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Updated 30 Oct 2017

The Trump Effect

Is the U.S. President Changing Twitter or Is It the Other Way Around?

While it’s an oversimplification to say that Donald Trump has changed Twitter, the truth is that Trump is one of many high profile figures to make their mark on the platform in recent years. He has also undisputedly put Twitter back into the spotlight with his daily tweets.
Since the election, Twitter’s users have increased the amount of time they spend on the network. A little over a third of users log onto Twitter more than once a day. The average Twitter user now spends about one minute per day on the site.

screenshot of Twitter User Growth

More Eyeballs Per Tweet?

The increased activity on Twitter in turn has introduced the potential for earning more impressions per Tweet. In reality, there’s more competition among advertisers for all these impressions, and clicks. Ad prices tend to reflect demand, and the average cost per click on Twitter ads has risen more than 18% in 2017.

More Competitive to Influence

It’s also gotten a lot more competitive to rank as an influencer on Twitter – of course, some of this is part of the maturation of the social network. Trump can’t be construed as the only one who’s making it harder to earn influencer status by virtue of possibly buying more followers than anyone else. Today there are more opportunities for influencers to make money by Tweeting about brands that sponsor tweets.
This motivates more Twitter users to jockey for influencer status, which can be seen by comparing Klout scores from a few years ago with today. Anecdotally speaking, a few years ago, a Twitter profile with five digits worth of followers might have had a Klout score of around 70. Now a profile with six digits worth of followers is lucky to have a Klout score of around 60.

screenshot of Jackie Cohen Klout

The screenshot above shows the Klout score of one of our customers who gave us permission to share with you her plight: in 2011 she had a Klout score of 72 even though her Twitter following was in the low teens; today she has 20 to 30 times as many followers and has to work harder for a Klout score of 63.

Higher Priority

Nonetheless, the increased activity on Twitter, along with the activity of the President on Twitter has more people feeling like they can’t afford to stop paying attention to the network. There are days when the President’s tweets can move financial markets.

screenshot of Donald Trump's tweets affecting stock prices

Not surprisingly, corporate Twitter accounts are raising their game: It’s not unheard of for a business Twitter profile to have more than one person handling it, at least among the larger profiles – or the managers have more experience than was the case a few years ago.
While small startups might still put interns on the job, any brand or company with an eight-digit following either has a more experienced manager or more than one overseeing the profile. Of course, the fact that more experienced people are Tweeting for companies reflects the maturation of the medium rather than the Trump effect per se. (The maturation of Twitter might be part of the reason why the President is obsessed with the social network in the first place.)
When companies first started hiring their own Tweeters, no one had experience Tweeting for companies. But nonetheless, companies have scaled up their prioritization of Twitter since Trump took office: part of this responded to the fact that Twitter users in general started using the network more often.

More Proofreading Tweets

In a sense average Twitter users might have something in common with professional Tweeters – increasingly taking care to proofread their tweets before hitting the tweet button. The motivation actually comes from all of the hoopla over typos like Trump’s "covfefe," which earned an entry in the Urban Dictionary.

screenshot of Donald Trump's tweet

Awareness of Spoofs vs. Authentic Accounts

Speaking of humor, people have become more aware of the existence of spoof profiles – even as the ones spoofing the President’s continue to amass followings. It’s also possible more people have come to appreciate the significance of verified status, since the blue checkmark only appears next to the @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS profiles and not the spoofs.

More Verified Accounts Now

Speaking of verified accounts, Twitter has grown the number of verified accounts to about 250,000, but that’s still just .06% of users of the social network. The number of verified accounts began rising after Twitter announced that anyone could apply for verified status in July 2016.

Awareness of Fakes & Bought Followers

While people can tell that @realDonaldTrump’s profile is authentic, media reports have alleged that half of his followers are fake. This has grown awareness by the general public of the fact that social media followers can be bought. Coverage of the phenomenon included the fact that fake accounts often have no photos or bios (Has that tipped off their creators to include images scraped from the web?).

screenshot of Donald Trump's followers

At a minimum, people know that as many as 15% of Twitter profiles are fake (48 million were fake as of March, 2017); with this, there’s a greater awareness of how to look for signs of fake profiles. This has people thinking critically about large followings online: are they genuine or fake?

Are There More Followers for Sale?

Interestingly, none of these revelations about fake Twitter accounts appears to have motivated anyone to stop selling followers online. Here at twiends we have to compete daily with bad operators trying to sell followers (we don't sell followers, but we sell display advertising that attracts new followers). Our service is vastly different, but our customers are the same. We've seen a huge increase in the cost of acquiring new users through Google Adwords and other ad platforms in recent years.
We also have the added problem that many of our new users arrive with 'damaged' followings. They have batches of fake followers that they have purchased before joining twiends which are eventually removed by Twitter. These large batch removals creates a lot of confusion for our users and makes it very hard for them to differentiate the results from legitimate promotion and bad promotion.

Beyond Twitter

In a sense, the Trump effect has spiralled way beyond tweets from and to @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS as Twitter continues to probe exactly how the network was used by Russia-linked accounts to influence the November 2016 US election. If anything, the election of Trump taught people to pay closer attention to whether tweets might have influenced the outcomes of subsequent votes, like the ones in France and Germany.
Meanwhile the ongoing investigation by Congress into the U.S. election has forced Twitter to be more transparent about its efforts to fight malicious bots, malware, and abusive content. It's important to note though that this phenomenon includes other social networks too, most notably Facebook.

Account Suspensions

Twitter disclosed that it has suspended nearly 1 million accounts for posting pro-terrorist content over the past two years, along with roughly 4,000 accounts for abusive posts or violating copyrights and trademarks. These suspensions result from both Twitter’s own initiatives and reports by individual users – the latter might explain temporary suspensions of accounts like Rose McGowan’s, among others.

More Churn

It’s also possible that some of 1 million account suspensions is just enough to chip away at the followings of people with larger-than average numbers on the social network. At the very least, these suspensions lead to churn, since those who’ve had accounts shut down likely open new ones. While follower churn certainly predates the November 2016 election, people who manage Twitter profiles with larger-than-average followings have to work harder to maintain their numbers. Apparently, Twitter has a 25% churn rate, according to Verto Analytics.

screenshot of social network churn

We certainly see one or two clean-up events each year where Twitter bulk removes a few million user accounts in the space of a few hours (usually fake or dormant accounts). On one such occasion back in 2015, some of the top 10 celebs saw drops of around 100k followers from their accounts in one day. This was one of the first events to create awareness around the large proportion of fake and dormant followers on the accounts of @katyperry, @justinbieber, @taylorswift and the rest.

Legal Precedents

The ninth circuit court of appeals set an important precedent by becoming the first to consider Trump’s tweets official statements by the president, using them as the basis for the June 2017 decision to reject the proposed Muslim travel ban. While previous court cases have included tweets as evidence, none involved communications by the holder of the highest political office in the U.S.

screenshot of Donald Trump's tweets affecting court decisions

International Relations

Twitter has definitely become a platform for international relations between the U.S. and foreign countries – some of it admittedly nerve rattling, like alleged threats of war against North Korea. Another down side of some of these tweets: concern about whether secrets might end up on Trump’s Twitter feed allegedly has foreign officials holding back on disclosing anything to the U.S.

More News

At the very least, no other celebrity has generated as many news headlines about Twitter as Trump has. Literally every day, a new trending story concerns whatever the President’s latest Tweet(s) said. As of this writing, over 8.33 million results come up in response to a Google search for “Trump and Twitter.” However, that number includes non-news webpages and also reflects the large volume of stories by different outlets on the same topic, still that’s a lot of results. Hey, even we're talking about it.

Looking for Reasons Policies Change

While Twitter’s policies have changed since Trump got elected, the social network has never cited any of the President’s tweets as a reason for making changes. However, media outlets opined that Twitter has at least clarified existing policies in response to Trump’s activity. However, no source at Twitter has ever said that. If anything, Twitter has stated the opposite, albeit indirectly.
This indirect statement took the form of the Twitter Public Policy profile linking to an NPR article about whether Trump’s tweets amounted to a declaration of war against Korea.

screenshot of Donald Trump's tweets about north korea

The Twitter Public Policy profile stated that it was externally publishing a policy that was already used internally: the social network to take down any of Trump’s tweets about North Korea because none of the posts violated the site’s policies. Before the election, few if any members of the media looked for explanations of the causes of any policy changes at Twitter.

The Trump Effect or the Twitter Effect

Many of the changes at Twitter might simply reflect that the social network is in its ninth year of existence. Time has taught it that some things work and other don’t. With nearly 400 million users on Twitter, it’s unrealistic to attribute all of the social network’s changes to one very high profile user. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how things continue to develop on the platform.
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