Jon GingerichJon Gingerich

If you’ve ever wanted to watch a brand die in real-time, just log on to Twitter.

The events that have unfolded since Elon Musk took the reins at the social media site have been bewildering, to say the least. But the platform’s future has never been more certain: Musk is running Twitter off a cliff.

We’ve watched one stupid decision after another play out ever since Musk bought the platform last October for $44 billion. But the July announcement that Musk now plans to rebrand the site as X—and “bid adieu to the Twitter brand,” as he stated in a July tweet—really takes the cake. It’s hard to overstate how dumb and short-sighted this is, but suffice it to say, killing off a well-known and beloved brand and destroying years of brand equity simply to put your own ego-stroking stamp on it is an unequivocally terrible move. Face it: Twitter’s greatest existential threat isn’t Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It’s Elon Musk.

Granted, Zuckerberg’s similar 2021 play to rebrand Facebook’s corporate parent company as Meta was also a bust, but there’s a crucial distinction here. Facebook unveiled Meta to launch a new line of ill-fated virtual-reality products. X, on the other hand, is just a new name—and a completely unoriginal one, I should add—to make the brand cohesive with other Musk-owned properties. It offers absolutely nothing to users or advertisers. In fact, both are arguably getting a lot less out of the platform than they were less than a year ago.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's August '23 Financial PR/IR and Professional Services PR Magazine
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Indeed, ditching the iconic blue bird is par for the course if you consider Musk’s actions since he assumed ownership of the social site. First, he took the company private. Then he let extremist nut-jobs invade the place. Then he began charging money for things like the blue check, which used to be free. Then Musk mandated massive layoffs—which was followed by an exodus of talent—causing the site to crash constantly. Then he said he’d limit user engagement on the platform. The past 10 months have been like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Consider it the Elon Musk guide for destroying a brand.

It’s no surprise, then, that as a result of all this, the site’s traffic has tanked. Twitter is expected to lose nearly three percent of its user base this year, according to recent findings by eMarketer. This loss is expected to widen to more than four percent next year and an additional five percent in 2025.

Users aren’t the only thing that’s disappeared since Musk took over. In June, the New York Times reported that Twitter’s advertising revenues in the U.S. from April to May were down 60 percent from the same period a year ago. Those findings, based on internal documents obtained by the Times, also showed that weekly sales projections at the site have regularly fallen short, sometimes by as much as 30 percent. Finally, the Times discovered that Twitter internally forecasted that its U.S. ad revenues in June would continue declining “at least 56 percent each week compared with a year ago.” That’s a pretty big deal, especially if you consider that an estimated 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue last year came from advertising.

According to eMarketer, Twitter has accounted for only 2.5 percent of social media ad spending in the U.S. so far this year, compared to Meta’s 80 percent. That means LinkedIn now commands more than twice Twitter’s revenue share. Twitter’s slice of the ad pie is expected to shrink to about 1.8 percent in 2025. The average time spent per day by U.S. adults on Twitter this year is now 34 minutes, compared to TikTok’s 54 minutes. In May, mutual funds giant Fidelity pegged Twitter’s value at $15 billion, which is about a third of what it was worth before Musk took over.

Twitter’s hemorrhaging of users and advertisers might have something to do with the widespread belief that the site isn’t a very nice place: 40 percent think the site is dominated by “extreme, unpleasant people,” according to recent findings from ipsos. Vox in March reported that more than half of Twitter’s top 1,000 advertisers have now ceased publishing ads on the site, with many citing an alleged uptick in hate speech as the reason for limiting or outright pulling their ad campaigns from the platform.

Despite all this, it’s been slightly amusing reading pitches from PR pros and pundits offering sycophantic musings about how Musk’s actions have been some kind of game-changer for social media and business in general. As though destroying a perfectly good brand (brilliant!), flushing tens of millions down the toilet (genius!) and having a cokehead-like proclivity to change the platform’s rules at the drop of a dime (where do I sign up?) is somehow the work of a philosopher king in action. It reminds me of the delusional comments I used to hear from Trump worshippers every time the former Conman In Chief did something ridiculous while in office. “Of course what he’s doing doesn’t make sense! That’s exactly what he wants you to believe! It’s all part of his larger plan!”

I think it’s time to consider that maybe the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.