Trump deserves credit for marketing his Twitter account to his Everest highs. He always knew how to play with the crowds, tickle them and leave them wanting more. During his first campaign and presidency, even a Trump tweet of garden variety could rock newsrooms. But that was based on his favorite status and later place in the Oval Office. He attracted a huge following not because he was Donald Trump tweeting, but because he was the president tweeting. The power of the office gave his tweets a muscle that could shake financial markets, bury political careers, inspire death threats against enemies and garner press attention. But exiled to Mar-a-Lago and denied his social media accounts, it has made him just another celebrity squealing noises from a tiny soapbox. When his profile shrunk, he became easier to ignore.
Still, why didn’t the tens of millions of the 89 million who followed him on Twitter or the 74 million who voted for him in 2020 make more of an effort to visit his new address? Blame it on the network effect. If you already have a Twitter account, it only takes a millisecond to click and add someone else’s feed to your account. But downloading a new app just to follow a single person takes mental energy, especially if there aren’t many other accounts on the app you want to follow. Trump out of office proved as boring as Trump in office was disruptive. Everything we learn about Trump’s inability to summon a large audience on Truth Social, we learned in miniature from the failure of his mid-2021 blog, which he killed after 29 days. Like most media personalities, Trump needs the network effect boost provided by Twitter (or CNN or Fox News Channel) to build a mass following. On his own, he’s just a political showman on a slightly trafficked middle road who shouts out invitations to his freak show.
Many Trump supporters were either agnostic about his tweets or politically hostile to them. Many followed him just to stay in the know or for the hate clicks.
That’s not to say you can’t build a good business that primarily serves Trumpians, conservatives, or liberals. But such targeted distribution is done to the detriment of winning over the largest potential clientele. Twitter wisely places no political litmus test, real or implied, between aspiring account holders and an account as long as they promise not to spit from their perches. Everyone is accepted. By appearing exclusive, Truth Social has resigned itself to marginal appeal.
None of Truth Social’s disastrous beginnings should surprise us. Donald Trump has proven time and time again that he is an entrepreneur wreck. Steaks, his college, water, an airline, casinos, the USFL, a mortgage company, vodka — the list reads like a guide on how not to be successful in business. Associating Trump with a new company has become a corporate death wish.
Trump is still the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and could well end up in the White House (assuming he’s not behind bars). But there’s also evidence that Trump has simply exhausted the Trump meme he invented. Trump’s deranged style of outrage once held real entertainment value – which is why moderates and liberals alike followed him on Twitter even though they weren’t voting for him. But in his post-presidency and especially in the weeks following the search and investigation of Mar-a-Lago, the show became stale. To no avail, he sought to outdo himself by sharing QAnon-related material on Truth Social, denouncing the FBI as a madman trapped in a bunker, and calling for his reinstatement as “legitimate winnerfrom the 2020 election. He’s become a snake-head-biting carnival geek, which can be a fabulous sight the first few times you see him, but after that, meh. Could today’s Trump engineer enough new outrage to produce even a brief TikTok?
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