I’m not sure how many marketers watch BBC Newsnight, but those who do were in for a treat on the night of Thursday, Feb 16th.
For our foreign readers, Newsnight is a British current affairs show. The top story that evening was Donald Trump’s first-ever solo press conference as President, during which he said:
“The press is honestly out of control. I am here to change the broken system. We’re not going to let it happen.”
Understandably, Newsnight presenter Evan Davis was concerned about the possible implications of this, so he sought clarification from Sebastian Gorka, Deputy Assistant to the President.
As a marketer, I found this a bold claim.
Unquestionably, digital marketing played a big part in Trump’s election victory (more on this later), but “breaking the monopoly” of the news media is a whole different kettle of fish.
Could Trump really out-content the news?
To start with the simple stuff…
Trump is known for his prominent Twitter presence, and the sheer size of his following – double Fox News’, and close to CNN’s – is undoubtedly impressive.
But if we’re reviewing Trumps social presence in comparison to that of the news media, it makes more sense to group these followings accordingly:
- Trump Camp: the official channels of the President, the Republican Party, and the White House
- News Media For: Fox News & Breitbart
- News Media Against: CNN, MSNCB, USA Today, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal.
In these groupings, and with YouTube and Facebook added to the fold, an impression emerges of relatively level pegging: the news media dominating Facebook, but Trump’s camp and the right-wing news media adding up to a larger Twitter base.
Note that Trump does not have an active YouTube presence. The only official account is the Donald Trump for President account which ceased to produce new content following the election victory (presumably because it was funded by the Republican campaign) and so I’ve excluded it from the figures. Otherwise, one suspects the Trump Camp’s YouTube following would be a lot higher.
But as any content marketer knows, it’s not the size of your following, but what you do with it…
Trump generates an awful lot of engagement on Twitter; but another story emerges in the context of the wider social space.
I roughly calculated an average engagement figure per social post by:
- scrolling back 4 days through the social feeds, to find 5 consecutive posts which had more or less ceased gathering new impressions
- counted every click / like / share etc. on each post as a single engagement
- calculated an average number of engagements per post.
Trump clearly trounces the other channels in Twitter engagement:
…but when you group the stats and add other channels into the fray…
Trump’s own personal dominance on Twitter keeps his camp in first position on that social channel, and Facebook is clearly working for him as well.
But the might of the established news media, with their sizeable budgets for high-quality video content, leads to a vastly more engaging presence on YouTube.
The Cost of Content
Video, of course, is expensive, and this is where Trump’s plan really starts to come unstuck.
The President’s annual marketing budget of $1.4bn is far from meagre, but when you view the figures alongside each other the true scale of the challenge emerges.
The trouble for Trump is, the news media exists solely to produce content, with its entire infrastructure geared to producing high-quality text and video 24/7. This means it makes sense to calculate the news media’s content budget as the most recent total revenue figures of their respective corporations.
The President’s funding is far more restricted, whilst the Republican Party diverts almost all its central resource into contesting election campaigns. (The graph above includes the 2016 figure of $409m party capital spent on the Trump campaign, divided by the four years of a political cycle).
The president could theoretically top up his content budget with his own personal wealth, but his liquid assets total a mere $222m. Even with the immense $2.3bn budget of Fox News backing him up, it’s very difficult to see how the President can compete with the mainstream press.
Fighting on Multiple Fronts
Content, as you know, is most usefully viewed not solely as digital, but as brand messaging across channels.
Print newspapers and broadcast television are unavailable to the President, so don’t really offer a useful comparison (but it’s worth mentioning 5.7 million newspapers are printed daily by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today combined).
Websites, on the other hand, are a more level playing field.
The mainstream news media is generating 1.2 billion monthly site visits – more than seven times the combined audience of Trump’s political webspace, plus that of FoxNews.com and Breitbart.com.
A measure of search visibility is even more revealing.
This figure, provided by SearchMetrics.com, assesses how Google-friendly your content is. A high score implies a well-maintained site, with great user experience, amidst a rich network of inbound links.
The graph speaks for itself. Preoccupied with government and politics, the Trump camp clearly cannot cultivate online experiences as effectively as the news media.
Perhaps Trump, as a polarising brand, should focus less on simple comparative measurement of audience size and engagement, and more on qualitative understanding of the effect of his content.
I attempted to investigate this using a free trial of Mention, an SaaS brand monitoring tool, to measure the sentiment of content surrounding Trump and the other players in this contest – and threw in kittens as a control group.
Unfortunately, the results weren’t especially enlightening, revealing little more than that kittens are extremely popular online.
Instead, it’s more useful just to browse Trump’s online presences, where the true reason emerges for the scale of his social engagement metrics.
Every piece of content produced by Trump generates both ardent support and vitriolic opposition. This is virality in action – the phenomenon which makes social media a double-edged sword.
Arguably, no publicity is bad publicity, but you could also surmise that increased content could achieve little for Trump, producing a lot of metrics but only hardening both his opposition and supporter base in equal measure.
So how can Trump generate more reliable results?
“Going straight to the audience” did indeed put Trump in the White House, but it’s not strictly true that this was done through social media.
During the election campaign, the Republican Party spent $150m reaching Hispanic and women voters through programmatically served digital video – and true enough, Trump scored unexpectedly well with these demographics. Following the victory, Brad Parscale, Digital Director on the Trump campaign, described a data-driven operation which “gave the campaign the ability to zero in on undecided voters and “persuadable targets”.
This isn’t the same as “breaking the mainstream media’s sense of monopoly on the news” – something which is conclusively impossible for the Trump camp due to a dearth of budget and content infrastructure.
But you wonder whether this really matters. The mainstream media has always given Trump a hard time, and he still made it to the White House. As long as he can pass legislation effectively for the next four years, and win another campaign, is the mainstream news really that much of a threat?
But before I get carried away, this is a marketing blog – and that’s one for political scientists to decide.
Find out more
Are you Donald Trump?
If so, you should probably consider getting your own in-house agency. OLIVER has run real-time content hubs across both B2B and B2C accounts, for both private companies and government organisations, on both sides of the Atlantic – producing fast, reactive content at the speed of news.
About the blogger
Paul Tomlinson joined OLIVER in April 2016 as Business Development Content Marketer. He previously worked for the now-infamous tech startup Powa Technologies, where he amassed a bank of knowledge on payments, retail tech and customer experience, and also has a solid background in consumer-facing retail marketing.
He’s going to publish a novel one of these days, but is currently content marketing to pass the time.
 Yes, you could complicate it further: adding socially active commentators on either side such as Ann Coulter and Ezra Klein, the hundreds of local Republican & Democrat accounts, the various secondary accounts held by most news organisations, and international channels such as Nigel Farage’s and BBC News UK. But in the interests of writing a useful marketing blog rather than exhaustive political science…
 Source: similarweb.com