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Will Twitter Ever Really Die?

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Anastasia ‘Nat’ Tubanos, VP strategy, content practice lead at FCB Canada, ponders Elon Musk’s earliest Twitter actions and the realistic paths that the platform may take in the future

Will Twitter Ever Really Die?

It’s been about a month since Elon Musk officially took over Twitter. And since then, there hasn’t been a day that’s passed that Twitter hasn’t been in the news cycle.

And guess what? Twitter’s not dead. Sure, it might be close to bankruptcy or getting booted from Apple and Google’s app stores. But, it’s still here, despite mass layoffs driving speculation that the platform would break down any minute, and hashtags like #RIPTwitter and #GoodbyeTwitter trending a couple weeks ago. If you go onto Twitter, it looks like any other day pre-Musk. And with the World Cup running, this is especially true. Because humans are creatures of habit. And old habits die hard. As for how it feels, it’s getting pretty uncomfortable if you don’t like hate speech, wild and inaccurate opinions being touted as facts, and the random dick pic on your feed. 
 
The past few weeks have felt like a reality TV storyline of a brilliant serial entrepreneur, with a potential God complex, flying by the seat of his pants as he struggles to make the best of a buyout he didn’t really want to go through with. However, Musk has remained true to a few core pillars we’ve always known were part of his narrative: reducing Twitter’s operating costs, shifting Twitter’s reliance on advertising dollars, and making Twitter a “common digital town square” where a “wide range of beliefs” can be debated in a “healthy manner”, without “resorting to violence” because “it’s important to the future of civilisation.”
 
Let’s just note. Musk blames traditional media for fuelling today’s polarisation, even though many studies have shown the role social channels play with poisoning public debate through misinformation. But, those who’d benefit from his definition of ‘free speech’ as well as disciples of the Church of Musk don’t question his logic. After all, they’re the ones scrambling to buy his limited edition cologne (yes, it’s real), racking up over $1 million in just a few hours. But, I digress.
 
Musk’s version of reducing operating costs has looked like firing top Twitter execs, including the CEO (but don’t worry, he’s surrounded himself with trusted allies from Tesla and The Boring Company to pour over the books). He then fired almost half of the 7,500 Twitter workforce (only to bring a bunch of them back because they were essential to building out some of Musk’s updates). Musk then faced a mass resignation of hundreds of other employees who didn’t want to stick around for Musk’s “extremely hardcore” Twitter 2.0. He’s also cutting employee perks, office space (since there are way less employees), and computing costs that support Twitter’s underlying infrastructure. Maybe he can hold off bankruptcy.
 
Let’s look at his next focus, which is diversifying Twitter’s sources of revenue. Last year, almost 90% of Twitter’s revenue came from advertising dollars. And, with all the chaos of the last month, several media agencies — like IPG Mediabrands, Omnicom and Group M (Twitter’s biggest spender) — advised clients to pause spending on the platform. It has also been reported that more than a third of Twitter’s top 100 clients haven’t advertised in the last few weeks. For a company that’s desperately looking to stay afloat, this seems, well, dire.

Of course, Musk has been quick to blame activists for pressuring advertisers to stop spending on the platform (rather than consider his own actions, such as getting rid of trust and safety measures or sharing Paul Pelosi conspiracy theories, playing any role). 

Back in April, when Musk announced his $44 billion offer, I alluded to his interest in making Twitter’s subscription offering, Twitter Blue, more valuable so Twitter users would be willing to pay for it. Soon after his official takeover, he launched an $8 subscription model that gave any user that iconic blue checkmark. This shifted the checkmark’s meaning FROM a symbol that proved credibility TO a symbol that simply means verified. What he didn’t anticipate was how people could abuse this shift to pretend they were another brand, or even Musk himself. The next iteration is up in the air until Musk feels there’s a way to launch while limiting impersonation. This might also be the version that gives you “half the ads” that are “twice as relevant”.

Perhaps inspired by TikTok’s success around creators and communities, he’s also focused on what creators might want on Twitter. He’s hinted at bringing Vine back or transforming the Twitter experience into something more closely resembling an OnlyFans subscription model (perhaps another way to appease brands because pornographic material would stay behind a paywall?). Twitter is the only major social platform that allows users to post porn. And sex workers today use Twitter to promote and drive people to their OnlyFans. Imagine making it frictionless and keeping that audience on Twitter? It’s believed that monetising this could be lucrative enough to offset the fallout from advertisers.

As for Musk’s third point around creating a town square where different opinions can be openly debated, for brands it comes down to content moderation and brand safety. Sure, he’s reportedly hired a new head of trust and safety. But he’s also brought back people who have been restricted for spreading hate and permabanned for inciting violence

Frankly, I don’t think Musk cares what advertisers think. He explicitly says he hates advertising. And while there’s a lot of analysis on whether he understands the value of advertising, especially considering Tesla’s marketing and advertising budgets have been reported as “immaterial”, he’s done wonders for his personal brand. And, he seems to be open to making space on Twitter for branded content that creates some sort of value for audiences (i.e. entertainment, informative, conversational, etc.).

When all is said and done, I still go back to my initial assessment for brands. Use Twitter if the audience you want to reach is there as Twitter will have a particular audience. Whether it’s a predominantly right-wing conservative audience that works as Trump’s propaganda machine. Or, perhaps that’s just one niche community within a wider range of audiences that don’t look too different from pre-Musk. As long as he’s able to stay out of bankruptcy and service outages, I anticipate there will be a time when brands can, and will, go back to Twitter again.

But until then, let’s sit back and not-so-guiltily watch the train wreck, like any other reality show.


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Anastasia ‘Nat’ Tubanos is VP strategy, content practice lead at FCB Canada

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FCB Toronto, Tue, 29 Nov 2022 16:06:30 GMT