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Twitter & the Trump effect

| Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Tribune-Review contributing writer Andrew Conte.
Tribune-Review contributing writer Andrew Conte.

“FOMO” — “fear of missing out” — has moved into the C-suite. Suddenly, executives who've had little use for social media want to be on Twitter. Call it the Trump effect.

There's fear among corporate leaders when President Donald Trump turns his Twitter account at their company or industry, said Mark Schaefer , social media consultant and author of “The Tao of Twitter: Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time.”

They are “scrambling right now to prepare a strategy if something like that happens because it's never really been a consideration before,” he said.

Retailers long have seen value in social media. Nine out of 10 invest in them, and 76 percent spent more on them last year than before, according to the National Retail Federation . But now, even executives of companies that deal only with other businesses and the government see the need to be online too. Marketing directors have come to the Center for Media Innovation lately about needing to get executives onto Twitter in particular.

Before, social media might have seemed a trivial distraction from making money. A year ago, Twitter struggled to attract new users and disappointed investors. Now, with Trump making Twitter a cornerstone of his campaign, it seems an essential tool for protecting, perhaps expanding, a company's bottom line.

It's not enough to simply be online, Schaefer told me. Executives need to be actively engaged — regularly posting and interacting with customers, even if they're just other business executives.

“If you're attacked, you can't open your Twitter account that day. ... It would help any executive and business to have their pulpit established before something bad happens,” he said.

Even before Trump took office, business leaders were finding out the power of a 140-character message. A month after the election, he threatened on Twitter to cancel Boeing's contract for a new Air Force One because it had ballooned to more than $4 billion. Boeing's stock price immediately dropped before recovering. Trump took similar aim at Lockheed Martin over its F-35 fighter jet , Toyota over its plans for a Mexican plant and the labor-union head at a Carrier air conditioning plant in Indiana.

“(T)his is the first time we've seen someone use (Twitter) with a lack of discretion but have a direct impact on someone's stock price or stock portfolio,” said Jason Falls, who runs the Conversation Research Institute, a Louisville, Ky., company that tracks online communications.

The moment Trump took the oath of office, his Twitter handle changed to the official @POTUS, for president of the United States . It will be interesting to see whether he continues to use Twitter as a bully pulpit for haranguing not only political opponents but also corporations and their executives.

No matter, other politicians certainly will mimic the president to try winning elections and building coalitions — and others will use social media to share important messages and build influence too. We have entered a new age with a social media president who uses them not only to promote his own messages and values but to bend others in his direction. It's a lesson that business leaders quickly are learning.

Andrew Conte is the director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.

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