Google vs. Donald Trump's Reputation

11 minute read

Google vs. Donald Trump's Reputation

Ex-President Trump thinks Google is rigged against him. It's probably not, but that doesn't stop the scrutiny. Google's portrayal of Trump is a reflection of people's desires - all the people, not a group or an individual. A pandemic, economic disaster, insurrection at the Capital, and Black Lives Matter marches don't help.

While Donald Trump had mastered the art of publicity prior to becoming President, it's a genie let out of its a bottle. Once escaped it can have unforeseen consequences like those we are seeing today. His carefully cultivated reputation clearly got out of hand when other people were added to the mix. 

For example, at one time President Trump wrote that "Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED..." But it isn't really rigged when tens of millions of people Google his name to find out what crazy things have been done ostensibly in his name. So much of it was negative that one of the most human of emotions, negativity bias, raised it's gauntleted fist and crushed any carefully cultivated online persona that may have been left. 

trump google tweets

Are Google results rigged? The answer is no. At least from what we can tell they aren't. Google simply reflects what it believes people want - they call it relevance. Google does not discern well between truth or lies (see "knowledge-based trust"), but it does a very good job of returning results the masses want - just not necessarily what an individual wants (though it does provide individualized results).

In his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal”, Tony Schwartz (the ghost writer for Donald Trump at the time) wrote that “…good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.” Well, Trump is getting some pretty bad publicity these days, but Google is only the messenger

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Donald Trump’s approach to marketing and publicity, how it has affected his reputation and the ultimate result of his choices.

Emotions drive search results

Psychology studies show that emotions are a critical factor in how we make decisions and even purchases. Pushing emotional hot buttons can cause content to get shared and even go viral.

Trump is a master at tapping into emotions frequently to spurn controversy and generate publicity. People view and share things that make them angry or generate other strong emotions. Google reflects this. 

For example, when Holly Holm beat Rhonda Rousey in the UFC championship fight, Trump tweeted that he was glad to see her lose and that Rousey was “not a nice person”. By commenting on trending news, his tweet got over 12,000 retweets and over 2,000 comments.

trump rousey tweet - not a nice person

Rousey also built her personal brand by having a strong personality. Trump’s comments probably also offended diehard Rousey supporters but also drew support from people who didn’t like her.

Note that this tweet had nothing to do with the 2016 election, but was an opportunity for Trump to tap into people’s emotions to continue to generate publicity and get mentioned again in the news. Again, Google reflects what people appear to want, and these desires are often fueled by emotions. 

Trump has repeatedly tapped into similar opportunities by insulting and criticizing other celebrities, famous personalities and organizations, particularly those who opposed him. Whether or not you like him, you have to admit he knows how to get the media to do his bidding. They can't help themselves.

Purple cows get more attention

purple-cow

President Trump is a huge purple cow. In a field of white cows, the purple one stands out. Purple Cow is the name of a book penned by Seth Godin that says "the only way now to gain attention in a market is to not only market a product in a remarkable manner". Well, Trump has done that. People now pay attention to everything he does. Among a field of white cows he stands out because he is purple. 

Before the presidential election in 2016, Trump developed a reputation as a successful billionaire business owner and real estate developer. His constant mainstream media exposure, books and appearance as the host of the Apprentice allowed him to grow his name recognition for years.

His unusual hair-do has even gotten him attention. Funny thing, Boris Johnson kinda does the same thing. 

Daily Beast - Trump Hair Article

While sharing his political views has caused many people to view him unfavorably, Trump’s reputation and fame from previous years undoubtedly helped him secure the presidential nomination, gain momentum as a candidate and ultimately allowed him to win the election. But his reputation, especially in the wake of Covid, also caused him to lose the 2020 election to Joe Biden.

Historically, most high-volume Trump content is bad

President Trumps approach worked well to get him elected. But his methodology has remained unchanged. Unfortunately for him, his method has resulted in so many negative articles being written about him that Trumps reputation will probably just get worse in search results. It is possible to have a worse record - he still has time. 

This is because Google looks for overall trends in reputation and applies that historic data to new search results. In other words, it isn't as if Google wakes up with no memory every morning. Instead, it uses the mountains of information it already has data on to influence today's search results. 

There was so much coverage of accusations of a rigged election, the Capital riots, even the last minute firing of the White House Usher, that the search results for the Donald are permanently stained. 

Google and Twitter are a double-edged swords

If you have a large following on Twitter, it can be an enormous content amplifier. It's no secret Trump seems to enjoy using Twitter as a channel to voice his opinions and generate ongoing controversy. Controversy drives search results in Google and Bing. It's not that things are rigged - they're just dramatic. The people of the now divided United States are venting on social media and in search results - the results are often ugly and rarely controllable. 

Trump has developed a reputation for lashing out against well known politicians and celebrities who don’t support him. His negative energy bounces back. Most politicians are careful about personally attacking other people because they want as many people as possible to like them.

However, Trump isn’t afraid to offend people who are supporting his opponents. It appears that in his eyes, many of those people will never be his supporters and insulting opponents on social media will result in controversy which further disseminate Trump’s name and galvanize his supporters.

Here’s a list of Trump tweets directed at his opponents and critics during his election campaign

Trump didn’t seem too concerned about maintaining a “presidential” image or reputation. As a result, his tweets get lots of reactions and media coverage. That media coverage is massively promoted by both sides of the political spectrum - the thing is, according to Wikipedia most people are not conservative and about 29% are divided up into various flavors of Conservative. Those flavors include Enterprisers, Social Conservatives, and Pro-Government Conservatives. This Gallup poll puts Conservatives at about 35% of Americans. The rest are in the middle or liberal. Right or wrong, Google tends to reflect the majority opinion. That's why search results seem more centrist or liberal. 

Is negative publicity Trump’s most powerful tool?

Trumps approval rating was the lowest of any modern President on the day he left office.  It makes him one of the least popular presidents in recent history. For comparison, the average approval rating for presidents 14 months into office was 58%. But ask many conservatives today, and he's well loved even after all of that.   

But is negative publicity actually Trump’s most powerful tool? It keeps his name in the headlines and on social media, which increases public familiarity with his personal brand. Stephen Colbert stopped using his name on his show and instead showing T***p. This, by the way, is called "Voldemorting" (he who shall not be named). 

A study conducted by Jonah Berger and associates at Stanford University showed that negative publicity can deliver positive results if a person or company is relatively unknown.

An example of this is the song Friday by Rebecca Black, which as dubbed by critics as one of the worst songs ever created. The song has accumulated over 118 million views but has over 3 million down votes.

However, Rebecca Black has accumulated over 1.3 million YouTube followers, released other songs that performed better and reportedly has a net worth of 1.5 million.

But Trump was already famous before running for president. Did negative publicity and controversy help him?

To understand why Trump got elected despite the negative publicity, we need to understand what most voters really care about.

Studies reveal they care about the economy, government leadership, budget deficit and immigration. Of those, being able to feel financially secure is the most important thing on people’s minds during an election.

People also wanted change. The average middle class citizen was disappointed that they had to pay more for health care and wanted someone that would work for the people rather than corporations that funded their campaign.

Trump’s tweets and negative publicity from the news led to people viewing him as unsympathetic and even childish. Some people see Trump as sexist due to some of his comments against certain females and some people view him as racist or unconcerned due to his comments regarding illegal immigrants.

However, the people that voted for him were far more concerned about the ideas that he had for improving the economy and making changes to a system they often see as rigged against them. They were willing to overlook his personality to vote for someone that might make changes to the things that mattered to them. An excellent article by Michael Gerson in The Atlantic describes the phenomenon quite well.

One Trump supporter at Reputation X described him in the same terms as the biblical figure Samson. Samson was a hero to many, but he had quite a few flaws. The supporter stated that while "Trump is nothing like Jesus, he doesn't need to be". Instead he is their "savior" for today's times.

People are drawn to negative news

Another thing to note is that negative news often gets more reaction than positive news. That’s why the evening news tends to feature local crime, natural disasters and other negative occurrences. This may be due to an aspect of human psychology called "negativity bias". 

In short, it appears that negative publicity kept people aware of Trump’s name and allowed him to spread his message. His campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again” and his core message was about implementing positive change in the system to improve the economy and help Americans get jobs to support their families. While most people voted for Hillary Clinton (the popular vote), enough people in the right places embraced his message and gave him the votes he needed to win the election via the Electoral College, something that has only happened five times.

To sum it up…

Maintaining a positive and squeaky clean reputation is important to most people, but Donald Trump seems to thrive on controversy, he just doesn't like it when the winds don't blow his way (and who does?). His approach seems to have served him well enough, keeping him in the spotlight and allowing him to beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, but in the end it bit him.

So is negative publicity really a “negative”? Will Trump’s approach to publicity and the ensuing reputation it causes help or hurt his chances of making a comeback in 2024 or beyond? The Senate is discussing that now. 

Google vs. Donald Trump's Reputation FAQs

Are Google results rigged?

Google results are not rigged. Google simply reflects what it believes people want - they call it relevance.

Can emotions drive search results?

Psychology studies show that emotions are a critical factor in how we make decisions and even purchases. Pushing emotional hot buttons can cause content to get shared and even go viral.

Is negative publicity Trump’s most powerful tool?

Negative publicity keeps Trump's name in the headlines and on social media, which increases public familiarity with his personal brand.

Resources:

Trump’s most retweeted - https://www.npr.org/2017/12/20/571617079/a-year-of-the-trump-presidency-in-tweets

Download the reputation x capabilities presentation

Note: This editorial content is the opinion of the author. 
Header image credit: Shutterstock.com. 
Trump hair editorial: Daily Beast