On Nov. 15, I published the following post on LinkedIn. Soon after, #RIPTwitter was trending on Twitter. Friday marks three weeks since Elon Musk took over the company and my guess is that it won’t make it another three weeks with the way he’s running it.
He (over)paid $44 Billion for Twitter and it only took him a few weeks to run it into the ground. He must have attended the Trump University Business School.
Here is the post:
One of my favorite claim-to-fame moments from my years in journalism is about an article I wrote as a technology reporter for the Washington Post in late 2006. There was a new “microblogging platform” called Twitter that had been generating some buzz out in Silicon Valley and some of the early candidates for the 2008 presidential election – including candidates Obama and Clinton – were weighing whether or not to have a presence on it. That was exactly the Washington angle I needed to pitch the story to my editors.
My article sat in a holding pattern for several days as the editors considered it for a coveted Page One spot. But, alas, it was banished to the oft-overlooked Saturday business section cover, with editors declaring that, while it was a “fun read,” no one in Washington would ever really care about something as ridiculous as a “tweet.” (Famous last words, indeed.)
Having written about the rise of Twitter some 16 years ago, I believe the time has come to start pre-writing Twitter’s obituary. For those unaware, it’s pretty common in the news business to pre-write obituaries for celebrities, politicians and other famous people so that when that person dies, there’s a tribute story on-the-ready, just waiting for the details of when, where and how it happened.
Earlier headlines about Musk’s takeover – from massive layoffs to $8 check marks and now a flood of fake accounts without (a staff to do any) monitoring – is giving heartburn to companies, organizations and other brands that have come to rely on (and invest in) Twitter as a way to reach their audiences. And that’s making them pause – their ad spending, their posts and eventually their presence – unless there’s some changes. It’s not that hard to see how quickly the whole ecosystem could crumble.
Of course, a company like Twitter can adjust, rebound and recover just like people can, which is why many pre-written obituaries sit idle for a long time before they’re published. I point this out because it’s possible that this Twitter moment is more analogous with a rebellious teenager stage when a kid starts making bad decisions and throwing tantrums, alienating old friends and latching on to new ones who only make things worse.
It may not be the end-of-life moment for Twitter if it’s just in a teenage funk where an intervention or some tough love might save it. But don’t count out the need for the obituary until the bad influence is out of the picture or until something bad happens to snap the teenager out of it or end it once and for all.
(OK, that analogy just got really dark, so apologies for that…)
Here’s the bigger point, though. This well-told story in the Washington Post about the scramble over a fake Eli Lilly account is a warning sign. It’s a sign that things are bad but that they haven’t fallen apart – yet. It’s a warning that things could get progressively worse – really fast and really vast.
(By the way, just pointing out that the WashPost published the word “tweet” four times in the first three paragraphs of this story. Just sayin’.)
Like the newspaper editors who dismissed the power of a tweet and had to find new ways to generate revenue when lucrative ad dollars shifted elsewhere, Elon Musk and Twitter’s investors should take note of the seriousness of these warning signs. When Musk engages in petty Trump-like tweet battles, presumably at the expense of time that could be spent addressing business challenges, it damages not only his own reputation and credibility but that of the platform, as well.
Until companies who spend millions of dollars on social media advertising feel reassured that their brand – whether reputation, name or logo – are safe on the platform, who could blame them for not only pausing their spends but also rethinking their presence on the platform?
Anyone who thinks that a Twitter obituary is an overreaction and that Twitter is too established to become irrelevant, I invite you to chime in with your thoughts on my MySpace page.