A Digital Comeback: Trump's Surprising Leap onto TikTok

More like a modern, uncanny tragedy, however, the man who called for TikTok’s execution became its jailer and, in a truly unpredictable sport of US politics, opened an account with the company that he had once threatened to ban. Trump’s account signifies another novel folly in his digital strategy and highlights the complex and constantly shifting politics of social media.

Trump’s Tactical TikTok MOVE

Although he tried to ban it when he was president, Donald Trump took the plunge into TikTok this week, and the plunge looks like a potential transformation in his communication strategy. Trump’s first video drew millions of views within a day, drawing attention to the platform’s demonstrably powerful reach, especially among cohorts of young people that are notoriously hard to capture in the polls.

Decoding the Strategy Behind the MOVE

Trump’s TikTok debut – which included endorsements from pro-Trump TikTok users and video clips from his public events – isn’t just a simple expansion of Trump’s social media repertoire. This pivot shows an attempt to court a young, energetic user base that TikTok attracts. With TikTok’s wildly popular presence in the US, Trump’s TikTok debut is an attempt to broaden his appeal beyond his traditional channels and tap into the beating heart of young Americans.

The Numbers Speak: Trump’s TikTok Influence

The response has been explosive. Within days, Trump’s TikTok gathered more than 1.7 million followers, bypassing the followings of all but a small number of politicians on the platform. The virality of the first video isn’t just a measure of success. It’s an indication of a move that really resonated with many millions of people, perhaps even repositioning the nature of political engagement on TikTok.

TikTok: A Battlefield of Political Engagement

But Trump’s turn on TikTok highlights a new future for the app, one that reflects its growing place as a major space for political communication. With 170 million US users, the app gives new possibilities to politicians, but is also something of a double-edged sword. It holds a new and direct access to the electrical hearts of younger constituents – which still aren’t voting in the US and could be just a few years away from adulthood, and, as well as providing politicians with a direct route to the younger vote, it will put them into a highly unstable, unpredictable – often unforgiving – space.

Trump and TikTok: A Reversal of Fortunes?

This pivot to TikTok might therefore seem like a sharp about-face from a president who had spent months trying to dismantle the app through executive action. But it also reveals a subtler understanding of social media gravity in the ever-shifting dynamics of tech power. Trump understands, as politicians the world over are beginning to learn, that TikTok is no longer a platform you can cross out of your political playbook. It’s a phenomenon you have to succumb to – even if its starring role in your personal policy writing may have cost you your presidency.

The Ripple Effect of Trump’s TikTok Presence

Trump’s dance on TikTok doesn’t exist in an echo chamber: it’s part of a broader shift, as politicians hone their social media messaging strategies. It could set off a cascade of politicians rethinking strategies to reach voters on TikTok, which might prove to be an important battleground for their messages.

From Condemnation to Embracement: The Trump-TikTok SAGA

Trump’s TikTok debut is the latest twist in his post-presidency. While his TikTok presence augurs a potentially fascinating new phase in his digital outreach, it also poses important questions about where politics and social media go from here. Trump’s attempt, at one level, reflects the rapidly shifting power dynamics of the digital realm, and the lengths to which some will go to make them work for them.

Understanding the MOVE: A Strategic Shift or Political Necessity?

Given the length of Trump’s presidential tenure and his reluctance to engage meaningfully with social media, it’s worth asking if his TikTok escapade is a strategic commercial pivot into new digital spaces or a political necessity. The relationship between Trump and social media has been a fraught one, characterised by conflict and reconciliation. The TikTok endorsement shows an understanding of the platform’s continued power and the necessity of working with and within digital spaces.

The Essence of MOVE: A Closer Look

Trump’s appearance on TikTok was a complex gambit, as much a matter of strategic communications as political reframing, and an acknowledgment that, love it or hate it, social media is ubiquitous for everyone, including the powerful. Perhaps not noteworthy, then, for Trump to get on it, if only to maintain relevance and vie for the attention of new audiences in an emerging, fast-moving digital realm.

Finally, through this analysis of the details of Trump’s TikTok campaign, we recognise how digital media is changing politics through the way it repurposes social media platforms. Trump’s appearance on TikTok tells us that politics has moved online and that the world of politics is always changing. We’ll have to look closely as we journey into TikTok political waters, but one thing is certain: the rules of political engagement are being rewritten before our eyes.

Jun 03, 2024
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