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What to Do When Trump Tweets

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What to Do When Trump Tweets

It’s the middle of the night. The president of the United States tweets something critical of your company. How do you respond?

You assume you need to do something because, after all, Donald Trump is the most powerful man in the world. Also, he has 30 million Twitter followers.

Crisis communications experts may differ when advising you on your next step because the right strategy depends on many factors. They do agree, however, that sometimes the best response is no response at all. But if a reaction seems called for, their first advice is to avoid being argumentative. Gene Grabowski of kglobal in Washington, for example, suggests trying to find a way to make Trump “look like the hero of the story, and he’ll go away.” Getting into a quarrel with him “is a mistake — he is a master of Twitter.”

Three experts we interviewed had these recommendations:

“Crisis communications counselors now know more than we did when we really became aware of the nature and extent of Trump’s tweeting back in February or March. We now have data, and we know that stock prices of companies attacked by Trump did not necessarily suffer long-term effects. They might dip right after being attacked, but then they rebounded. We also know the engagement rate of Trump’s tweets — measured by retweets, replies and likes — declined 66 percent during his first 100 days in office, according to Adweek.

“If a criticism is accurate, you need to acknowledge that fact and show what you are doing about the situation. But if a criticism is inaccurate, you should set the record straight, in a tactful way. What you don’t want to do is challenge an influential tweeter, because you can’t win in social media. What you can do is make sure your stakeholders get a response to the criticism directly from you, rather than getting only the critic’s side of the story.”
Daniel Webber, general manager, D.C. digital, Edelman

“The response depends on the situation, so this has to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. We do realize by now that the novelty of the president’s tweets is wearing off, which can make it less urgent that you respond at all. At the same time, the more inflammatory the tweet, the more coverage it will get from the media, which might make a response necessary. Also, bear in mind that there are pro-Trump as well as anti-Trump constituencies, just as there are non-urban vs. urban constituencies. There are a lot of demographic factors to consider, which has made how to respond pretty tricky. Hoping for a cookie-cutter approach is risky in itself.”
John Himle, CEO, Himle Rapp & Co.

“Whenever you’re attacked, you will be told you have to ‘protect the brand.’ Well, not necessarily. Just because someone says something bad about you doesn’t mean you’ve been hurt.

Sometimes you don’t need to respond at all. What we tell clients is that just because the president tweets about you doesn’t mean you have to do anything.

“In any case, we tell clients to go slow. Of course with Twitter, going slow means figuring out what you want to do in about 20 to 30 minutes. Use that time to monitor the level of engagement. If you decide the attack isn’t going to have a long-term effect, you might just let it go. What you don’t want to do is escalate the conflict, and the way to do that with Trump is to respond. Remember this: Trump is busy. He has a lot on his plate. If you just let it go, there’s a good chance he will just move on. After all, he has a short attention span.”
Brian Ellis, executive vice president, Padilla

Want More Information on This Topic?

Contact Nick DeSarno, manager of digital and communications practice, Public Affairs Council

Additional Resources

Communicating the Value of Online Advocacy and Social Media for Public Affairs

Video Files: The Council’s Sheree Anne Kelly looks at the top Political Disruptors