Twitter – Is It Relevant? Can It Recover?
Since Elon Musk bought Twitter in October last year (to the tune of $44 billion, $13 billion of which was a personal loan) the social media platform has been through a lot of turmoil. In the four months since he took over we have seen a mass exodus of staff as a direct result of Musk's confrontational leadership style and his general handling of the company.
The Twitter Blue scheme, designed to create subscription revenue at $8 per month for a verified tick, has seen only 200,000 accounts actually use the feature. The more high profile uses of the Twitter Blue feature have been accounts who have changed their name to pose as public figures or businesses in order to post controversial or otherwise out of character content. Other users who thought it would lend their account credibility soon found themselves on the receiving end of ridicule for paying for “verification” that didn't actually equate to anything meaningful.
This might have been amusing while it unfolded, but it quickly showed how little thought had gone into the feature, a sign which was unpromising for the future of Musk's leadership. It certainly showed that recouping some of his enormous financial outlay was a priority, perhaps above the integrity of the platform. Ill-advised tweets from Musk himself only served to undermine his position – such as the joke “how do you make a small fortune in social media? Start out with a large one.” which many took as a sign that he wasn't taking the role of running Twitter seriously at all.
Previously banned accounts were reinstated almost unilaterally, while Musk personally banned the accounts of journalists who had not contravened the terms of service, but who had upset him. These actions contributed to a rise of hate speech on the platform of up to 200%, according to researchers from the New York Times.
Many high profile users and brands either shut down their accounts, or reduced their activity on the platform, not wanting to be seen to be endorsing Musk or his decisions. In a world where mere associations can make someone guilty in the eyes of the public, being seen to back up Musk's version of Twitter could cause real reputational damage. Twitter was fast becoming an autocracy, rather than the more open organisation it had once been.
Action taken during the Super Bowl reinforced this view. Musk was upset that his tweets were getting fewer views than President Biden's so he ordered the team of engineers (headed by his cousin) to tweak the algorithm, pushing his own tweets to the top of every feed. Musk then posted another poorly thought out tweet acknowledging the change.
Twitter has seen growth in new users drop dramatically, from 4.7% per year to -2% between 2021 and 2022.This attrition rate is unsustainable and a serious concern for Musk, whose latest mis-fire has been to insert adverts into reply threads. This was purportedly done to allow Twitter Blue users to make a commission from ads inserted into their reply threads, but the more cynical view is that it's just another way to wring revenue out of the platform at the expense of the users, all to contribute towards repaying the largest personal loan in history.
The statistics, and the transparency with which one can see through the very public disintegration of impartial leadership at Twitter means that the platform is looking at dropping into obscurity. Although some brands have started to post a little more on Twitter in 2023, many are treating it with caution, investing budget and time elsewhere while keeping a watchful eye on the happenings at Twitter HQ.
Although Musk did say he would step down as CEO (the result of another PR disaster where he put up a Twitter poll on his leadership), he has said this probably won't happen until the end of 2023.That leaves a lot of time for Musk to make more bad decisions, a trend that has shown no signs of slowing. This has even impacted Tesla, with share prices halved over the course of 12 months as investors worry that Tesla will be used to balance loan repayments, or that the same breakdown in stability could be seen there too.
For now, Twitter is still worth keeping up for the purposes of engagement with existing followers and customers, but directing more marketing budget and resources at other digital marketing avenues might be a more savvy move until we have a better idea of where the pieces are going to fall.
Tel: 01242 697 692