As propounded by Greek Philosopher Heraclitus, the only thing constant is change, although when it comes to Elon Musk and Twitter, what is constant is ‘too much change’. Be it the changes relating to blue ticks marks to increasing character limits per tweet and then limiting number of tweet views a user can see in day, users have been taken for a ride.
Musk has implemented more changes and u-turns in Twitter in a little over six months, than probably what the company did in its previous 16 years. Post these antics, comes another one, with the famous and widely liked ‘blue bird’ logo of Twitter getting replaced with X.
However, this time, the change that was announced and quickly implemented in around 24 hours appears well thought out, although the jury is out on whether it will be successful or not. It appears a well-deliberated decision because it reveals and aligns with a strategy of making Twitter much beyond ‘just a social networking app.’ A new identity for a new business in which tweets are just a subset of the whole gamut.
But the risk is, it is not clear whether enough research was done on whether it would be easy to push a new brand to customers, when they have been used so much to the blue bird for more than a decade. The Twitter brand had a strong recall amongst users, and this was built over years.
How is this for some food for thought? While Facebook as a company rebranded to Meta Platforms, it left the individual branding of its social networking platforms – Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp untouched.
Also read: The Zuck vs Musk Shootout
Model X, SpaceX and more interestingly one of Musk’s earliest ventures, a 1999 fintech called X.com (finally acquired by PayPal), all reveal his fascination for what ‘X’ represents. He will now have the challenge of making Twitter users liven up to the new brand. At some point in the future, the platform and domain name too could change, with Musk owning the X.com domain.
Maybe sometimes, it is better to not fix something that is not broken, but we will see!
Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino said that the platform will become a marketplace for “goods, services, and opportunities” powered by artificial intelligence. What does this mean?
It means Musk and his team have very high aspirations of building Twitter into a super app on the likes of China’s WeChat and Alipay. A super app is a one-stop shop for most of your online needs – networking, e-commerce, and money transfers. Linda Yaccarino with her comments was outlining what plans they have in the cards as potential offerings for Twitter users. And the reference to artificial intelligence could be a hint at one advantage that Twitter has, being a very active online platform– user data, which is like fuel for generative AI.
The challenge though is convincing customers of the need for a superapp. Beyond China and a few Asian countries, the concept of super app has failed, and probably for a good reason. Different companies are good at different things, like Amazon in e-commerce, Paypal in money transfers, and Facebook/Twitter in social networking. Trying to be all is a tall ask. Maybe it succeeded in China due to regulations limiting competition in the sector there. Further, in an age of online privacy concerns, transacting in the same app for everything may not be something that consumers will like.
What are the other important changes that Elon Musk has made since he took over Twitter?
The changes are many as mentioned above and some unfortunate: like the firing of thousands of Twitter employees. This may have made the company lean, but the manner in which he has gone about making many changes has earned some bad blood.
On the contrary, the most positive change he appears to have brought about is the appointment of Linda Yaccarino as CEO, giving space for him to step back a bit and focus more on his other ventures as well. The less he is involved and allows the CEO to run the show, the better it is for TwitterX!
How has Twitter’s operational and financial performance been after the platform changed hands?
Both operational and financial performance appears to have gone through a whirlwind ride. With many users quitting as Musk took control to a few advertisers staying away from the platform due to perceived negative perception of the platform amongst certain sections of the population, there have been many challenges.
Also read: Twitter to take on LinkedIn with job feature
But it appears to be stabilising now with Musk recently noting that Twitter hit all-time highs in user engagement. While he also said the company is still cash flow negative, this is not entirely surprising given Twitter’s financial performance was sub-par even earlier as a public listed entity. The company was a tale of contrasts given its platform’s popularity but poor financial track record. This was one reason many investors were happy to accept Musk’s takeover bid.
How secure is Twitter’s position now given increasing competition from Threads, Bluesky etc?
The biggest strength for any company in social media is the network effect. It’s not just the number of users, but how intertwined the connections are. By that logic, Twitter’s network effect is very very strong and hard to displace despite the best efforts of Musk to rile up a few users. Many competitors have come and tried, but not too successfully including India’s Koo app. Add to it the fact that users also want access to their tweet history and of those they follow. Further, building a fan following in another app would be like starting from ground zero.
Also read: Meta’s Threads needs to tie up loose ends
Thus, while Threads and Bluesky are threats, it would be challenging to displace Twitter. The example of the remarkable failure of Google when it launched Google+ as a competitor to Facebook in the previous decade, comes to mind. Despite Google’s dominance as an internet company and its far superior financial resources, it could not displace Facebook due to the strong network effects. In fact, the joke then was that Google+ is the place where criminals used to do social networking because no one ever bothered to log into that site and check what was happening!