Elon Musk’s Early Twitter Missteps Could Spark a Larger Trend Away from the App

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Yes, I know you’ve read enough about Elon Musk and his ridiculous/visionary plans for Twitter, and trust me, I’m pretty sick of writing about his every move too. But he now owns one of the major social networks, while Twitter also plays a significant role in the modern communications landscape, in regards to both marketing and general interaction.

And right now, Twitter, and even social media more broadly, is at what feels like a turning point, where the whole concept of how and where we interact could be set for a major shift.

I mean, that’s been happening for some time already, with people sharing less to their social news feeds, and more in DMs, while TikTok has also ushered in a new era of entertainment over interaction, which has already morphed the concept of what social media is anyway.

The Creator Economy is also being pitched as a major opportunity, mostly by social platforms and agencies who stand to directly benefit from getting people to post more stuff online. But again, the idea of what social media was – connecting with friends and keeping them updated – and what it is now – a replacement for pretty much every other form of media – has changed dramatically. Which is why this new shift at Twitter comes at a particularly critical stage.

Will we see a mass migration of users away from Twitter as the platform revises its approach to ‘free speech’, revamps key elements like Spaces, and starts selling blue checkmarks?

It’s impossible to say, but definitely, it feels like Twitter is now in the hands of a brains trust of former users, who have a range of radical plans on how to ‘fix’ the app, though little practical knowledge of what might actually work to improve it. That seems like it’ll lead to a lot of trial, a lot of error, and a lot of walking things back as they try to establish new foundations for the platform.

What comes out in the end? Honestly, I suspect Twitter at this time next year will look a lot like what Twitter does right now, with some new tweaks and alterations more in line with Elon’s personal preference.

Musk and Co. are clearly going to push out changes, as fast as they can, but I suspect that they’ll quickly realize that a lot of these updates won’t work like they think.

The updated Twitter Blue is the best example – and granted, we don’t yet have the full details on how Musk’s $8 verification program will work. But thus far, it seems like you’ll soon be able to pay $8 to get a blue tick next to your username, like all the celebrities have in the app, along with priority tweet display in search and reply listings, and paywall-free articles from partner publications.

There will not, according to reports, by any kind of ID checking in this new process, so the suggestion that this is ‘verification’ of anything is flawed already. It also negates the practical value of the current verification process, and potentially leaves users more susceptible to scams.

But no problem, Elon says:

The median cost of reported social media scams in the US last year was $468, so scammers will essentially be risking an $8 fine for an opportunity to make 58x that, on average. But no problem, Elon notes, Twitter will make money out of it – even if users are more at risk.

Which, really, is indicative of the current approach we’re seeing from the new Twitter management. Elon’s asking people to pay him, for not much in return, while he’s also trying to bully advertisers, and change things that he personally dislikes, with little regard for, you know, the actual people that use the app.

Why should people pay $8 per month for a graphic next to their username? ‘We need to pay the bills somehow’, Musk told author Stephen King. Okay, but so does every other business, yet the fundamental process is that you offer something of value, then you get paid for that product or service. What market need is paying for a blue checkmark fulfilling?

Sure, a lot of people want a blue tick, as it portrays some sense of authority or respect. But once everyone can buy one, that’s immediately eliminated – because everyone will know that any chump can just pay up and display a tick, which effectively means that no-one with a verified account alone is actually ‘important’ anymore.

Which is kind of Elon’s whole pitch.

So you’re asking people to pay for a mark of authority that will no longer mean the same thing as soon as to do.

And as there’s no form of ID checking, it’s not about verifying an actual person – and if people can still use the app without it, scammers will still be able to create bot armies. So it’s not really solving anything, it’s just a way for Elon to make money – and in fact, it’ll actually open up new avenues for impersonation, scams, mass-influence programs and more (which, incidentally, Elon himself discovered this week).

Yet, Elon seems to think that you should just pay up, to help support… the world’s richest man?

It seems like a very confused pitch – though it is also worth noting that this is likely to be the first stage of a broader expansion of Twitter’s subscription offerings, with more features to be added to the package.

But again, the entire push, at present, is entirely about what will benefit Twitter and its new ownership, and Musk seems to be trying to use his massive personal following as a lever to just make people do things, regardless of the logic.

None of this will work. While Elon is surrounded by a lot of sycophants and yes men, and while he does have a large and very passionate base of supporters, who are ready and willing to pledge their tribute in the misguided belief that it will make them a part of his cool crew, I suspect that Musk will eventually find that most people won’t just pay, and that advertisers won’t just set aside their morals and brand obligations because the rich man told them to.

Because we’ve already seen this.

Twitter Blue has been around for over a year, and Twitter’s revenue from subscriptions has actually gone down from the less than 10% of its intake that is represented at peak. Similar arguments were floated – ‘Twitter only needs a small percentage of people to sign up to make it a worthwhile addition’. Yet, even with that in mind, Blue has barely been worth running, with the addition of tweet editing, one of the most requested social media features of all time, seemingly not shifting the needle much either.

Add to this the fact that most Twitter users don’t tweet, they simply log on to keep up with the latest, and it’s baffling to even consider why anyone would even think that an $8 verification offering would work.

But again, this is the ‘trial’ stage, this is the step before recognized ‘error’ – and really, the only true risk right now is that Elon annoys so many current users/advertisers with his changes that Twitter usage collapses, and real-time interaction switches to another app.

Which it will. Twitter’s practical value is simply not enough to make it an essential app, but it does have the potential to become more significant, and more profitable, than it currently is, if done right.

But if done wrong, it could all go south very quickly, which brings us back to the original point.

Right now, we’re in the midst of the next big interactive shift. Web3 advocates are keen to pitch alternative options to the legacy, capitalist-led systems, messaging apps are integrating new tools to maximize engagement, and the metaverse is ever-looming on the distant horizon. People are already considering new ways to connect – and as such, pushing them harder in that direction seems like a massive risk.

Which is why the direction at Twitter seems so flawed, so short-sighted, and really, so introspective, in alignment with its new owners’ preferences.

That’ll change as things go awry, but it does feel like we’re on the cusp of a major change, sparked, not led, by Elon Musk’s $44 billion purchase.

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