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President Trump is not shy about using his Twitter account to shame companies that do things he doesn't like. But he's also been quick to praise companies that fall in line. And, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, the president's use of social media is creating a new kind of PR opportunity for some companies.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Rarely has a U.S. president been so willing to use his platform as both bullhorn and cudgel to exert public pressure on individual companies. Companies are adjusting, even trying to capitalize on Trump's tweets by touting their hiring announcements. Last week, Trump publicly thanked Wal-Mart for its big jobs push after the retailer released details of a hiring and capital spending plan that it had originally announced before the election in October. Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son has parlayed an early December meeting with Trump into several tweets favorable to his companies.
JONAH BERGER: They're using Trump as a marketing channel.
NOGUCHI: Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at Wharton. He says it's a new paradigm both for the office of the president and for major company brands.
BERGER: I think we're in an unusual situation. You know, companies didn't used to feel like they could curry favor with a president through making some moves like this. But in today's day and age, it seems like a possibility. And so companies are exploring it.
NOGUCHI: The prime focus for Trump has been the auto industry, where he has called out individual companies and brands as possible targets for higher tariffs on cars made in Mexico. On Monday at his first meeting with business leaders, Trump sat next to Ford CEO Mark Fields. Two weeks earlier, under pressure from Trump, Ford scrapped plans for a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico in favor of expanding in Michigan.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Mark was so nice with the plant coming back, I wanted to sit next to him. I must be honest.
NOGUCHI: Trump criticized Ford's rival General Motors earlier in the month because it manufactured some Chevy Cruzes for U.S. sale in Mexico. But then last week, GM said it would invest an additional billion dollars in the U.S. And Trump tweeted a thank-you note. GM spokesman Patrick Morrissey declined to speak on tape but acknowledged that, with U.S. job creation in the spotlight, quote, "this was good timing for us to share what we are doing."
It's not yet clear how Trump's Twitter account might shape decision-making for companies going forward. Many of the investment plans Trump has tweeted were planned or even originally announced well before the election. Take for example Fiat Chrysler's announcement to increase its U.S. investment by a billion dollars, which garnered a thank-you tweet from Trump this month. CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters that investment decision was made over a year ago and that the supportive backslap was unanticipated.
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SERGIO MARCHIONNE: None of us have had a tweeting president before. And so if it's a new way of communication, then I think we're going to have to learn how to respond.
NOGUCHI: In most cases, companies are capitalizing on investment and hiring decisions that were set in motion well before Trump's election. Berger, the Wharton marketing professor, says it's not clear that companies will change investment decisions based on favorable tweets.
BERGER: Whether we'll see companies actually changing their behavior, you know, actually doing different things or moving jobs in one way or another because of him - that's a little bit more costly. And I think we will see some of that but not as much as firms taking advantage of old news and recycling it.
NOGUCHI: But the new president's approval ratings are already low. So could companies see a backlash for trying to curry favor? It's certainly possible, Berger says. So long as it's Trump endorsing the companies and not the other way around, there's less chance of that. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.
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