Elon Musk’s turbulent romance with Twitter may finally be heading to the altar, with the world’s richest person now close to finalizing a deal for the social media platform he first tried to buy in the spring for $44 billion.
Musk appears to have plenty of ideas for turning around the beleaguered company, but he has his work cut out for him. Twitter remains controversial, with conservatives accusing it of censorship, while liberals say it turns a blind eye to abuse and harassment. Users of the service bemoan the widespread presence of bots on the platform. Perhaps most uncertain is Musk’s ability and willingness to lead Twitter, which faces major competitive and financial pressures.
“The easy part was buying Twitter, the hard part’s going to be transforming it,” said Dan Ives, a technology analyst at Wedbush. “It’s been a third-tier social media platform. Monetization has been extremely difficult. I see a lot of challenges ahead. And then there’s concern that he’s juggling too many balls at the same time.”
If the deal goes through, current CEO Parag Agrawal is likely to depart. He and Musk have publicly clashed, and the latter has texted about his dissatisfaction with the Twitter chief, as revealed in messages made public last week. Twitter’s former security head, Peiter Zatko, told the Senate last month that Agrawal ignored huge lapses in security, leading Sen. Chuck Grassley to call for the CEO’s ouster.
As to who could lead Twitter, experts are noncommital, with one caveat: It can’t be Musk.
“He’s the worst guy to put in the chief executive role,” said William Klepper, director of executive education at Columbia Business School. “He’s an inventor, he’s not a manager. He’s kind of like a loose cannon, but he’s a genius.”
The ideal candidate, Klepper said, would be someone who’s led a startup to a mature stage and who has experience engineering similar turnarounds at other companies, along with a healthy tolerance for chaos.
“Would you want to be in an organization that’s in decline, that’s sold itself to a new leader who has a track record of being volatile, but extremely innovative?” he added. “That environment needs to retain as much good talent as it can and invite people who are open to change, and Musk is going to have to articulate his vision.”
Tweeting for users
Once Twitter is a private company, it will be relieved of some pressure to churn out profits quarter after quarter to appease Wall Street. That’s a positive, since the platform has seen flagging interest from users since the 2019-2020 electoral cycle, according to eMarketer. The marketing intelligence company predicts Twitter’s user base will shrink slightly this year and continue to decline over the next few years.
But Musk’s involvement could keep the most loyal Tweeters on board. Polling from Ipsos in April suggested that heavy users were the most positive about Musk’s takeover, with a majority believing it would improve the amount of “free speech” on the platform.
Notably, Musk has promised to reinstate Donald Trump to the platform, a move that would surely bring back many of the former president’s fans while pushing others to leave Twitter.
Creating an “everything app”
In a few years, Twitter under Musk could be much bigger and more features. He previously said he wants the platform, which now has roughly 238 million regular users, to have 1 billion users and expand aggressively abroad.
On Tuesday, Musk again suggested expanding the platform’s services, tweeting: “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.”
Musk has long touted the idea of a “super app. In a June town hall with Twitter employees, he spoke favorably of WeChat — an app popular in China that is used for everything from hailing a ride to buying groceries to chatting with friends.
“You basically live on WeChat in China because it’s so usable and helpful to daily life, and I think if we can achieve that, or even get close to that at Twitter, it would be an immense success,” he said.
In a presentation Musk sent around in May, he proposed adding a payment platform to Twitter and adding a subscription feature, while moving to boost overall revenue fivefold to $26 billion, according to the New York Times. He also projected that the platform would have 930 billion users by 2028, the Times reported.
For Musk, however, the first step in revitalizing Twitter would involve repairing the damage caused by his monthslong public feud with the company.
In Ives’ view, Musk agreed to proceed with the merger to avoid a likely loss in his legal battle to exit the deal, with the case set to commence later this month in the Delaware Court of Chancery. That suggests Musk’s attitude could be the biggest hurdle to rehabilitating Twitter
“The writing was on the wall,” Ives said. “He was going to lose in Delaware. He would have ended up in the same situation, owning Twitter but with a lot more public embarrassment.”
Added Ives, “He now owns a house that he didn’t want to own.”