I’ve been joking that my blog has become the “Elon Channel,” where it’s “All Elon, All the Time.” In case you missed it, the organization we knew as Twitter is gone. It took Elon less than a week to fire half the staff and demolish years of goodwill. All that remains is a tech stack and a skeleton crew. Oh, and the threat of thermonuclear name & shame.
Some Recent History
Last Sunday, because it was patently obvious that the world’s richest person was clueless about how Twitter makes money, I wrote a primer for Elon about What Twitter Sells. I don’t think he read it, because during Twittergeddon, he parted ways with Twitter’s industry-facing ad team – all of them – including Sarah Personette (Twitter’s Chief Customer Officer, who managed the company’s relationships with major advertisers), JP Maheu (who ran the global agency partnership and brand strategy teams), and CMO Leslie Berland.
These extraordinary leaders were the trusted face of Twitter to the entire advertising industry. Losing some of the most respected people in the business is not the way to become “the most respected advertising platform in the world.” (Full disclosure: Twitter is a former client… not sure if they’re still a client, as Elon has fired everybody we have ever worked with at the company.)
The Advertisers Are Taking a “Wait and See” Approach
In response to Elon’s hasty, noisy, clumsy, poorly managed trainwreck of a takeover, a very big group of very large advertisers decided to pause their ad spend on Twitter. Make no mistake: this group of advertisers is responsible for Twitter’s financial health. If they do not return, advertising will no longer be Twitter’s main source of revenue.
In other words, Twitter will need a completely new business model. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. If there were, every social media platform would already be using it. So, if big advertising does not return, you can stick a fork in Twitter; it’s done. Unless… Elon (who, if you remember, is the world’s richest person) decides to fund it by himself. He’s doing that today, BTW.
It Gets Crazier (If That’s Even Possible)
I was pretty sure that Elon (who, to his credit, has reached out to several very experienced advertising executives this past week) was on a path to right the ship (albeit his own way) until I saw this: Elon tweets, “Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists. Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”
In response, Mike Davis (@mrddmia) tweets, “You have nearly 114,000,000 Twitter followers. Name and shame the advertisers who are succumbing to the advertiser boycotts. So we can counter-boycott them. And get your $8 monthly subscription going asap. So we can start to make up for lost revenue now.”
On an ordinary day, Mr. Davis’s response would just be noise, but @elonmusk responded to him with the following, highly revealing, truly devastating tweet: “Thank you. A thermonuclear name & shame is exactly what will happen if this continues.”
Elon’s Thermonuclear Name & Shame
Does Elon truly believe that the best way to incentivize big advertisers to resume their schedules on Twitter was to threaten them? I guess he does. Elon must not know many Fortune 500 CEOs or CMOs very well. None of them got where they are by being used as doormats.
Also, what are the consequences of the CEO of Tesla using his privately owned social media platform for a thermonuclear (whatever that word means to Elon) name & shame campaign against companies he competes with like the Ford Motor Company or General Motors?
This boneheaded tweet thread has done nothing to help Elon regain the trust of advertisers (big or small). No one knows what thermonuclear name & shame actually means, but it’s not something any responsible marketer is going to be interested in learning about firsthand.
Elon May Be Good for Twitter
Objectively speaking, pre-Elon Twitter was an awful product. How do I know? In June 2015, I wrote an essay titled “Twitter: Maybe TV Advertising Doesn’t Work” which articulates the problem Twitter still has today. In February 2016, I wrote a follow-up article, “Twitter Is in Real Trouble,” highlighting Twitter’s continuing inability to grow. And finally, in July 2018, I asked the question, “Can Twitter Be Fixed?” The common theme to all of these writings was that Twitter was badly broken and unlikely to ever get better.
Love him or hate him, like it or not, Elon now owns Twitter. He is doing what Elon does – which is whatever he wants. Twitter wasn’t making money for its investors, and it is not making money for Elon either – at least, not yet. Twitter needs to be completely blown up and rebuilt, which is what it looks like Elon is doing. Will it work? I’m not optimistic, but I think we’ve all learned never to count Elon out.
Is This the End of Social Media?
Elon has inspired a debate about whether or not this acquisition marks the end of social media. With the Zuckerverse and Twitter imploding and TikTok exploding, you could make that argument. But we – all of us – are the real change. Our behaviors have evolved. Society is more tech savvy now. We have less tolerance for “fake news.” We are generally exhausted by having to check for “alternative facts.” And people are starting to realize that what they ate for breakfast isn’t as interesting to their friends as it used to be. As we evolve technologically, our technological needs evolve as well.
Elon has a big job ahead of him. The audiences that empowered Twitter to become a center of geopolitical discourse back in July 2006 have many more choices today. As always, consumers (users) will vote with their attention and resources. Can Elon inspire us to spend our time and money on “new” Twitter? He may need some thermonuclear help.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it. I am not a financial advisor. Nothing contained herein should be considered financial advice. If you are considering any type of investment you should conduct your own research and, if necessary, seek the advice of a licensed financial advisor.