been the perfect tool to insult political rivals, stir up racial hatred and undermine the democratic process.

In May, Twitter finally started to place warnings over Trump’s more controversial tweets. After years of criticism for not doing more to curb online abuse and misinformation, Twitter the social network announced it was updating its approach. This means that, under Trump, we’ve reached peak Twitter. It’s unlikely that American presidents – or any world leader – will have such free rein again.

But in many ways, Donald Trump sets a brilliant example of how to use a platform like Twitter. His tone of voice is distinctive. He addresses his loyalest followers. He uses accessible language and loves to over-share. He’s a social media natural who speaks in soundbites.

In his four years as US president, what has Trump taught us?

Twitter “don’t”s

1. Don’t be afraid to take a break. Trump’s use of Twitter is dizzying. He must be exhausted. We’re all exhausted. It’s notable neither Joe Biden in the US nor Kier Starmer here in the UK are particularly active on social media. Thanks to Trump, the pressure is off. There’s a feeling they probably have better things to do.

2. Don’t tweet angry. Whatever Trump may pretend, getting endlessly trolled on Twitter (in response to your own offensive or tweets) doesn’t work for anyone. How will you sleep at night? What about your blood pressure? Michelle Obama’s phrase “when they go low, we go high” is a good one to remember. Rise above it if you can. Say nothing. Don’t add to the fire.

3. Avoid personal attacks. Don’t waste time on personally attacking others. And, especially, don’t pick fights with 16 year olds (as Greta Thunberg was at the time). You might find yourself on the receiving end of the perfect comeback. Then, how will you feel?

4. Don’t do knee-jerk retweets. If something’s aggressive, upsetting or triggering, do you have to retweet it? If you don’t know the back story to an apparent misdemeanour, maybe better not to get involved. Trump loves to put out a dog whistle and get the Twitter pack raging. You don’t have to do that.

5. Don’t be careless. In 2017, Trump’s tweet about General Motors caused GM stocks to fall 0.07 per cent. Since then, his tweets have affected global markets so regularly that JP Morgan Chase created the Volfefe index to predict their impact. However, for us non-presidential types, the danger is more that we do ourselves harm by tweeting something that can be libellous or misconstrued.

Twitter “do”s

6. Stay niche. Donald Trump knows exactly how to speak to his base. He doesn’t care about anyone else. While not ideal for US presidents, this is a great strategy if you want to build a strong brand.

7. Be true to yourself. “Trump remains politically competitive…because a lot of Americans credit him with being authentic, even if he goes too far,” Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary told the Washington Post. Whatever you think of Donald Trump, authenticity is good. And readily available to people on all sides of the political spectrum.

8. Keep your sense of humour. When Trump tweeted the made-up word “covfefe” by mistake, he had a rare laugh at himself. When he tweeted that he was a very stable genius, people mocked. But he carried on using the phrase repeatedly until, says journalist Travis M Andrews, it lost its power as an insult.

9. Repeat yourself. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it works. Trump is excellent at establishing catchphrases that people instantly associate with him. It helps if you talk (and possibly think) in three word soundbites.

10. Be brave. Comedian Sarah Cooper has made her name by lip-synching Trump’s most absurd comments. “We look at white men in power and we give them the benefit of the doubt that what they’re saying is smart and truthful”. So, Trump’s overbearing confidence should be an inspiration to us all. Get out and tell your story. Don’t be disheartened or afraid. Be fearless!

Handle with care

So, I’m looking forward to a time when we no longer need to wake up in the morning and wonder what random thing the most powerful man in the world has announced on Twitter.  It’s been an interesting four years. And Twitter will never be the same again. Social networks are finally admitting, slowly, that they need to take responsibility for what’s published on their platforms.

Donald Trump has brought out the best and the very worst of Twitter. He shown its power, and he’s exposed its weaknesses. As for ordinary users, do we want the world to be more or less Trumpian?  Ultimately, what we learn from this moment – and what we choose to ignore – is up to us.

Photo: Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

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