By blowing up Twitter with controversial comments and posting 15-second political videos on Instagram, Donald Trump is proving to be a master manipulator who understands social media more than any other presidential candidate, according to experts on politics and social media.
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"Donald Trump would not be where he is today without the amplification of social media," said Mindy Finn, who has worked for President George W. Bush, 2012 candidate Mitt Romney, Google and Twitter.
"Facebook has the widest reach by far but Trump has understood that you go to Twitter, erupt a controversy, say something outrageous to drive controversy, and then you dominate the news cycle for 24 hours."
A staffer to former Republican candidate Mitt Romney revealed 22 people had to approve one tweet during the 2012 presidential race, underlining the caution politicians demonstrated with social media engagement.
Trump, by contrast, is boosting his following by writing tweets himself — locked caps and spelling errors included.
"It is incredible to see a leading candidate like Trump tweeting personally," Finn told Fairfax Media. "He understood that carefully scripted soundbites on Twitter weren't going to get the attention needed to dominate."
Trump's social media strategy is run by 29-year-old Justin McConney, son of 28-year Trump Organization veteran vice-president Jeffrey McConney. Justin McConney has overseen Trump's Twitter following leap from 300,000 followers in 2011 to over 5.5 million today.
"It should not be a surprise that Donald Trump is this great phenomenon," added Finn. "He has written books about how to manipulate the media and has a greater understanding of the media than any other candidate."
Joe Rospars, founder and CEO of Blue State Digital, a leading political digital media agency, suggested Trump's tweets were as calculated as all other candidates and not as authentic as many supporters believe.
"I don't think Trump is doing authenticity," said Rospars, who was chief digital strategist for Obama for America during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
"Contrast Trump with super-calculated Jeb Bush. Trump is calculated too but on the celebrity, tabloid, map. He is doing something different but I wouldn't call it authentic."
Rospars said for some 2016 voters, social media is their sole source of information about candidates — a challenge for candidates wanting to appear authentic.
"Some candidates are really engaged — or disengaged — on social media," said Rospars. "You can see some who don't have anything to say or too much to say. And you can see people who behave like a troll. Donald Trump's campaign is essentially trolling the Republican Party."
In 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama used social media to win support and solicit donations to raise record amounts of campaign money from grassroots supporters — a strategy repeated by 2016 Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. As Mitt Romney demonstrated, other candidates remain cautious about the role of social media in a political race.
"A campaign is about controlling the message and creating a particular brand that is managed and scripted," said Finn.
"A medium like social media thrives on authenticity, humour, and controversy, and that is uncomfortable for political campaigns."
In Australia, voters waiting for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to fire up a tweetstorm may be out of luck, according to Philip Dalidakis, the Victorian government's Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade and a Twitter advocate.
"While Australians are regarded as one of the world's best technological early adopters, we have been largely conservative in using that technology publicly and certainly professionally," he said.
Dalidakis, who followed President Obama's recent State of the Union address in Washington DC on Twitter, said younger politicians were slowly changing the culture in Australian politics.
"Twitter allows for an immediacy that other older forms of communication do not," he said. "It's a real-time conversation that others can see and participate in as they see fit."
Pervert alert. @RepWeiner is back on twitter. All girls under the age of 18, block him immediately.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012
.@AlexSalmond, Wind turbines are ripping your country apart and killing tourism.Electric bills in Scotland are skyrocketing-stop the madness— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2014
26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2013
Remember, new "environment friendly" lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful-- the idiots who came up with this stuff don't care.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2012
This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2014
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
For those that don’t think a wall (fence) works, why don’t they suggest taking down the fence around the White House? Foolish people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2015
Christians need support in our country (and around the world), their religious liberty is at stake! Obama has been horrible, I will be great— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2015
Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2015