Society for New Communications Research Blog


Six Things You Need to Know Before You Get Caught in a Trump Tweetstorm

By Katie Paine

Although Twitter has been around for a decade, never in its history has 140 characters had the power and influence it’s enjoyed since November 9th. Sure, when the Pope began tweeting it made headlines. But it didn’t impact markets the way @realdonaldtrump has in the last few months. One outlet estimated that one 140-character Trump Twitter attack about Lockheed cost the company $28 million per character. 

But as it happens, it’s not always a bad thing to be caught in the Trump cross-hairs. In the wake of last month’s attack on Congressman John Lewis, Amazon sold out of his most recent book. Vanity Fair and The New York Times subscriptions have skyrocketed after he took them on. So much so, that I suggested that organizations might develop a PR strategy around cultivating antipathy to boost donations. Even for the brands that sustained short-term damage, the financial impact seems to be relatively short-lived. And now in fact Nordstom may have broken whatever Trump tweet curse there was. With repercussions at Marshalls, see over to the right.

But tell that to the war rooms and board rooms that are no doubt drawing up crisis communications plans to make sure they’re prepared to withstand the eventuality of a Trump Twitter attack. No doubt, most of those plans include standard crisis preparedness advice: develop good relationships beforehand, don’t engage, take it off line, etc. The truth is that those ideas might work if Trump behaved in any kind of predictable way. But alas, predictability seems as much an anathema to the POTUS as releasing his tax returns.

The difference between normal crises and a Trump-induced crisis is that most don’t have automated stock trading programs developed around them. The other problem is that there are so many partisans on either side that there’s an official website of companies that should be boycotted by opponents of the President.

The other major difference between your average social media blunder and a Trump tweet is that chances are good that whatever he comes up with at three am will be picked up by most major news outlets. And certainly repeated and retweeted by his core followers. In other words, widespread exposure on most major news outlets will be instantaneous.

On the other hand, the news media has enough to keep them busy these days that it is hard to keep their attention for very long. If you’re lucky, it will fade from the headlines and only be repeated as an example when a similar incident happens to some other organization. The important thing to watch is not the stock price, but the attitude of the investors and other stakeholders.

Which is why we decided to do a deeper analytic dive into these crises. We looked not just on what happened, but the short and long term financial impact, as well as other impacts, and graded the response.

Table 1. Company Responses to President Trump’s Tweets

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Source: Paine Publishing, 2017

So what did we learn from all of that?

6 Lessons on How to Survive a Trump Twitter Attack

  1. Time is of the essence No matter what, a fast response is required. If you don’t respond within a couple of hours, all those other voices will fill the vacuum. Get a statement of fact out quickly, revise if necessary.
  1. Just the facts, ma’am Respond with the facts. Keep your responses as simple as possible and make sure you fact check them thoroughly. If you don’t, then someone else will. And you don’t want to go through this exercise twice.
  1. Watch the competition It’s normal to breathe a sigh of relief when the target is your competition, but chances are the market (and consumers) may paint you with a similarly tainted brush. And who knows, there may be opportunity in the backlash. Reebok offered free replacement sneakers when the New Balance backlash began and no doubt won over several former New Balance fans.
  1. Listen as if you were a day trader A huge percentage of the stock price movement in the wake of a Trump tweet is the result of day traders and short sellers making money on the movement of the stock alone. Therefore, much of the stock price impact dissipates after a few days. But day traders aren’t dumb. They have very sophisticated listening systems that alert them to any statement that might have an immediate impact and enable them to act. You need a system just as good.
  1. Listen to your stakeholders, not the noisiest person in the room What ultimately matters are the opinion and actions of your employees, your customers, your supporters, and your community. Make sure you survey them regularly and have a recent benchmark against which to compare any shifts. The Edelman Trust Barometer, out recently, shows a shocking decline in trust overall. It won’t take much to lose the trust of your constituencies. Ultimately, it’s not the initial bump or slump, it’s the long-term trend that will affect your organizations.
  1. Learn from those who have fallen already By now, we have a pretty good idea of what action or statement may land you in POTUS’ cross-hairs. So, have a frank conversation with leadership about any possible scenarios such as:
  • Offshore expansions,
  • U.S. expansion plans,
  • Layoffs,
  • Price increases,
  • International mergers or tax inversions, and
  • Any of leadership’s private rants about the President or his policies that might have been recorded.

Most importantly, do not measure success in the short term. What matters is the long-term impact on your reputation and the degree to which any crisis has impacted your trust level.

This piece was originally published by Paine Publishing.

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