Donald Trump is the unrivaled champion of social media. His deft use of the tweet is an art form, but it's his understanding and mastery of nearly every form of media that has fueled his domination.
His rise to the top of the Republican ticket has been nothing short of spectacular and in a word -- unpredictable. Despite every pundit and politician claiming that Trump would be quickly laughed off the debate stage and sent packing, he's outlasted all of his Republican competitors, and is poised to take on the Democratic nominee in November 2016.
Much of Trump's success has been attributed to his skill with social media, particularly Twitter, where his unfiltered, "tell it like it is" style is an ideal blend of form and function.
It's easy to look at social media and assume it's the "be all and end all" of communication in today's world. But what's missing in this theory is that social media and traditional media must drive each other. Trump gets this.
Journalists also understand this. Social media has enabled journalists to become brands in and of themselves. These "uber media" are reporters who cross platforms and are the reporters that other media outlets listen to. These journalists have also built direct relationships with audiences via their traditional platforms and personal social channels.
Combine a knack for the 140-character tweet with chutzpah, and it's clear why Trump has been so successful. Really, what he's doing isn't anything that hasn't been done before. Leveraging the latest technology has always been a key to winning presidential elections. Just as JFK took advantage of the medium of TV, and Obama leveraged big data and the web, Trump understands and uses social media to his advantage unlike any nominee before him.
Trump knows that the loudest, most shocking voice online gets attention. Because Trump is always outrageous -- regardless of how true anything he says actually is -- his social media updates often get lots of attention. But Trump's formula for media domination comes from his ability to use traditional media to extend the life of a conversation that started on social media. He also does the reverse, by using social media to capitalize on live events, or commenting on a story in the papers or on TV.
This leads to a crucial point: Social media can't sustain a story all on its own. Traditional media outlets are necessary to cultivate a story and crucially, to give it credibility. Several years back, traditional media were supposed to go the way of the dinosaurs at the hands of digitally empowered "citizen journalists" with iPhones, instead of pen and pad, in hand. While a story can start anywhere today, traditional media remains viable and one of the most respected channels.
The source for information remains crucial, and earned stories in traditional news sources are the most trusted. People are still skeptical of visible involvement of a brand in content. Earned media cannot be bought or owned -- it is "earned" organically.
A few years ago, many industry pundits called for the end of traditional media as we watched the likes of Buzzfeed rise. Despite how much Trump claims that he hates the media, he has received nearly $2 billion worth of free media, which has propelled his rise in popularity. In the case of Trump (and many others), when a brand or politician has the right theme, there is no need for paid ads because traditional media still earns the most influence and yields the most credibility.