Trump Teases Starting His Own Social Media Platform. Here's Why It'd Be Tough
Relevance is important in politics — and it can be fleeting.
That presents a challenge to a former president who might be seeking a return to the office but is banned from some of the largest social media platforms in the world, including Twitter and Facebook.
So it's perhaps no surprise then that Donald Trump is teasing the possibility of launching his own social media platform.
"I'm doing things having to do with putting our own platform out there that you'll be hearing about soon," Trump told Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe in a podcast that was released Monday.
With tens of millions of followers, Trump was one of the most dominant people on social media before his erasure following his false election claims and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Since then, his influence has been severely curtailed, mostly limited to emailed statements and television interviews that haven't dominated news cycles like his tweets used to.
"He has a problem right now in that he's not on social media," said Jennifer Grygiel, a professor at Syracuse University who studies social media and its influence. "He does not really have a lot of people paying attention to him right now, and this [teasing of a new platform] is a great way to get attention."
For Trump, attention is his lifeblood — and not having it is like not having oxygen. But there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that a platform of his own creation could breathe life back into his once-ubiquitous presence.
The effort highlights problems of reach, brand and follow-through.
Hard to compete with Big Tech
Trump's first major hurdle in trying to make his social media presence, well, great again is building something with mass appeal.
"The challenge becomes, how do you maintain, capture and retain attention at scale?" said Eric Wilson, a Republican political technologist and the former digital director of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's 2016 presidential campaign.
"Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube are so valuable because basically everyone in the world is on them or has access to them or heard of them," he added.
With Twitter and Facebook, Trump's posts were able to go viral in part because they were retweeted and shared over and over by members of the media — as well as outraged opponents.
"I think the right image is like dropping a pebble in a pond," Wilson said. "The rings radiate out, so you can see the effects long after it dropped. Without those channels and with the legacy media more focused on — for now — what's going on with Washington and Capitol Hill and President Biden, I think that's really the challenge."
Trump undoubtedly is still popular with the conservative base. And he is the leading potential contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, if he wants it.
He could leverage that to build a niche platform that could make him money, like a subscription-based service. But it wouldn't help Trump dominate news cycles the way he used to, and he has already shown a reluctance to cater solely to conservatives on social media.
When he had the opportunity to join and lead conservatives to already-developed alternatives, like Parler, for example, he didn't do it.
"Ultimately, where the real power is is networks, like large networks that are already established," Syracuse's Grygiel said. "And he's limited in that, so I think he's frustrated by that."
Few details of being a game changer
Trump's remarks came after his senior adviser Jason Miller said over the weekend that the former president would likely be back on social media with his own platform in "two or three months."
Wilson said that while building a platform is not technically difficult, the timeline seems "rushed."
Miller boasted that the platform would be "the hottest ticket in social media" and "completely redefine the game."
"Like how?" asked Shannon McGregor, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who researches social media's role in the political process. "What would be new, other than just that Trump would be allowed to be on it?"
She points out that new platforms that have been successful recently, like Clubhouse and TikTok, offer something users can't get anywhere else.
"Clubhouse is very voice central, and TikTok is really short videos and able to use audio also in really interesting ways," McGregor said. "It's these features that don't necessarily have to do as much with the content itself as the mechanism, the affordances of the platform."
Miller did not respond to a request for details about the potential new platform.
Is there room for more politics?
When it comes to content, there are questions about whether there is already an oversaturation of politics on social media.
The Pew Research Center found last year that people were increasingly feeling worn out by the glut of political posts and discussions they were seeing on social media — and that was especially true of Republicans.
"I am skeptical, having looked at lots of examples in the past and even some recent examples, that there is sufficient demand for a politics-only social network," Wilson said. "That, to me, doesn't become the kind of a critical mass that is worth the time investment."
What's more, Twitter still dominates when it comes to political content, something that would be hard to shake because of its influential base of users.
"The way that he [Trump] ended up being the center of news coverage for so long was really through his use of Twitter," McGregor said. "Even if he is on some alternative platform, that's not going to be where journalists are and where other political players are. And so, it's still not going to have that same impact in the way that he was able to have with his tweets."
Trump has a long history of bold ideas that didn't pan out — from a faltering airline to a defunct professional football league to countless offshoot products that failed.
Those were launched at times when the Trump name was less controversial than it is now. His brand has suffered considerable damage since the Jan. 6 violence, and that makes this effort to launch a social media platform all the more difficult.
Banks, a major real estate company and other businesses have cut ties with him and the Trump Organization. Professional golf pulled one of its most prestigious tournaments from one of his courses. Trump-owned properties are in jeopardy. And he is facing criminal probes in New York into his finances and in Georgia because of his efforts to overturn the presidential election results there.
"He's really good at leveraging all of these institutions of power," Syracuse's Grygiel said, adding, "But I do think that something is fundamentally changed in his brand. ... We can never unsee what we saw on Jan. 6."
There is a limited audience that would sign up for a Trump-branded site. Like with Parler, there may be problems finding a reliable company willing to host the platform. And, importantly, he could have trouble securing mainstream financial backing.
"I don't think that President Trump from the year before is the same as the one now," Grygiel said. "I do think he aspires to again continue to build influence, but it can't be developed in the same way and it certainly can't be developed in the same elite circles that he used to.
"It's almost like he's pushed into this dark side, and then that's scary."
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