Will 2017 be the year of the tweet?

By Joe Sheller / Guest Column

Donald J. Trump is our first commander-in-chief who extensively uses a particular social media site as his platform and as a way around mainstream media to get his message to his public. President Trump is our first Tweeter-in-Chief.

His successful presidential campaign in 2016 wasn’t solely or even mostly due to Twitter. Running against an unpopular Democrat didn’t hurt him. And other candidates and political organization have Twitter accounts, too.

Still, Mr. Trump is unique in the attention he has gained via Twitter. What lessons are there for media communicators in the Corridor from Mr. Trump’s unusual Twitter habits?

For one thing, it can help to be provocative. Mr. Trump can dominate the morning news whenever he wishes with a saucy 140-character rant, and it seems he wishes a lot. He has made Twitter his bully pulpit – although I’m often uncomfortable that his emphasis seems a bit too much on the bully rather than the pulpit.

There are, of course, risks in being so provocative. On Jan. 15, I attended an event at Coe College where around a dozen writers shared prose and poetry readings that “celebrate freedom, democracy, compassion and resistance,” according to the program for the Writers Resist event.

It was more than 90 minutes of writers doing readings. None was only 140 characters long.

The writers were placing themselves in deliberate juxtaposition to the kind of communication Mr. Trump has engaged in. He wasn’t mentioned at the event – it wasn’t a political rally – but there is little doubt about what or who the writers felt they must resist.

And that is yet one more lesson Mr. Trump can teach us: the danger of being unclear, which is one downfall of the Twitter format the POTUS is so fond of.

For example, I follow @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. Here is one of his Jan. 15 tweets: “For many years our country has been divided, angry and untrusting. Many say it will never change, the hatred is too deep. IT WILL CHANGE!!!!” Got that? I don’t know exactly what to make of it. I can’t see all caps and multiple exclamation points doing much to cure hatred.

Anyway, Twitter says 67 of Trump’s followers are people I know. Many of them are local media figures. And maybe that’s part of Mr. Trump’s media magic that we need to learn from. While he can’t seem to tear himself away from Twitter, even local Corridor media people can’t seem to tear themselves away from Mr. Trump’s tweets.

Joe Sheller is an associate professor of communication and journalism at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. He can be reached at jsheller@mtmercy.edu