What do we even call a tweet now?
Elon Musk's seemingly hasty decision to wipe away all bird logos and change the name of Twitter to simply "X" could have wide-ranging implications both for the company's brand recognition and for its bottom line for years to come, analysts say. But Musk has already said he doesn't care if he loses money to remake Twitter in his own image — and maybe he's just writing off Twitter as a social platform altogether?
As Bloomberg put it in a piece on Monday, "It’s rare for corporate brands to become so intertwined with everyday conversation that they become verbs. It’s rarer still for the owner of such a brand to announce plans to intentionally destroy it."
That's what happened Sunday and into Monday, as Musk set about scrapping the iconic blue Twitter bird with the more ominous looking X logo he had designed, and he rushed ahead with pulling the sign lettering off of Twitter's headquarters on mid-Market Street in SF — seemingly without getting the proper permits from the city, leading to one side of the sign on Monday just saying "er." (And didn't the building's landlord just put up a stink in April about leaving the signage as-is, saying Twitter was legally obligated to do so?)
Musk has hated enough about the legacy of the company he bought last fall that, apparently, he wants to wipe away any vestige of it and start fresh. New CEO Linda Yaccarino is doing her part to play along for now, though we assume this had to be all Musk's idea.
Doing some grade-A corporate spin, Yaccarino tweeted (or X'd?) on Sunday, "It’s an exceptionally rare thing — in life or in business — that you get a second chance to make another big impression. Twitter made one massive impression and changed the way we communicate. Now, X will go further, transforming the global town square."
But, like, is the URL "twitter.com" going to disappear too? Does that take everyone's search-able Twitter accounts away eventually? I find myself asking, as I have so many times since Musk's takeover, has anyone really thought this through??
Maybe this is just some nihilism on the part of Musk, as Twitter's user traction has seemed to wane and as advertisers have reportedly fled (though he says they've been coming back), and after the recent launch of Meta's competitor Threads.
One of the posts in Yaccarino's Sunday thread points to a move away from a platform that's a nexus of public chatter, and toward "the future state of unlimited interactivity – centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities."
For years, fans and critics alike have pushed Twitter to dream bigger, to innovate faster, and to fulfill our great potential. X will do that and more. We’ve already started to see X take shape over the past 8 months through our rapid feature launches, but we’re just getting…— Linda Yaccarino (@lindayacc) July 23, 2023
But you have to start somewhere in terms of building an audience, and Twitter already had that. Will all those users stay on board as X becomes something new?
And, even if Twitter didn't become what Musk wanted it to become fast enough, wouldn't it be wiser to maintain the brand so it could be eventually sold and rehabilitated?
As Bloomberg notes, brand valuation is a difficult thing to quantify, and different analysts put the Twitter brand's value at between $4 billion and $20 billion. The lower estimate comes from the consulting firm Brand Finance, which further estimated that the Twitter brand had lost about a third of its value since Musk took over.
Musk has already been launching other, possibly interrelated companies with the X name, like xAI, which he hopes will become a competitor to the likes of OpenAI and Google. And perhaps he sees the Twitter-style town square as already behind the times — though he's yet to articulate how his unfettered-free-speech version will be superior, and not just more toxic and detrimental to democracy. (Libertarian free-speech proponents are always quick to explain how complete lack of censorship or moderation is good for them and their freedoms; they tend not to have as many arguments for how it's good for everyone who isn't them.)
The inspiration for Musk's vision of an "everything app," which is what he said last year he intended to turn Twitter into, is China's WeChat. TechCrunch observed as early as last October that while WeChat may be immensely popular in China — it's used for everything from messaging to booking doctor's appointments to shopping and ride-hailing — that kind of monopoly and potential privacy-invading infrastructure may never fly in the U.S.
And it wasn't long ago that WeChat made links to competitors like Douyin (TikTok) and Alibaba inaccessible — the kind of anticompetitive move that Musk has already tried when he made links to Mastodon non-functional on Twitter in December.
In any event, this could all blow up in Musk's face, but don't tell that to his fanboys.
"[This rebranding is] completely irrational from a business and brand point of view," says Allen Adamson, co-founder of the marketing and brand consulting group Metaforce, speaking to Bloomberg. "To me, it’s going to go down in history as one of the fastest unwinding[s] of a business and brand ever."
Top image: A worker removes letters from the Twitter sign that is posted on the exterior of Twitter headquarters on July 24, 2023 in San Francisco, California. Workers began removing the letters from the sign outside Twitter headquarters less than 24 hours after CEO Elon Musk officially rebranded Twitter as "X" and has changed its iconic bird logo, the biggest change he has made since taking over the social media platform. San Francisco police halted the sign removal shortly after it began. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)