Commander-in-Tweet: Analyzing the Narcissism and Branding of Donald Trump
It’s no secret that the President of the United States loves Twitter. It’s undoubtedly his favorite communication channel, and over the past 9 years he’s used it to not only promote himself and his businesses, but to disparage political opponents, conduct geopolitics, and fire people. And, with his exemption from Twitter’s T&Cs and his near-total neutering of the Republican Party, there’s not a chance in hell Trump is going to stop tweeting any time soon.
Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different view of Trump, from despot to savior to lunatic to savant. His opinions are like a slice of butter on a hot frying pan, sliding from ideology to ideology, covering almost all beliefs while sticking to none of them.
Well, except one. See if you can’t suss it out from this word cloud of his 150 most commonly tweeted words:
Figure it out yet?
Today is the first entry in a series of posts looking at Donald Trump’s mammoth corpus of tweets — nearly 34,000 in total —in order to try and understand how the 72-year-old real-estate-tycoon-turned-TV-star-turned-president uses the internet’s biggest digital megaphone to express himself.
Before we get back to the word cloud above, let’s set the (data) table:
- All tweet data is from trumptwitterarchive.com, a repository of all available Trump’s tweets (not included are tweets Trump deleted before the archive could index them).
- The range of tweets goes from May 4th, 2009 — June 2nd, 2018.
- The data analysis was done in R, using a variety of packages. Unless otherwise noted, text analysis does not include hashtags and mentions.
It’s probably fair to say you guessed “Trump” was the one constant in Trump’s beliefs and communication. It’s so prominent in his tweeting that I actually had to shrink the word “Trump” so that it wouldn’t dwarf all the other words. Other words that rise to the top include “President”, “Donald”, “People”, “America”, “Obama”.
If you’re wondering where some of his hallmark words are — “Great”, “Big”, “Many” — they were removed as part of the stop word collection, a standard procedure in text analysis to make sure the results aren’t flooded with common words. But even including those, no word came close to the ubiquity of “Trump”, which appeared 150%+ more often than even “Great”. In other words…
Trump talks about himself more than anything else.
Here are some other top-level details about Trump’s Tweeting:
- Total Tweets (via Twitter UI): 37.7k
- Analyzed Tweets (here): 33.8k
- Retweets: 591
- Quoted Tweets (indicating retweet-style content) : 12.2k
- Tweets with Links: 8.1k
- Tweets with Mentions: 20.4k (37.3k mentions total)
- Tweets with Hashtags: 5.1k (6.8k hashtags total)
Let’s also take a look at how much Trump has tweeted over the years and how many of those tweets were his own, how many were retweets, and how many were “quoted” tweets which functioned for him very similarly to retweets:
Trump found his footing with Twitter in 2012, and from 2013 through 2015 he used it as a re-broadcasting machine, at times even retweeting his own retweeted tweets (yes, seriously). For those who have known Trump a long time — like us New Yorkers who watched his bizarro rise — this re-broadcasting isn’t surprising because Trump isn’t just a person.
He’s a brand.
Many of those “Trump” usages above and many of his retweet/quoted tweets involve his media, real estate, and entertainment properties, along with direct mentions of his family members. He knows repetition works and has found ways to not just repeat his business and political messages, but to also make those messages synonymous with his own identity. Every time he tweets about a Trump building or resort or steak, he’s also tweeting about himself.
And he’s still going strong today as the President of the United States, putting out nearly 7 tweets a day. Many of us would consider our jobs far less important than that of POTUS and we still can’t make that much time for social media. It makes it hard not to wonder what his priorities are.
Speaking of time, let’s look at exactly when Trump is tweeting:
These days, Trump’s tweeting happens mostly in the morning, between the (EST) hours of 6am and 9am. But we can see the progression as he moved from 9-to-5 tweeter, to after school Twitterati, and then to what seems like 24/7 tweeting behavior throughout the primaries and the presidential election. There are full-time social media managers who don’t tweet that frequently!
In order to better understand Trump’s word choice, topic importance, hashtag usage, and mention behavior, I decided to split his past 9 years of tweeting into a new view of the 6 phases of his political career. These phases represent milestones that I hypothesize changed the way he communicated and acted, and they’re defined as such:
The 6 Phases of Trump’s Political Career
- Pre-WH Dinner: This is everything before the infamous 2011 White House Correspondent's Dinner, when Obama roasted Trump and his ability to be president.
- WH Correspondent’s Dinner: This is from April 2011 until February 2013, which includes the 2012 presidential election. During this time Trump spent more than $1M researching running for president.
- 2013 CPAC Speech: This starts with Trump’s Feb 2013 CPAC speech, when he claimed the GOP was in serious trouble. Many say this is how he got the attention of the Republican Party, not that he’s ever had much party affiliation.
- Running Announcement: This begins in June 2015, when Trump announced he would run for president, and it continues to the end of the election.
- Election Victory: This phase starts when Trump won the 2016 election and goes until the start of his second year as POTUS.
- Second Year Start: This is the current phase, from Jan 2018 to present (June 2nd, 2018).
Let’s have another look at Trump’s most commonly used words, this time by phase of political career:
While “Trump” remains a pretty consistent theme for Trump, we do see other words slip in and out of his rotation. Taking a look at some of them — “Apprentice”, “China”, “Obama”, “Hillary”, “Fake”, “Border” — allows us to see top-level trends of politics and Trump’s opinion. A few interesting takeaways:
- Before the 2011 White House Dinner, Trump seemed content to plug The Apprentice and his involvement with the Miss America competition (where as we know he enjoyed going backstage to surprise naked contestants)
- During the path to presidency, Trump talked about Hillary Clinton. A lot.
- Aside from generic self-promotion and America-talk, Trump largely talks about what he doesn’t like — “Fake” (of “Fake News”) and “Democrats” show up heavily since his election, suggesting he’s aware of the tried and true political approach of focusing on “the enemy” to drive loyalty.
Still, “Trump” is always in the top 3 slots of most used words, obscuring any trends below the surface. To address this, I’m going to use a technique I deployed in my David Bowie analysis: Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency, or TF-IDF. What this technique does is it looks for “important words”, or ones used heavily in a subset of words but not used universally. This should eliminate some of the “Trump”, “America”, “Donald” heaviness we keep seeing:
And indeed it does. Now we have more of a phase-by-phase play of what was going on Trump’s mind, with some interesting highlights like his harping on wind turbines in Phase 2, his ebola concern in Phase 3, and his obsession with political opponents in Phase 4. We also see some oddball contenders for top spot like “thank”, which I’ll address a little bit later.
Before we do, let’s also look at Trump’s hashtag usage. This is admittedly a small set — only 591 usages out of 33.8k tweets — but as you’ll see, he uses them very specifically:
Let’s talk about the (Republican) elephant in the room: Trump’s absolutely gluttonous use of the #trump2016 and #maga hashtags. These (along with #makeamericagreatagain) dominated his hashtag usage, so much so that when I tried to make a network of his hashtags there was almost no point to it because it was primarily dominated by a handful of tags. The other ones he uses are also branding related — #celebapprentice, #trumproast, whatever the hell the #trumpvlog was — and again we see what Trump is all about: narcissism, branding, and repetition.
We’ve excluded stop words so far, but what happens if we include them and look at Trump’s most common phrases — i.e. his most common adjective-noun pairings?
I plan to do much more with phrases like this in future entries, but here we begin to see some of the phrases we stereotypically associate with Trump, like “Crooked Hillary” and “Fake News”. What was most interesting to me about the overall phrase list was how so many of these adj-noun phrases use words like “Great”, “Good” and “Many”. This is related to his use of “Thank"/ “Thanks", and shows that even though a lot of people (especially those on the Left) think of Trump as a negative person, he actually uses targeted negativity and, aside from that, he practically oozes positively to people and causes that validate him.
Does that sound familiar? I can’t imagine why…
And again (“a part of us all”), we see Trump’s favorite tools of branding and repetition. Hillary Clinton tried something similar with her ‘Trump-ed up Trickle Down economics’ phrase, but as we see with ‘Crooked Hillary’, it’s got to be short, easy to regurgitate, and to-the-point. Personally, based on what I’ve seen in Trump’s tweets, I would’ve went with something like ‘Muddy Trump’, to describe both his shady foreign dealings and his reliance on mud-slinging over policy, but hey that’s just me.
That wouldn’t have addressed how constant or repetitive Trump was though, nor how he was willing to be completely amoral in order to optimize on attention, his gold standard for success metrics. Which brings up an interesting question:
Can anyone out-Trump Trump?
I don’t think so. Trump is the product of 72 years of privilege, so much so that he believes an inflation-unadjusted $1M loan is small. He’s been playing this game longer than everyone else and with so many advantages and, for someone to best him, they’re going to have to play a game that’s a lot more meaningful and important to the American people than the populist xenophobia that Trump’s been cashing in on the past 6 years that started with his ridiculous Obama birther claims.
For what it’s worth, I have some idea on what those so-called games might be, but I’m not quite ready to share them yet.
Anywho, speaking of those American people, the second-to-last visual I want to leave you with today explores how often Trump talks about each of the 50 states (including state nicknames and resident monikers). After all, this is a guy who has been said to adopt the views of the last person he spoke with, so understanding which states he talks about is akin to seeing which states he thinks about.
The results are interesting, to say the least….
There’s a lot to take away from this graphic, but what I found most surprising is how dark so many states are, including ones that are traditionally Republican, while the mostly-Democratic eastern seaboard is far more on Trump’s mind. To me this underscores a point I’ve gleaned from this entire analysis:
Trump isn’t a Democrat.
Trump isn’t a Republican.
Trump is pledged to the party of Trump.
You see this in his branding, you see it in his retweeting and quoted tweet self-promotion, you see it in what he chooses to talk about — more often his enemies than those he purports to represent — and you see it in his glad-handing of those who agree with him.
To Trump, there is no you. There is no me. There is only Trump.
I wanted to include a sentiment analysis section in this article, but I found challenges with the available lexicons that made the results inaccurate. But one of the topics that would’ve been (and will be) addressed with it is a very salient one: his fickle stance on North Korea. My viewpoints aside, North Korea demonstrates how willingly Trump changes his stance to play the field of emotions and popular opinion among whichever group he’s concerned with at the moment.
This man isn’t concerned with party or country or people. He’s concerned with himself. And all you need to do is look at his tweets to see how true that is.
(Are we seeing the effects of repetition (“a part of us all”) yet?)
I have one last visual to share for this article, and it’s a simple one: Trump’s most favorited tweets by phase of his political career. Read through and you can see his behavior for yourself (if you’re on mobile you may have to open the image in a new tab to get at the details):
And with this cross-section of Trump’s tweets, the first part of this series comes to a close. Topics I intend to focus on next time include Trump’s stance on North Korea, the sentiment of his speech, and his meme-factor, a.k.a how likely and often his allies adopt his phraseology. Follow me here or on Reddit to catch the next installment, and share anything you’d like to see in the comments below. You can also find me at my website or Linkedin if you’re curious about working together on a project.