The $44bn question: Will Musk wreck or mend Twitter?

twitterElon Musk’s $44bn (£34bn) deal for Twitter has got more than the Twitterati tweeting, with his proposed changes to the social media platform raising more than a few eyebrows, especially among marketers and advertisers.

The move, which was been fiercely resisted at first, is likely to have huge consequences for both users and advertisers, but Musk is quite understandably cock-a-hoop. He said: “Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”

Dr Gordon Fletcher, technology and retail expert at the university of Salford Business School believes that Musk’s plan to add an ‘edit’ button may sound commendable but will change the core of Twitter’s value.

He added: “Being able to edit a tweet destabilises Twitter so that it is no longer the social media of record. Each tweet becomes unstable and can be altered at any point and unpredictably. Traditional media outlets will be less inclined to embed the tweet in their own online stories (as is currently common practice) and will seek other competing sources more willingly.

“Journalists and academics will be less inclined to cite Twitter as there could be no future evidence of this primary data. The impact is significant, and Musk will need to carve a new purpose for Twitter if this change does go ahead. Musk is a new era for Twitter but like all good science fiction stories it will be a disturbing mix of utopia and dystopia.

“Two years ago one tweet from Musk managed to slice significant value off his own Tesla company. More recent tweets have boosted individual cryptocurrencies and revealed Musk’s sometimes chaotic political viewpoint as well as an obsession with space travel.”

Peter Vidlicka, co-founder of Newspage, however, reckons the deal could help Twitter get its mojo back; in the short term, at least.

He continued: “Elon Musk describes himself as a free speech absolutist, so in the current socio-cultural climate, we can expect fireworks in the months ahead. To many, Musk’s purchase of Twitter will be seen as less a hostile takeover than a cultural stand, a reinforcement of free speech and a much-needed authentication of everyday people and their everyday views.

“However, many are concerned that Twitter under Musk could become an even wilder West than it already is. Describing Twitter as a digital town square is an avuncular metaphor that doesn’t necessarily convey the mayhem that often unfolds there. It’s a digital town square, after kicking out time.

“For now at least, Twitter is back in pole position among the heavyweights of social media, and its shareholders will be popping the champagne corks.”

Meanwhile, Joint founder Richard Exon commented: “For better or worse private ownership gives any business – including social networks – the opportunity to develop a distinctive world view.

“At first glance this may seem at odds with Musk’s apparent determination to keep Twitter as a bastion of free speech and he’ll be extremely reluctant to stray into publisher territory. But for years now Twitter has lacked any clear set of values that define the environment it wants users and advertisers to engage with. Fixing this will be no simple task, yet under private ownership it becomes marginally easier.

The return of “free speech” is still a major concern for many, however.

Tribal Worldwide chief client officer David Balko said: “Twitter presented itself as the champion for free speech when it launched – this rapidly changed when hatred spread across the channel and bled into other social media platforms. The banning of hate groups was a positive move. Musk’s purchase might see a change of direction back to the original ethos. If so, it is likely to have a profound impact on how people use it and how brands advertise on all social platforms. ”

The Kite Factory managing director James Smith agrees: “The main debate has been how far free speech will be censored. It won’t be to the degree it is now, but if it allows promotion of ‘fake’ news it could have damaging consequences.

“For our clients we take every precaution possible to ensure their advertising isn’t against content they wouldn’t want to be aligned or associated with, this will become increasingly difficult on the platform and may see advertisers seeking alternatives where we can assure brand safety. However, if Musk lessens the reliance on advertisers by pursuing a subscription model, he’s already mitigating the risk.”

Econsultancy director Richard Robinson reckons that Twitter, once famed for its innovation and agility, has become slow and cumbersome to the point of stalling in terms of numbers. The likes of platforms like BeReal, with engagement triggers hardwired into the UX, are automatically more in step with what the sentiment of today’s social media needs, he believes.

However, looking forward, he predicted: “My big bet is on Twitter inside the metaverse. Today the metaverse doesn’t have a digital town square, and the opportunity for Twitter to step in and be the cohesive glue that sets the trends and holds the entire meta-community together feels like a huge, untapped reality just waiting to be realised.”

Former WFCA and Unlimited Group chief Michael Richards, who is now MD of London agency Alan, agrees that Twitter is miles behind its peer group so maybe now, private again, it has the chance to really accelerate.

He concluded: “It’s not going to be dull with Musk pulling the strings and maybe we’ll get Trump back too. The world turns on its axis again.”

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