The Twitter Campaign

It seems like this campaign surprised everyone.  No, not the vote counts, which did indeed surprise everyone including the best forecasters, pollsters, and data crunchers.  No, I mean the Twitter campaign.

The Twitter campaign – which meant the use of Twitter by the candidates, and although one was particularly known for his tweets, they all used it as a means of directly addressing the public.  It is something that those of us in academe have been teaching for years and years – ever since the first Myspace and Friendster apps, we have been talking to our students that the “old media” would be replaced by the “new media” of the social media, and that social media is now most often called Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

We have been talking about it for 10 years.  And the new media have been growing and developing for the last ten years. So the tipping point was inevitable and now we have it.  New media can be even more effective than old media.   A media needs a certain network reach to be effective as a “mass media”.  Talking to one or two or thirty people is not enough; talking to millions makes a difference.

So what do the numbers show?  As of this day in January 2017, Twitter itself tells us that Hillary Clinton has 11.9 million followers, Bill Clinton has 6.6 Million, and Barack Obama has 80 million.  That is reach.  That is a lot of people. Those numbers, while world-wide numbers and not just the US, show a tremendous possible impact every time one of those Tweets leaves the gate.  And how about the winner of the presidential election? Donald Trump got to spend spent a fraction of the money that Hillary Clinton did on the election by using his Tweets to his 18.7 million followers. And a Twitter campaign can have many instances of contact, many tweets, on any day.  Since they are free, there is no danger of a campaign running out of money for ads.

How does that compare to the more established media? Nielsen tells us that in the last week in November, the NBC Nightly Newscast reached 7.8 million.  Donald Trump Tweets and it reaches over 18 million.  And CNN? Less than a million viewers.  MSNBC?  Same thing – less than a million viewers.  What about Fox News? A bit better at 2.4 million viewers.  Thus social media now has it all over traditional media.  And if you listen to the journalists, they are mad.  They have complained that they are not included as closely with the administration.  Why would a president waste time with people he does not need anymore?  The social media are more effective, are faster, and are more direct and unfiltered.

Some might argue that there is a need for “transparency” or “access.” Why?  Because some journalist thinks so?  Presidents have often wanted to go straight to the people. What benefit do the journalists add to a president’s life?  Once upon a time, they were the conduit to the people; now they add nothing.  Nothing added – and they ask annoying questions.  Journalists used to be the only way that politicians could communicate with the public in a “mass,” therefore the rise of the symbiotic relationship with the mass media.  Now the communication with the public is direct and a politician does not have to worry about the spin a journalist puts on the story, or even a difficult follow-up question.  Journalism is now going to have to re-invent itself.  In the age of new media, people who add little or no value to the communication are unnecessary. So what will the role of commentators be in a world of direct unfiltered communication? It is a challenge, and every day the media is adapting.  Technology disruption in media has happened many times – anyone still get a newspaper delivered to their front door anymore?


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