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Political Conflict Changes the Audience for Social Media Marketing

May 30, 2020

Social media marketing is, unfortunately, not immune the effects of political bickering. This has arguably never been clearer than in the wake of Donald Trump’s dispute with Twitter over a fact-check of one of his posts.

In an apparent act of retaliation, Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that allows government to intrude on the editorial decisions of social media platforms. If the order is fully implemented and survives legal challenges, it will probably lead to drastic changes in how internet companies operate. And even if the order is overturned, the fallout may be substantial.

The president framed his policy as a defense against private censorship online. But in reality, it will almost certainly lead to more tight controls over content over the long run. This is because Trump took aim at a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which prevented internet companies from being held liable for content posted by individual users or social media marketing firms.

In an effort to encourage those companies to behave favorably toward him, the president is actually giving them more incentive to ban his account if it violates their terms of service. Not doing so could open them up to lawsuits from any other person or organization who feels they’ve been defamed or materially injured.

Ideally, this stricter enforcement of the rules wouldn’t impact anyone who is behaving ethically. But in practice, Twitter and other such platforms would probably be overly cautious sometimes. A single misstep in, say, a social media marketing campaign could lead to an entire account being taken down. In other words, the excessive caution would be passed down the line, and digital marketers would be compelled to mostly avoid provocative or experimental strategies.

At least, that would be the effect upon those who decided to stay with the platform. But if the current dispute leads to significant changes in the way Twitter and Facebook operate, then it might also change the types of engagement that people maintain with those platforms. It’s even possible that people would start migrating to newer platforms, especially if they gave the impression of being less tightly controlled.

Any such changes would present a challenge to social media marketing. The same can be said for changes that come from users simply being fed up with the political bickering on Twitter and Facebook. In a previous post, I suggested that TikTok might receive increasing attention from social media marketing professionals in the days ahead, specifically because it is lighthearted and generally apolitical. It’s easy to imagine that trend accelerating in the wake of current developments.

In the long run, TikTok won’t be immune from the effects of political discord, either. Every platform’s user base will change over time, in response to changes in content, policy, and so on. Therefore, social media marketing professionals must always keep tabs on trends in both the industry and the surrounding politics. Recurring audience analyses allow them to understand whether existing users of a platform are sticking with it despite emerging issues, or running away to find shelter from the storm somewhere else.

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