Much hysteria has been raised about Donald Trump’s use of his social media accounts, particularly his Twitter. Each tweet sends the fake news media into a tailspin and it seems they won’t ever get used to it. We can probably rest assured that the fake news media will continue to be hysterical from the beginning to the end of his presidency. They just don’t get it and never will. Secretly, they hate the fact that Donald Trump using Twitter makes them irrelevant. He now has close to 20 million followers on Twitter, probably does at least a billion impressions per month, and most crucially, in terms of engagement, gets at lowest something on the order of 9,000 retweets and 50,000 likes on his tweets. Usually it’s much higher than that. We can only speculate how many link clicks he gets on his Twitter but it’s probably gargantuan. This is up significantly even from just before the election, when he got around 2,000 retweets per tweet.
Donald Trump can thus reward his friends and degrade his adversaries in what way he sees fit with his massive audience. He can post a friendly link to promote his friends or a critical one to disparage his enemies. Most importantly, Donald Trump can use his social media accounts, most visibly his Twitter, to completely deprive his enemies of the ability to even exist. If their message can’t get out, if no one can hear them, they might as well not exist. This was one of the key concepts in Stumped’s second chapter and one of the most important reasons why Trump won.
In The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump famously speaks of getting the word out:
You need to generate interest, and you need to create excitement. One way is to hire public relations people and pay them a lot of money to sell whatever you’ve got. But to me, that’s like hiring outside consultants to study a market. It’s never as good as doing it yourself.
One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.
Things have changed since The Art of the Deal was written, and now Donald Trump, no doubt very pleased, has the means, particularly through his Twitter, to generate stories on his own free will with little effort. He need only go on Twitter and the world will pay attention to what he wants it to pay attention to, completely bypassing the media. Thus, even more, his enemies will be in his frame, while he can promote his friends and most importantly, be the undisputed hegemon in the conversation around his own name.
While the means of communication have changed over the centuries, these tactics haven’t. One of the foremost practitioners of information warfare and grassroots PR in antiquity was none other than Gaius Julius Caesar.
When most of us think of Julius Caesar, we think of a great general who used his power to become Rome’s dictator and ultimately usher in the end of the Roman Republic. Yet, this is only the barest of summaries that comes nowhere close to describing the extraordinary man that Julius Caesar really was and can’t adequately explain how he was able to do what he did.
Julius Caesar, like Donald Trump, was a man with an enormous talent stack, as Scott Adams would describe it. I start every year reading a biography or autobigraphical work of a great man, and I’ve started 2017 with Caesar: Life of a Colossus. One of Caesar’s talents was his being a great writer. His Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars are considered some of the finest works of Latin prose and any student of the language will have come across them. Yet, the commentaries weren’t merely written for artistic value. There was a practical, persuasive element to them.
From the beginning, Julius Caesar aimed his Commentaries at the mass of the people. He was a popularis politician (in the sense that he associated himself with “popular causes”) and kept that in mind. Instead of merely sending reports to the Senate, he seems to have taken care that the Commentaries would be as widely heard as possible:
Another widespread assumption is that the Commentaries were aimed first and foremost at the senatorial and equestrian classes, but once again this may be questioned. In his consulship he had ordered the publication of all senatorial proceedings, which was evidently not for the benefit of senators. Levels of literacy in the Roman world are very difficult to judge, so that we do not know how many readers there were outside the wealthy elite. However, more practically we can judge that any system where each copy of a book had to be written out by hand did mean that books were a rare and expensive luxury. Yet Cicero noted the enthusiasm which men of humble station, such as artisans, devoured history books. There are hints in our sources that the public reading of books was common and could be very well attended. It does seem probable that Caesar, the man who had always been a popularis and reliant on the support of a wide section of the community, was keen to engage this audience. It is striking that senatorial and equestrian officers do not figure very prominently in the Commentaries, and at times are shown in an unflattering light. In contrast, the ordinary soldiers of the legions consistently show courage and prowess. In most cases even when they are criticized, it is usually for excessive enthusiasm that leads the legionaries to forget their proper discipline. Even more than the ordinary rank and file soldiers, the centurions who lead them are most often painted in heroic colors. Only a few of these officers are named, but generally it is the centurions as a group who keep calm at times of crisis and fight and die for the approval of their commander. This favorable portrayal of centurions and soldiers may well have pleased patriotic aristocrats and equestrians, but it was surely even more appealing to the wider population. Caesar cultivated those Romans and did not simply speak to the elite.
The Commentaries served as a way to not only get the word out for Julius Caesar, but to get the word out in the way that he wanted it to. Instead of relying on the Senate (of which many of the members hated him, not least because he was literally cuckolding many of them) to make public pronouncements, he went directly to the audience he relied on to frame his brand in his own way, dominating space on his own name and the deeds for which he was associated (the Gallic War, and later, the civil war). It is tempting to see the Commentaries as a kind of sophisticated Twitter for its day.
You’ll see my full review of Caesar: Life of a Colossus in the next post.
To stay relevant, you must be the dominant voice when it comes to your own name, which you’ll want to pair with a great concept. Afterward, you’ll want to take pains to understand the communications outlets available to you, and use them to communicate directly to your audience, which should comprise a broad base of different segments of society, to make your foundation of power secure. Equally as important, you’ll need to communicate in a way that deprives your enemies of power to define your brand. For Julius Caesar, this meant publishing the Commentaries not just for the upper classes, but to be seen and heard by as many people as possible. For Donald Trump, it means to keep tweeting. It’s no coincidence that the fake news media wants him to stop – that would leave them with the ability to define his brand. Similarly, Cato and other enemies of Julius Caesar may have been annoyed at the success of the Commentaries.
Do you want to form a strategic plan to dominate the conversation around your own name or do you want to let your enemies define you instead? If it’s not option two, Stumped is the book you’re going to read.