What Business Leaders Can Learn From The US Presidential Election

What Business Leaders Can Learn From The US Presidential Election

In this opinion piece, Meltwater’s director for Australia and NZ, David Hickey, analyses the fact and figures that point to Donald Trump’s US election success, and notes what business leaders can take away from his campaign strategy, as well as Clinton’s.

Australians have always been intrigued with the US, whether it be the celebrities and Hollywood films, or more serious global agendas like the US election. Beyond the theatre and propaganda that is Trump and Clinton, there are ramifications for Australia and the rest of the world when it comes to areas like immigration, foreign and military affairs, trade and economic ties, and climate change. Millions of people tuned into the US election this year, and there’s a lot that business leaders can take away from the discourse taking place on social media and the news.

David Hickey

Pictured: Meltwater’s David Hickey

With the campaign now over, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on some of the highlights and look at what business leaders can incorporate into their own personal and business brand strategies.

Know Which Issues Are Important To Your Audience

Whether you’re preparing for public speaking, presenting to clients, being interviewed by the media or discussing strategy with the executive board, you need to be ready and able to respond to tough questions on issues that matter to your brand and your stakeholders.

Throughout the election campaign, Trump appeared ill-prepared when it came to responding to common policy issues, and his unpreparedness during the first debate on 26 September was picked up by viewers. They took to social media to express their thoughts when he stumbled over and over again on simple questions like, “How will you bring back industries that have left the country for cheaper labour overseas?”. To illustrate the fact that people noticed and commented on Trump’s unpreparedness, the below graph shows the amount of people discussing keywords such as ‘ill-prepared’ and ‘unprepared’ in association with Trump and the debate.

US presidential debates (Meltwater stats) [1]


Similar to the US presidential candidates, business leaders need to ensure that they consistently keep on top of and are aware of the issues that are important to their audience and other stakeholders in order to make more informed decisions.

Look At How You’re Being Perceived

Polls give politicians and brands a sense of how they are tracking at any point in time, but real-time data analysis can paint a more detailed and accurate picture about your share of voice in the market, the topics individuals are associating you with, how well you and your key messages are being perceived.

Media outlets around the world were adamant that Trump had no chance of winning based on intel from the polls. However, social media conversations across the campaign told a very different story. In fact, while Trump’s sexual assault allegations were front and centre in traditional media during the campaign, it’s a different case across social media conversations, which highlight the issues that voters really cared about.

You can determine the overall sentiment towards a person, topic, or issue by using media intelligence to assess the language used in social media and online news discussions. If you’re aware of the negative sentiment around your business, product, service or stakeholders, you’re better equipped to be on the front foot when addressing any problems that arise before they escalate.

Pulse-checking these insights in real time and adjusting the way you communicate will help you resonate better with your audience. Trump did this very well by leveraging his Twitter account to his advantage, creating more noise around contentious issues and controversial allegations compared to Clinton.

It’s interesting to see how the sentiment around the two candidates has changed over the course of the debates to the final vote due to Trump’s effective use of social media over the course of the campaign.


Positive Negative Neutral
Trump 6.88% 38.48% 54.64%
Clinton 1.38% 25.29% 73.33%


Positive Negative Neutral
Trump 8.42% 42.61% 48.97%
Clinton 1.03% 28.14% 70.83%


Positive Negative Neutral
Trump 13.91% 38.86% 47.23%
Clinton 8.21% 41.55% 50.24%


Positive Negative Neutral
Trump 9.74% 39.98% 50.28%
Clinton 3.54% 31.66% 64.8%


Conversations about Trump around the first two debates were more negative than those about Clinton. Interestingly, while Trump has attracted more negative commentary from people on social media across all three debates, he has also consistently attracted more positive support than Clinton. Discussions about both leaders were quite similar in tone around the third debate.

In comparison, commentary around Clinton has been more neutral in sentiment than social media conversations about Trump, which could mean that Clinton’s messages are being received and accepted as opposed to lauded or opposed.

Business leaders that do not use sentiment insights to adjust their messaging, tone and overall perception in real-time, will risk becoming too complacent, like Clinton.

Keep A Close Eye On Your Competition

Don’t be shy about keeping a close eye on the communities your competitors are engaging with, what people are saying about them and the industry issues surrounding them. Keep up-to-date with competitor messaging and identify opportunities to get in front of their customers.

As leaders, Trump and Clinton exceed at keeping an eye on the competition. Trump is tuned into the conversations that are occurring around the Clinton campaign and vice versa for Clinton. When there’s so much noise happening at once, it’s important to engage in the right media intelligence tools to cut through the chatter across the volume of different social media and news channels and walk away with the right insights.

One of the main sticking points in all of Trump’s rebuttals hinges on Clinton’s alleged deletion of 33,000 emails. During the first two debates in particular, Trump regularly related his answers back to this topic, which as a result fuelled social media conversations and online news stories around the issue. Trump’s team would have been closely monitoring which issues and comments were gaining the most traction on social media and in the news that were negatively impacting Clinton. This would have helped shape the debate and the points he pushed more than others. If you’re not active and engaged on social or on top of the news, you can miss out on valuable opportunities to shape the conversations you’re having to reach and influence your stakeholders.

US presidential debates (Meltwater stats) [2]

Similarly, Clinton keeps abreast of her main competitor and the issues surrounding his campaign. From the alleged sexual assaults, his early morning tweet rampage, to his lack of policies, these insights are garnered and incorporated into her campaign strategies, from her responses during the debates, to the way she sets out her party’s national policies. Businesses of any size must adopt a similar approach and monitor their competitors in order to stay ahead, even if they’re the current leader in the industry.

US presidential debates (Meltwater stats) [3].png

Don’t Apply Tunnel Vision

Smart business leaders are switched on to what’s being said about them, not just in the news but on social media, and they incorporate these outside insights into their business strategies. The same can be said for politicians across the world, as they’re now held more accountable for the things they say than ever before. In a 24/7 media cycle, they have to be prepared to respond immediately, and this in turn influences what people say about them on social media.

Clinton’s email scandal is a good example of the way that news and social feed into each other. As you can see below, spikes in social media conversations (blue) closely follow the amount of media outlets reporting on the issue (green).

US presidential debates (Meltwater stats) [4].png.jpg

As a business leader, it can be easy to stick with your original strategy or agreed approach rather than reassess and build new strategies. However, your gut feeling or even just the consensus of your immediate team or even the media, isn’t always enough to give you the full picture. Just look at the final outcome of the 2016 US election.

Outside insights can help you stay ahead of the game by helping you form a more holistic view of an issue. By looking at the bigger picture, you will have more clarity and confidence in your business strategies, as opposed relying on piecing together bits and pieces of information from several sources along the way.

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A&E david hickey Designworks jonesy & amanda romania sell

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