Mean tweets - Trump's pioneering use of social tapped into America's discontent

social media analyst says Trump's Twitter use was “unprecedented in the history of American elections, both state and federal”

Mean tweets - Trump's pioneering use of social tapped into America's discontent

President-elect Donald Trump Image: John Locher AP/Press Association Images

As the shockwaves from Donald Trump’s historic election victory continue to reverberate around the world, questions remain over how pollsters and commentators could get it all so wrong.

Although Hillary Clinton’s early dominance in the polls had undoubtedly taken a hit following revelations of a further FBI investigation into her emails; few predicted the tide had turned so completely on the former Secretary of State.

The result is not the first to turn polling data on its head in recent times - with the British General Election, the British referendum on EU membership and the Scottish Independence referendum all still fresh in the memory.

However, the question many people will be asking this evening is just what was it about Trump’s campaign that attracted so much support.

According to Toronto-based social media analytics company Crowdbabble, the Republican nominee's online presence - and his decision to maintain personal control of his Twitter account - may provide an insight into his stunning victory.

Katie Meyer, a senior user experience designer at the company said Trump's Twitter use was “unprecedented in the history of American elections, both state and federal.”

“It was his unfiltered, angry tweets that drew people towards him,” she said.

“He was able to use social to really capture the popular discontent of conservatives, and mostly men, who feel they have been disenfranchised somehow,” she said.

"Even though he is very much an establishment figure himself, he was able to paint himself as outside the system.”

Social media has often been accused of creating an “echo-chamber” where users read up on their own interests and are only faced with opinions similar to their own - and each of the candidates’ followings have proven very efficient at converting downsides into upsides.

Ms Meyer said the lack of equal time laws on television and social media really played into Trump’s hands:

“His followers didn’t read about the tax returns. They didn’t see the other side of any of the arguments,” she said.

“You could see in the way that they responded to his tweets and the sort of tweets they were sending with his hashtag that they didn’t believe any outside opinions on his statements or the things he would say."

“He painted this picture of a crooked system and they just bought into it fully because on social you don’t have to follow people you disagree with - I think that really played a part in the fervour he was able to get out of his followers.”

It wouldn’t be the first time a US presidential election has been held up as a turning point for a form of communications.

America's 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, is often held up as a radio pioneer blessed with a confident and informal way of talking.

Both his 1932 election campaign and the administration that followed made extensive use of the radio as a tool to speak to the American people.

Years later, John F. Kennedy challenged his rival, Richard Nixon to a series of televised debates that are widely credited with the Irish American’s election to office.

Between 1950 and 1960 the percentage of American homes with access to a television had jumped from 11% to 88% - with an estimated 70 million Americans tuning in to the first debate in September.

Kennedy wore a blue suit and appeared sharply focused against the gray studio background.

He also talked directly to the camera - and the American people - while Nixon stuck to traditional debating styles and addressed his answers to Kennedy.

Later studies revealed that three-quarters of the voters who made up their minds as a result of the debates voted for Kennedy.

More recently, outgoing President Barack Obama built up huge grassroots support using the internet to fundraise and build his campaign in a way that, in the past, would have required an army of volunteers and paid organizers on the ground.

According to The New York Times, during his 2012 election run, 57% of Obama’s campaign funds came from donations of $200 or less - with rival Mitt Romney achieving just 24% through these smaller donations. 

Roll forward to this morning and there are parallels that can be drawn between the new president-elect and the pioneering successes of presidents' past.

According to the Crowdbabble data; from January to November this year the two candidates amassed nearly 50 million followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Between them, the candidates’ posts attracted over 495 million “engagements” - likes, comments, shares, retweets and reactions - with just over 70% going to Trump.

On Facebook, Trump collected over 208 million Facebook engagements and 12 million fans while Clinton attracted less than half that number with 72 million engagements and 7.9 million fans.

Clinton’s Instagram account attracted slightly more followers than her Republican rival with both candidates just short of 3 million followers.

It is on Twitter however where the real gap between the pair becomes apparent.

Trump’s first person, 140 character tirades have provided a running commentary on - and often created - many of his campaign scandals.

His Twitter engagements dwarf those of his opponent at nearly 90 million compared to Clinton’s 41.5 million.

“A lot of his scandals broke on Twitter. He responded to them directly and he also created a lot of his own scandals there," said Ms Meyer.

“He got into a lot of trouble with that but his followers just saw it as more evidence he was outside the system,” she said.

"They saw it as more evidence of a media bias against him and obviously the tone he took was really able to capture America's attention.”

She said Trump's ability to tap into American discontent with "this uncensored raw persona that he built on Twitter" is something other leaders have never done before. 

According to the data, despite a series of scandals that broke online, Trump’s following continued to grow in size and fervour throughout the election.

It remains to be seen how Trump will make use of the online tools available when he takes his seat in the Oval Office on January 20th.

However his use of the technology to date should provide plenty of food for thought for the candidates of the future - and the commentators of the present.