In an interview this weekend with the U.K. Sunday Times, President-elect Donald Trump indicated that Twitter will continue to be a significant part of his communications strategy once he takes office.
"The tweeting, I thought I’d do less of it," he told The Sunday Times. But, with more than 19 million followers and an active media universe that eagerly amplifies his posts, "it’s working," he noted.
Just this month, top global automakers as well as major media organization—not to mention Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and actress Meryl Streep—found themselves attacked by Trump on Twitter. What the president-elect’s tweets have sometimes lacked in nuance and diplomacy, they have made up for in impact. Two of the companies targeted recently saw their enterprise value drop by more than $1 billion each within minutes; another lost nearly four times that amount, although most subsequently made up these share price decreases.
With such significant, potential threats to reputation, confidence, and share price on the line, what can a company do to manage or mitigate this risk or even turn it into an opportunity? While every situation is unique, here are six things for US and multinational enterprises to consider:
Know your vulnerabilities and indentify your opportunities
Take the time now to do a clear-eyed, unflinching assessment of what your company’s "soft underbelly" might be in the context of the new administration. Outsourcing, off-shoring production, and trade issues have been prominent issues for the president-elect. Taxes, prescription drug prices, foreign investment, consolidation, and the impact of automation have also been areas of interest. Anything that can be perceived—accurately or not—as having a negative possible impact on American jobs, competitiveness, or national security is a ripe target.
With this knowledge in hand, are there steps to take or changes to implement now that could help your company steer around a serious potential issue? Likewise, are there opportunities to present an important program, update, or investment as a "win-win" or a clear opportunity for the American people or economy?
Consider major developments against the possibility of a Trump tweet
The global political lens that companies typically use to analyze strategies and associated risks in the US is no longer sufficient. President-elect Trump’s stated goals and plans—especially ones he has been prone to tweet about or discuss on the campaign trail—need to be considered carefully when planning major announcements, commitments, or executive speeches.
Moving headquarters? Considering layoffs? Pursuing an international partnership? Changing where you source parts from or where you produce what you sell in the US? As author, consultant and former journalist Frank Ahrens has put it: "WWTT? — What Would Trump Tweet?"
On a related note, are there issues that outside critics of your company could try to highlight via social media in the hopes that they could get the president-elect to respond to it? This also should be factored into your planning.
Have your story, your facts, and your quick response team ready to go
Speed is critical. Social media and news coverage move fast and, as we have seen several times in recent weeks, damage to reputations and stock prices can happen in minutes. It is critical to have a credible narrative about the important role your company plays in the American economy prepared in advance, especially for reporters covering this issue. This includes important facts about your US footprint—number of jobs, number of US suppliers, total capital investment, etc.—formatted for easy reading and fast, digital distribution. Also, reach out now to get trusted journalists up-to-speed on your company and your issues. Should criticisms arise, having reporters who understand your story and perspective in advance can pay significant dividends.
It is also important to have a quick response team and a process established in advance for updating any responses and gaining all necessary legal, regulatory, and executive reviews.
Steps to take in response to a Twitter attack from President-elect Trump:
Act but don’t overreact
Remember: you’re not Alec Baldwin. In the event of a cutting tweet that is false or misleading, it will be tempting—but likely counter-productive—to lash out. While the urge to issue an emotional response is understandable, this is likely to escalate the issue, drive additional news and lead to negative backlash on social media from the president-elect’s supporters. In general, the most effective course of action is to correct the record and stick with your narrative, deliver your key message assertively, and move on.
In certain circumstances, it may be better for your company not to respond at all—something that should be considered carefully. Be careful not to overreact.
Trump has mastered the art of using few words to draw big contrasts between his positions and those of his perceived opponents. While there may be significant nuance to the matters affecting your company, especially regarding capital investment decisions that may have been made years ago, remember that in the polarized, fast-moving media climate, winning arguments are often the ones that effectively and succinctly draw clarity amid the chaos. It is imperative to make your points quickly and concisely.
Commenting on a recent social media dust-up with the incoming president, Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said last week, "One of the things for any of us that would get you frustrated is when the facts get lost in the conversation. We thought we had a really good plan … but we got lost in the Twitter world."
Keep employees and other key audiences informed
Be sure to keep your employees informed. Investors and financial analysts, elected officials, opinion leaders, and pundits should also be part of your communications strategy as their collective reach can help to reinforce your response.
The one thing we can be sure of is that Donald Trump is going to be an unconventional US president. Expect the unexpected—and plan now for how to manage the risk of a Twitter attack or possibly transform it into an opportunity. Yours will be a stronger company as a result.
—Michael Abrahams is a partner in Finsbury’s New York office where he works extensively on high-profile corporate, crisis, financial, and workplace issues for companies in the US and overseas.