I'm often asked if social media has changed Presidential, and other political campaigns forever. Mostly, this question hinges on the way Donald Trump uses social media and his success doing so, and my short answer is always, "Yes. But not necessarily the way Trump uses it."
After the first presidential debate of the 2016 general election season, many of us have fixated on @realDonaldTrump in order to see if and when he would let loose a volley of tweets trying to regain control of the narrative. The early tweets were certainly there, but this morning Mr. Trump went ballistic (more on that below).
But back to the initial question - I see two vectors converging with respect to the use of social media by candidates.
First, while Trump's use goes off-script more often than his campaign staff would like, his personal use of Twitter to engage the voters, press and other candidates is certainly a harbinger of what future candidates will need to do. But unlike Trump, future candidates will need to exercise a modicum of self-restraint.
That said, they' will need to use social media to expose their real selves more fully to the voters. They'll need to be authentic and engaging, and they must project far more accessibility than in the past - these are the growing expectations of the voters, and doing so will also help candidates take back control of their message from the filtration of the media.
Secondly, we'll see candidates step up their personal use of social media relative to the way Hillary Clinton uses it. The appearance of an overly-controlled social media presence confounds the voters' desire to connect more deeply with candidates.
In other words, the future of social media in political campaigns likely will, and should, be somewhere in between the way Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are currently using the medium. This evolution will put new pressures onto candidates, but it'll also help improve the fabric of our democracy by evolving political efficacy among the polity.
Now back to Donald Trump's tweeting since the debate and why his example is an extreme case that will be reined in by future candidates. Trump's early post-debate attempts to claim victory largely hinged on touting web-based, self-selected sample polls on primarily conservative websites, along with claims that the debate was rigged with a sabotaged microphone and coordination between Clinton and moderator Lester Holt (she was allegedly scratching her nose to signal she had another response to the current question).
But those claims didnt get the traction Trump has hoped for, and the post-debate narrative quickly slipped away from him as most - if not all - of the scientific polls showed Clinton won the debate and the sabotaged mic story gave way to a narrative that Trump was sniffling throughout the debate, culminating in the viral explosion of Randy Rainbow's comedic recreation of the debate (which has now garnered more than 23 million views on Facebook).
Following this, several newspapers that have either never endorsed a Democrat or made any endorsement before came out against Trump (e.g. Arizona Republic, USA Today and the Cincinnati Enquirer).
In response, and in an effort to regain control of the campaign narrative, Trump took to Twitter once again.
In addition to Trump claiming that "smart" people are cancelling their subscriptions to the newspapers that have declared for Clinton , Trump went after Alicia Machado once again.
In a delayed response to Clinton's debate accusations against Trump regarding his fat-shaming 1996 Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, Trump has been doubling, even tripling down. The morning after the debate, in a call-in interview on Fox & Friends, Trump took it upon himself to bring up Machado's love of eating, weight problem and other problems the pageant had with her. Many say they could see the show's hosts cringing as he went on defending his behavior.
And in a textbook example of what not to do on Twitter if you are a candidate trying to woo female voters, Trump tripled again attacked Machado via tweet, accusing Clinton (in a very thinly veiled way) of helping Machado get her citizenship.
Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2016
And note, Trump's tweet also alludes to an alleged sex tape of Machado as a way to further "discredit the victim." Trump also referred to Machado as "my worst Miss U," which harks back to his rally faux pas of referring to "my African American" in his audience. All of this creates very bad optics.
Again, all this is happening as Trump's campaign is trying to increase his low support among women and Latino voters. From a communications strategy perspective, Trump's behavior is almost designed to rile up his base while driving away voters in the middle.
Traditionally, campaigns pivot from targeting their base in the primaries to a more inclusive posture in the general election, but Trump's tirades on Twitter do exactly the opposite. If such outbursts ultimately cost him the election, you can be assured that future candidates will not take the same extreme route he has in respect to the use of social media.
If Trump wins, on the other hand, we're likely to see more candidates behaving like him.
As always, when it comes to prognosticating the long-term impact of an election, we'll have to wait until the votes are in to get a clear sense of where we go next.
But one thing is abundantly clear - we're going to learn a lot about the way social media is changing the campaign process.