If events over the last four years and, in particular, the actions of the Trump administration have proved anything, it is the substantial influence that can be exercised via the use of social media channels. Until he was banned from leading platforms in the wake of the horrifying scenes seen in the US Capitol, it was the outgoing president’s preferred means of communication – a way for him to espouse thoughts and opinions (often with little no evidence) and communicate directly with his supporters with, until recently, little control or oversight exercised over his comments and their potential effects.

It is perhaps going too far to say that Donald Trump is an outright pioneer when it comes to social media but, without question, he has used it more effectively to communicate his views than any other public figure or entity. Such has been the extent of his success, many have followed his example, albeit without quite such reckless abandon.

Politicians across the world now frequently use Twitter as a means of a ‘quick response’ to events, in some cases going so far as to announce major policies; social media channels have long been used by media to source news stories; it is increasingly rare for businesses not to retain some sort of presence to communicate with their customers. More generally, social media has also provided added momentum to major social causes – initially inspired by tragic and horrible events, movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter have dominated social consciousness and news agendas in no small part due to the ability of individuals to debate and raise awareness of such issues over social media.

Sadly, with the good comes the bad, as illustrated by the events in the US which were the culmination of a campaign conducted by Mr Trump and his followers, much of which has been waged over social media. Platform providers have responded to this by (finally) banning “The Donald” from using its channels and / or limiting the ability for his supporters to use alternatives. There will be numerous questions arising from this, of course: should such falsehoods have been allowed for so long and why did platform providers not act sooner; in contrast, what right do these companies have to limit free speech and should they be regulated accordingly? These are all very worthy debates and certainly ones that should be debated and decided on by policy makers.

But it would be naïve to confine the debate about the positives and negatives of social media to the events of the last few weeks alone. Spurred in no small part by the pandemic and reduced social interaction due to lockdown measures, social media has become a primary means for many people to engage on the issues of the day, creating an echo chamber-like environment where people appear inclined to shout increasingly loudly to be heard.

What, then, does this mean for businesses as we move into a new year, albeit still currently under very similar COVID restrictions? Social media is clearly a critical tool, but the volume and level of activity means it is increasingly difficult to ‘cut through the noise’ and get one’s message out.

Regularity of presence on social media is certainly important, but even more so will be how businesses use the tools at their disposal to attract the attention of their target audiences. Bland statements on generic topics will have no impact; companies (and their spokespeople) must instead be willing to give forthright opinions and views, preferably presenting these through engaging mediums – videos, audio comment, infographics – in order to successfully reach end-customers and prospects. For the asset management industry in particular, which has been somewhat slow to embrace such channels, social media will increasingly have to be at the heart of communications strategies if long-term profile raising and business development objectives are to be adequately supported.

Donald Trump might be gone, but the importance of social media is greater than ever.