Elon Musk has a pretty decent resume. He has built two high-tech mega brands in Tesla and SpaceX. He zigs when the others zag. He makes outrageous statements and then backs them up. I admire his branding of Tesla in particular. Instead of talking standard electric car language with echoes of being green, the Tesla brand assumes those messages are already known and instead positions its products as high-tech and stylish. You can find the e-car specs on their website if you look hard enough, but the Tesla brand is already a level ahead of its competition and the gap isn’t closing. Traditional auto brands are launching e-cars left and right, but they’re cannibalizing their own sales more than they’re taking a bite out of Tesla.
Musk has created several other successful brands, including Neuralink, OpenAI, and The Boring Company, which actually bores large holes for tunnels, but is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek brand name. This is part of the charisma of Musk—he does things differently, even if it’s more difficult to do it his way. He’s made himself a very rich man in the process. He’s a rock star who’s a one-man show.
Which makes his purchase of Twitter for $44 billion absolutely mind boggling. Musk has used his gift for lofty strategies by saying he bought the struggling social media channel for the “future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner.” When asked what he meant by that, he described removing restrictions to free speech and possibly reinstating accounts that were banned previously for everything from misinformation to hate speech. Twitter advertisers reacted to this negatively, fearing that Twitter would become less civil and more driven by political and social fringe elements.
Twitter was already losing $4 million a day according to a Musk tweet, and now it is losing large chunks of revenue from its primary income stream. Musk has responded by abruptly laying off about half of Twitter’s 7,500-person workforce, with some claiming (on Twitter) that they only found out they were fired when they couldn’t log in to their work account. Now Musk is zigging and zagging all over the Twitter landscape, announcing at one point that the coveted blue check mark for a verified account would be for sale (“We need the revenue,” he tweeted), only to quickly pull the plug when dozens of false accounts were created, some of which were purporting to be Musk-owned companies.
Musk may appear to be operating without a firm plan in mind, but he has discussed ideas for increasing revenue, such as charging fees for commercial and government uses, as well as growing Twitter’s payments business to compete with apps like Venmo and ApplePay. But surely a man as smart as Musk must know that these ideas are band aids and that the Twitter brand is in danger of losing relevance and market share if he can’t put it on a clear course for success. As magical as he has been with his other brands, Twitter’s Chief Twit, as Musk has called himself, does not have audiences clapping for his latest tricks.