How much is a retweet from the President worth and how does it help or hinder your cause? If you’re a lobbyist or public affairs professional, I’d suggest you start thinking about it.
In 2008, President Obama deftly rode a wave of tweets and likes to the White House, and once in office he and his staff have continued to change government for the better through the use of technology that increases transparency and connects policy makers with people.
But don’t kid yourself, President Obama isn’t scrolling through your tweets on his iPad. He no doubt receives a curated list of what his staff considers the most important or compelling posts and letters. It’s likely printed and handed to him with hundreds of other daily briefing documents.
With all the technological innovation this administration has championed, tried-and-true professional advocacy strategies are still the most effective way to make your case to Obama and his senior advisors. To reach the Obama Oval Office you’ve needed relationships, a compelling case, and time.
All of that changes in the Trump White House.
Put aside whether or not Donald Trump ‘gets’ digital, tech policy, or email for that matter. Our 45th President-elect tweets in the middle of the night.
Donald Trump engages in flame wars with reporters, rappers, restaurateurs, and anyone that challenges him online or off. This was seen as recently as last week when Trump took to Twitter to deride protesters and the media following his election, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
Trump credits social as having helped him overcome a significant spending deficit during the campaign and providing a way to personally push back on opponents. “The fact that I have such power in terms of numbers with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc,” Trump said Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes. “I think it helped me win all of these races where they’re spending much more money than I spent. It’s a modern form of communication, between Facebook and Twitter and I guess Instagram, I have 28 million people,” he told Lesley Stahl. “When you give me a bad story, or when you give me an inaccurate story … I have a method of fighting back that’s very tough.” The fact that Trump places this much importance on social is an early indication of the priority his administration will put on digital and grassroots outreach.
Industry wide, government relations and public affairs have been steadily warming to digital. A recent survey found that 40 percent of Washington insiders plan to divert their public affairs spending away from traditional non-digital activities to fund digital advocacy areas.
So while the Beltway seems to recognize the growing utility of digital, this election has the potential to speed that evolution big-league. Enlisting and activating supporters in social media has that much more power when the administration, particularly the President, is not only a user, but at times obsesses over the medium.
When approaching their next campaign, public affairs and advocacy strategists will be faced with an entirely new set of questions. Could the right promotion and targeting ensure that you’re not just recruiting and activating supporters, but making your case directly to the President? How do you develop content that will catch the attention of, and potentially provoke a response from, the most important target audience in the world?
The first few months after the Inauguration will be particularly telling. Will Trump continue to carry himself as candidly using digital as he did throughout the campaign, who will he block or re-tweet first, and how will he engage with former adversaries and allies once he yields the full power of the @POTUS account?
Traditional lobbying isn’t dead. Relationships, experience, and institutional knowledge are still paramount. But if you want to make your case directly to the leader of the free world, you (and your clients) may soon have your chance.