What the X is Elon Musk Doing?

Lilac Cadouri
Lilac Cadouri is a Content Assistant at Percepto-Digital. Read more

Say Hello to “X” 

A significant change took place on July 24, which left many smartphone users stunned. Instead of the familiar little blue bird that graced their phone’s home screen, they were met with a black and white “X”. 

The rebranding came as a surprise to most, but those familiar with Elon Musk’s antics were not entirely blindsided. Elon Musk has a well-established history with the letter “X”, from the Tesla X Model to SpaceX, and xAI, his newly founded AI company. This is also not the first time that Musk used x.com (replacing twitter.com)  – x.com was originally founded in 1999 by Musk as an online financial services company. In 2000 it merged with Confinity, a software company founded in 1998, and became PayPal. 

Perhaps, Musk’s obsession with the letter “x” is his way to take ownership of the letter,  à la Apple’s hijacking of the letter “i”. A brilliant branding strategy, however, it is unclear how this branding strategy will work for X, formally known as Twitter. 

Two days after the rebranding, Musk issued a statement explaining the change. He stated that the platform’s name has become obsolete – “the Twitter name made sense when it was just 140 characters messages going back and forth – like birds tweeting – but now you can post almost anything, including several hours of video”.


Vision of a New Era

Musk expressed his vision for a new era with the introduction of the “X” logo. He indicated that acquiring Twitter was a launching pad for the “everything app”; already amassing the aspiring app with 300+ million users. Musk explained his future prospects in the same tweet (do we still call it that?) in which he announced the name change – “in the months to come, we will add comprehensive communications and the ability to conduct your entire financial world.”  

By reusing the name “x.com”, and by randomly stating its potential to operate the financial world of the user,  it seems that Musk is attempting to recreate his past company, or its successor; think, x.com v. 2.0. 

Business analysts state that rebranding strategy of an already immensely popular platform is incredibly risky. Musk is tearing down years of Twitter’s branding, yet hopes that the popularity surrounding it will stay for his “new” platform. Users’ brand loyalty is deemed obsolete if the brand no longer exists – X is not Twitter. 

Twitter Under Musk

In the second quarter of 2022, Twitter garnered the most users since the inception of its platform – Twitter’s user base saw a 6 million user increase, 362.4 million users to 368.4 by the end of 2022. However, since Musk’s acquisition of the platform in late October 2022, Twitter’s user base has dropped by roughly 14 million users. 

So, why has there been such a drastic decrease in the number of users? 

Since late October 2022, Musk has implemented a lot of questionable strategy: primarily not firmly restricting abusive language or hate speech on the platform, and recently, implementing a subscription service to Twitter – without a subscription there is a “curfew” on the amount of tweets a user can consume. 

One of Musk’s first decisions as “Chief Twit” (yes, that is the title he gave himself, later changing it to “Chief of Nothing”), was to reinstate Trump’s Twitter account.  Trump was “permanently” suspended from Twitter on January 9, 2021, in light of the January 6 insurrection of Capitol Hill. Trump’s reinstatement came after Musk promised to establish Twitter as a “digital town square … for free speech.” Recently, on August 1, 2023, Musk also reinstated Ye (formally known as Kanye West) after Musk banned him on December 2, 2022 for “inciting violence” over offensive anti-semitic tweets.   

Twitter: A More Turbulent Platform than Before

the twitter logo next to the X logoMusk’s desire for a digital town square has allegedly made the platform more volatile. The Center for Countering Digital Hate published research in June 2023 that was incredibly concerning.  The research observed that Twitter failed to act on 99% of hate speech posted by users. It also concluded that Twitter failed to act on 89% of ant-semitic speech and 97% of anti-Muslim hate speech. It is important to say that Elon Musk has filed a lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate due to this publication.  

With this decision, Musk made the platform less and less advertiser friendly, subsequently resulting in Twitter losing almost half of its advertising revenue and leaving the platform in massive debt, amounting to US$13 billion. In an attempt to combat the financial crisis, Musk hired Linda Yaccarino as CEO, and together they decided to create a subscription service for Twitter – capping unsubscribed users to 1,000 Tweets a day.  

All of these decisions have been incredibly harmful to the platform, especially after the release of the rival app, Threads (Meta’s version of Twitter). Further, since the day of the rebranding (July 24) nearly 78% of all the US IOS reviews have been 1-star reviews, compared to the previous 50% 1 star reviews.

Perhaps this is Musk’s vision, which he intends on executing with no care for a platform which has been beloved by many for nearly two decades.  

Did Rebranding Solve the Problems?  

One can only guess that Elon Musk hoped his sudden rebranding would improve current statistics– following the common phrase, there is no such thing as bad PR (which we have debunked).  Initially,  X did see a considerable 20% install increase, as compared to prior weeks, as well as a 3-4% increase in weekly user growth. 

Yes, you can change the name of a popular social media platform and create enough intrigue so that new users will flock to it – like a moth to a flame. But if the flame is simply a fireplace background broadcasted on your television screen, the moth will quickly turn away.  That is the current issue that Musk is facing – he doesn’t have a problem attracting new users, but with maintaining a consistent user base. Time spent on the platform is continuing to fall – decreasing by 7% since the rebrand.

Our success is dependent on identifying who our target market is and where their interests lie. Whether you are a communications professional or a 52-year-old billionaire, you must know your audience to be successful –  “audience” referring not only to the consumer but also to advertisers. Maintaining a squeaky clean image is nearly impossible in our age of social media and mass information consumption, however, staying relatively “unproblematic” is the most ‘advertiser-friendly’ move. 

Musk reinstated two incredibly divisive individuals into the platform, and has generally conducted a “hands off” approach when it comes to “freedom of speech”. As a result, Twitter/X is deemed by many to be ‘un-monetizable’. 

Let’s not forget, you can be a divisive character and still be successful, Alex Jones is a classic example. But he knew his audience and leaned into outrageous behaviors – because that is what won them over. 

Is Musk a PR Genius?  

When it comes to the re-branding, however, maybe Musk is right? Maybe he is a PR genius and thought that rebranding a beloved social media platform overnight is the way to go. Who needs to beta test market sentiment research? 

We do live in a fast paced globalized world, our attention spans have decreased, so maybe the audience will just adjust?

Only time will tell, but as of right now, that does not seem to be the case. 

As for our little blue bird, we say goodnight sweet Twitter; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. 

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