The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773)
A prominent senator, Matt Gaetz, and two other politicians retweet a photo of the famed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, with praise.
An outspoken vaccine naysayer, Naomi Wolf, tweets a photo of a well-known adult film actor presenting him as a doctor advising on the COVID-19 vaccine.
Ironically these errant retweeters have a history of accusing media of fakenews.
So what’s behind these gaffes?
It’s a new tactic emerging on Twitter, a platform where any information, including fake news, can spread like wildfire. And the man behind both incidents isn’t a figure shrouded in mystery as you might think. He’s an investigative journalist for The Intercept, Ken Klippenstein, with a side hobby of pranking prominent accounts. Using a verified account, no less.
So how does it work? First, find a target with a clear agenda. Then provide them with user-generated content that supports that agenda and wait for them to bite. But the content is a trojan horse ― inside the enemy is waiting in silence.
A self-proclaimed patriot retweets an enemy of the state on Memorial Day. A vaccine naysayer that regularly casts doubt on scientific information presents an adult film actor as a reliable source of medical information.
Neither has vetted the source nor the veracity of the information. Their itchy trigger fingers, fueled by a desire to pursue their narrative, betray them, ultimately revealing them as the propagaters of “fake news” and, ultimately, hypocrites.
These incidents crystallize the current American zeitgeist: “gotcha” tactics, strong antagonism between political camps, and the itchy trigger fingers behind Twitter accounts ― a platform that moves at the speed of light.
Public relations was born out of the American democratic political process, which relies on swaying public opinion through ever evolving strategies and tactics. Trojan horse tweeting is just the latest development born in the skirmish of the social media wars.
Social media managers and PR professionals alike would be wise not to fall victim to the same tactics. That’s easily done. Just hold social media to the same standards of the PR profession: only relay information that you can verify and know who’s behind it.
Sounds simple, right? Make sure to remember it during your next tweet.
Matthew Stover and I first met in 2018 on Zoom. From my Tokyo home, I worked with him, located in Florida, via the usual remote collaboration tools to whip up a communications plan for Amazon’s new campus, which was big in the news at the time. The chance to learn with other PR professionals across the ocean was one of my favorite things about learning online in the Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program at Georgetown University.
Matthew started Stover Creative Agency immediately after our May 2019 graduation, where we met in person for the first time. His agency currently provides strategic social media and public relations content for clients throughout the US and Europe. In the meantime, the United States has gone through a whirlwind of change in the social media industry.
So naturally, I had to pick his brain for his best tips and the latest trends in social media.
Tell us about what kind of projects you are working on and how your career has developed up to now.
Stover Creative Agency primarily works with nonprofits, institutions, and universities to amplify their work in a digital space. We’ve been fortunate to do social media work with London Business School by communicating the launch of their programs centered around Women leadership and LGBTQ+ leadership. My team is also doing PR and social media work for the exciting launch of a revolutionary drone startup that aims to keep first responders safe. Outside of smaller clients, we are also doing PR for Imagine Symphony Live, a project that hopes to build the next generation of orchestral music lovers.
Even though my public relations career started in Miami over 15 years ago, I quickly felt a deeper connection to social media while studying at Georgetown. I feel that social media is still the best avenue to have great engaging relationships with your target audiences.
The ‘Creative’ part of my company refers to the ability to create content primarily in a digital space. As you know, I’m a passionate photographer so starting this company was a way for me to capitalize on those skills and leverage my public relations experience in one entity.
As a social media strategist, how have you seen communication strategy changing as the pandemic develops?
I’ve seen a significant uptick in business. More people are indoors and spending time on their phones and computers. They’re spending more time on social media and therefore, want to make sure they are communicating to their audience. Clients want more content so we’ve had to be creative in what we post.
What are your areas of strength in social media planning? Tell us about some of your particularly successful campaigns or projects.
My social media planning relies heavily on my public relations background. At the end of the day, I ask myself the following questions:
What is the client trying to communicate?
Who are their key publics?
What platforms are they on?
What does the key public need to hear to ENGAGE with my client?
Once these questions are answered, I have a much better understanding of a way forward. Unless the client wants something quick and easy, I usually have time to do research on the client, their industry, their competitors, past promotions. The research leads me to establish a social media goal, objectives, and strategies to make the most impact on the client’s needs.
With London Business School, they really wanted to get participants into their Women In Leadership program. We decided the best way to do that would be to communicate on behalf of some of the professors rather than communicate heavily from the institution itself. I learned at Georgetown that current research indicates key publics react favorably to experts rather than the leaders to the organizations. As a result of this strategy, the program had 39 participants when they expected just 20.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the holy trinity of social media. If you had to advise a client on how to best use each social media in less than 6 words, what would you tell them?
I like to personify those platforms:
Twitter – A ‘woke’ liberal arts professor
Facebook – The fun aunt of the family
Instagram – The cool kid at school
What are some social media accounts you think are killing it?
I’m absolutely fascinated with the Twitter accounts of Wendy’s, Chick Fil-A and Popeye’s. These are major brands but they tweet like they’re your rowdy neighbor from down the street.
As a result, their engagement is sky high.
This tells you a few things: 1. They have an incredible understanding of their key publics. 2. They’re using social media for its ideal purpose: spur conversation and engagement.
All too often, I see so many organizations stifle their voice on social media because they feel they communicate with the same tone as a fundraising letter to a million-dollar donor. If they are a professor, they tweet like they’re writing the abstract for peer-reviewed research.
It’s ok to be slightly informal. Social media responds to authenticity.
Describe some problems you encounter often with your clients. How are they failing to achieve best engagement?
When I work with professors, they’re absolutely terrified of saying the wrong thing. Sometimes, it really gets in the way of being authentic. They are extremely risk-averse in what they say on social media.
Another common problem is the strategy of creating content. Organizations think they have to create content every day rather than creating a week or a month’s worth of content all at once and using a social media scheduling tool like Hootsuite to automatically post that content.
What do you see happening in the next year in social media or content marketing strategy? How can we be best prepared to leverage it?
I still see a path forward for influencers: especially micro- and nano influencers. I feel it’s an underutilized strategy for startups, nonprofits, and small businesses.
Similar to establishing a relationship with journalists, it helps to establish a relationship with influencers.
Any words of encouragement for budding communications professionals? What should they do to set themselves up for success?
That’s a difficult one.
I’ve noticed the biggest barrier to my success has been me. I often get in my own way by:
Overthinking problems and solutions
Obsessing over the wrong things
Having self-awareness of your thought processes can really put you on a different footing.
Matthew Stover is a public relations and social media professional based in the sunny beach town of Ft. Pierce, Florida. He started Stover Creative Agency in 2019 to help amplify the work of nonprofit organizations, institutions, universities, and thought leaders. Matthew is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. stovercreative.agency