When Augustus Caesar issued decrees, such as his constitutional reforms that transformed the Roman government between 30 BC and 2 AD, the news of each law would take countless months to reach the far-reaching population under his reign. When Napoleon Bonaparte set out to reform the French legal system with his early 19th century Napoleonic Code, many citizens were unaware of these enormous changes for years. When Franklin Roosevelt sought to update Americans on what the government was doing to combat the depression and Nazi aggression he spoke to them by radio, a means of communication that could be heard by millions but still took days to be fully reported.
Then there’s Donald Trump.
Like him or hate him, support him or oppose him, you cannot deny that Trump has forever changed the way leaders communicate with their constituents. Yes, we are all his constituents. All 320 million of us. He is our President, whether you voted for him or not. Your president is talking to you every day, multiple times a day, unfiltered, unplanned, unreserved. You can even talk back. In thousands of years of recorded human history neither emperors or kings or prime ministers or presidents have done what Donald Trump is doing. It seems crazy. But actually…it’s kind of moving.
Trump’s tweets are informative and insane. They are interesting and inappropriate. They are useful and useless. But, thanks to Twitter, the voting public and the rest of the world is getting information directly from their leader in real time. Nothing’s being translated. No one’s interpreting. No words are edited. It’s just him. Direct and blunt. Trump has already said and done a lot of things that have upset many people. But never, ever, has a leader been more in touch with the people who elected him. He is speaking right to us, sometimes in the middle of the night.
For a 70-year-old man, Trump uses Twitter better than many millennials and certainly better than most companies and brands I know. He gets it. He understands that it’s a 24/7 communications tool that can be used to deliver not just official pronouncements, but his thoughts on everything and everyone from Vladimir Putin to Alec Baldwin. He frequently retweets, likes and engages. He’s not afraid to upset people with his opinions. He realizes that on Twitter, like any social media platform, the power is in its stream of consciousness and its ability to convey thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts can be damaging – particularly if you’re a president. People argue that the man running the U.S. government shouldn’t be doing this. Certainly, most CEOs don’t. But Trump is a new kind of president – one that only wants to do what he thinks is best for his people and not afraid to let his people know that.
Trump has completely disrupted the way leaders communicate and it’s already impacting chief executives, business owners and managers. Many I speak to have re-thought their own methods for communicating with their employees, customers and community. The rise of corporate communication platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and many others are partly due to employees’ desire to hear from those responsible for their livelihoods. Just look at the thousands of tweets from Salesforce.com’s CEO Marc Benioff, or the musings of entrepreneur Mark Cuban (who I’m sure is not happy to be mentioned in an article that’s actually praising something about Trump – sorry, Mark). Check out my friend Jon Ferrara’s thoughts on the customer relationship management industry or ideas and opinions from Spencer Rascoff, the CEO of Zillow. These are leaders, like Trump, who are using Twitter and other platforms to communicate with their audience. Sure, like the president, they sometimes get in trouble or make mistakes. But that’s being human. Regardless, they’re building a relationship with those they lead. People demand this.
The growth of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn over the past few years have enabled companies and celebrities to have a direct line of conversation with the people that use their products. The best companies do what Trump does. They get information out to the public and their staff quickly. Yes, this risks mistakes and embarrassment. But this is what customers and employees want from their leaders: direction, thoughts, insight, explanations. They want it now. They want it on their phones, their laptops and their iPads. They want to be able to agree, disagree, forward and share their comments.
Trump may accomplish some great and terrible things. But his biggest legacy will not be healthcare, trade or a border wall. Centuries from now historians will look back at his presidency as one that forever altered relationships between leaders and their subjects – both in politics and in business.