Donald Trump has decided that he is not participating in tonight’s GOP presidential debate and will instead host a fundraiser for veterans groups.
Twenty years ago, this would be viewed as a type of political insanity – passing up the opportunity to stand on stage with your rivals, in front of a national audience, and get your message out days before the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.
In 2016, however, a candidate with Trump's popularity is much less reliant on broadcast media to connect with voters. With 5.8 million followers on Twitter, and 5.5 million on Facebook, Trump has his own massive built-in audience he can communicate with directly.
So here are 3 ways Donald Trump can take advantage of digital media to still have an impact on tonight’s Republican presidential candidate debate, no attendance necessary.
With 5.8 million followers on Twitter, Trump could easily remain part of the conversation during the debate by typing out his response to selected questions, adding his own unique commentary, and possibly even heckling his on-stage opponents. Twitter would actually be advantageous because he could pick-and-choose when to chime in, and many of his responses would likely be included by the media in debate wrap-up stories. In addition, Twitter’s Retweeting function would provide him with an amplifier beyond his base of followers.
With a database of voters and potential supporters likely in the millions, it's probable that Trump is going to have a slew of email campaigns ready to fire off, depending on questions asked, and responses given. These emails can push out his messaging directly to his supporters' inboxes, containing links to his campaign website, campaign videos, or even fundraising requests.
Despite his millions of followers on Facebook, Trump still reaches just a fraction of the social media giant’s total user footprint. Trump could tap into his campaign warchest and fund a pretty large Facebook Ad buy as broad or as targeted as needed to get his message out. Facebook Ads would let him target by state (just Iowa or New Hampshire, for example), gender, age (maybe just 45+?), political leanings, and a host of other behavior data (maybe fans of Rush Limbaugh?). Or Trump could choose to go broad, and place his message in front of every adult who checks into Facebook during the debate. Either way, Facebook Ads provide him with a big platform to get his voice heard.
Donald Trump doesn’t have problem getting media coverage. But with the rise of powerful digital media tools, his success is much less dependent on it today than 20 years ago.