Many urgent questions confront Linda Yaccarino, whom Elon Musk tapped to be the new CEO of Twitter (she’s expected to start at the end of June).
Can the former top NBC ad executive lure major advertisers back to the platform, while creating new revenue streams such as banking to service the company’s pressing debt load from last year’s $44 billion buyout? Can she win back major media companies and celebrities who fled Twitter in protest of the chaos and controversies that Musk brought to the business?
Can she turn a profit or get Donald Trump to re-activate his account?
Oh, and will she please dump the poop emoji?
For anyone who hasn’t seen it – or been on its receiving end – the emoji is the auto-reply image sent to those emailing Twitter’s press office. It officially dropped in March via a tweet by Musk himself after the company stopped taking media inquiries altogether following the buyout. Don’t look for a press officer’s name or phone number, or a generic “thanks for reaching out,” though the horrid little pile does come with a pair of googly eyes and an open mouth. Whether that’s a comment on press officers or journalists is hard to figure.
Mr. Musk obviously enjoys the stink he’s raised with such a provocative and unsightly bot response – just as he does when dueling with the SEC and others he deems unworthy. Reporters covering Twitter contact the company seeking verification of basic information – is Tucker Carlson recreating his show on Twitter? How many users have paid to keep their blue check marks for verified accounts? Instead of recording a simple “no comment,” or “no one was immediately available,” or perchance an actual fact-based reply, they are forced to state for the record, “Twitter responded to a request for comment with an auto-reply of a poop emoji.” Funny? Maybe the first time, but also juvenile, disrespectful and a sad reflection of public communications from one of the world’s best-known brands. In becoming Twitter’s stock answer to every incoming question, the joke’s no longer on us.
Companies often play cat-and-mouse with the press. In my own day job handling PR for law firms and other businesses, I’ve sometimes (to my regret) had to stonewall, divert and challenge reporters looking to confirm details about my clients, though my first goal is to be transparent and truthful. To have no dialogue at all is anathema, and depletes any good will when the time comes to call on the same reporters with real news to share. Musk might say he doesn’t need an information office when he can simply tweet out whatever’s on his mind to an estimated 134 million followers. But there’s far greater need to know about an enterprise than what flows from an owner’s brain, especially for a business that is supposed to facilitate information sharing on a massive scale.
The troubling thing about Twitter isn’t just the emoji, but the complete lack of engagement it represents. I doubt I’ll ever hear back from the query I sent to [email protected], along with a set of questions about the emoji, including how the company might translate a happy-face turd. For Twitter, media relations has become no relations at all, something that should concern the incoming CEO seeking to improve discourse with stakeholders, including the Fourth Estate.
“Elon has committed to being accessible to everyone for continual feedback,” Ms. Yaccarino said during an April interview with Twitter’s owner, in which she also echoed her new boss’s view that free speech is a bedrock of American excellence. What does it say when your company’s go-to feedback for editorial requests is a scoop of dung? Is that enhancing, or diminishing, the concept of open speech?
According to media lore, in the 1970s New York Times music critic John Rockwell reportedly did his best to dignify hard rocker Meat Loaf by sometimes referring to him as Mr. Loaf. It showed a wonderful touch of absurdity to the paper’s propriety, which I’ve lately adapted to Musk. Instead of Chief Twit, Elmo or even the billionaire entrepreneur, I’ve come to regard him as Mr. Poop. Here’s hoping that Ms. Yaccarino can cut the crap and help Twitter clean up its act.
Allan Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York.