Twitter is a remarkable platform. It shares your voice with anyone who wants to hear it - and some who don't. Your voice can become incredibly powerful. Justin Halpern's chronicle of his dad's quotes led to his bestselling book Sh*t My Dad Says. A single tweet by Justin Bieber helped launch Carly Rae Jepsen. It got one guy free Wendy's nuggets for life. On a more serious note, it played a role in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown.
Whatever you think of them, President Donald Trump and Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk have Twitter instinct. I've written before about what Donald Trump gets about social media. Trump and Musk understand what will play well to their audience and get the attention they seek. The two have harnessed Twitter's power to their advantage, and don't seem to be letting go any time soon.
For better or worse, here's why Elon Musk and Donald Trump have been able to capitalize on Twitter:
1. It opens up new audiences.
One of the most interesting parts of the 2016 election was the way Trump tapped into certain parts of the country. He was able to connect with people that no politician had previously engaged at such a level. One of Trump's most important tools in that effort was Twitter. He used it to listen to voters and to win them over with his personality-driven method of communication. Elon Musk, meanwhile, is basically running a battery company, yet has become an influential voice on topics such as the stock market and cutting edge technology.
2. It breaks down walls.
Contact with celebrities used to be rare for the common man. Now, anyone can reach even the most elite on social media. Twitter in particular can unite even the most unlikely bedfellows because of its direct line of communication and ease of use. Financial analysts who previously wouldn't have any connection with Musk can now follow him personally. It's even spawned the phenomenon of "hate-following." For example, some who dislike Trump still follow him on Twitter so they can stay up to date with his latest thoughts.
3. It gets personal.
Whether it's used to attack or to praise, Twitter is a direct link between people. Musk has famously gone after some journalists and analysts he feels have been unfairly negative towards Tesla. Trump has used the platform to attack politicians and former colleagues alike. They may stick their foot in their mouth a lot, but they believe the payoff in audience engagement is well worth it. They also use Twitter to get out their opinion on particular agenda items, ensuring no one else minces their words. It can be used for good, too, like when JJ Watt used Twitter to raise over $30 million for Hurricane Harvey relief.
4. It's an opportunity for authenticity.
Some celebrities have a carefully constructed social media image, coordinated with legal representation and public relations experts. Others don't, and the difference is obvious. Some may call it shooting from the hip, but whatever it is, it's real. For some like Trump and Musk, no handler is writing their tweets for them - this stuff is straight from the horse's mouth. There's nothing wrong with the more manicured approach, but there's a reason hilarious and cheeky Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers has more than double the Twitter followers than his equally lauded teammate Ben Simmons. If you're looking to make waves, authenticity is the way to go.