Here's why Donald Trump's tweets might be more sophisticated than you think

John Moore/Getty Images President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.
  • A researcher at the University of Sydney Business School has analysed Donald Trump’s communication style.
  • And he finds that Trump’s sometimes cryptic tweets are not random musings but part of a strategy.
  • Eric Knight says Trump’s tactics have profound implications for corporate strategy.

US President Donald Trump’s unorthodox communications style is the subject of much debate and some criticism.

He’s known for late night tweets, sometimes cryptic and open to interpretation, representing the sharp end of a country’s diplomacy, and often used to feud with perceived political enemies.

Eric Knight, a researcher at the University of Sydney Business School, says Trump’s tactics have profound implications for corporate strategy and how managers drive radical change.

Associate Professor Knight, a member of the School’s new discipline of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, says Trump’s approach to strategic communication is both “innovative and extremely disruptive”.

“Traditionally, strategy was a game of budget and if you held the dollars, then that was enough,” says Knight.

“But we now live in a media-saturated, knowledge intensive world and the ability to command the message, to shape the markets, is extremely important.

“A leader’s ability to command the message and bring stakeholders along with them is just as important as having more resources and dollars to throw around than the next company. This is very much a reflection on our time, there’s more technology and customers have choice.”

Knight says White House press conferences are a good example of how President Trump had mastered the strategy of delivering messages directly to his constituents.

“He’s brought in people from the blogosphere; he’s introduced Skype cameras and he’s got people tweeting directly from press conferences. In that respect, in the very hard-wiring of the White House itself, he has been quite disruptive and quite effective,” he says.

Knight thinks Trump has been miscast as the Twitter President.

“He uses Twitter, but he uses Twitter in order to drive audiences towards television,” he says.

“Trump tweets and then he and members of his administration dominate evening news around the country explaining the tweet and giving more clarity to the tweet.”

His most recent tweet is a clip of his speech to the UN:

He told the General Assembly in New York his administration “has accomplished more than almost any” in the history of the US.

There were muted laughs.

His clip tweet was preceded by:

Research by Dr Knight at the University of Sydney Business School has focused on the communication practices used by managers to influence others inside and outside of their organisations in areas such as strategic change, open collaboration and entry into new markets.

One paper drafted with colleagues from the Warwick Business School and published recently in the prestigious Strategic Management Journal, focuses on communication from a visual perspective and the role of data visualisation, big data and PowerPoints in shaping opinion.

He has also launched a massive open online course (MOOC) called Design Strategy, which looks at the way in which prototypes and products and services from an engineering and design perspective, can be brought into the boardroom to provoke different types of conversations.

“The one thing this work picks up on is that strategy isn’t a pure numbers game,” he says.

“It’s not about opening up Excel, doing the maths, working out which is the largest market. Strategy is human. And its human nature means that you have to communicate, you have to articulate the challenges that you face.”

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