Elon Musk Can’t Be Twitter’s Technoking Without Loyal Subjects

For someone who says he loves the social-media platform, the Tesla CEO could stand to be a bit more lovable

By guest author Laura Forman from the Wall Street Journal

Elon Musk has had his intentions to buy Twitter TWTR 1.12% second-guessed by just about everyone in recent weeks, including himself, but Thursday’s question-and-answer session with the company’s thousands of employees showed his interest in the social-media platform remains strong. How willing thousands of Silicon Valley employees will be to work for the world’s richest, least-decisive man is another matter.

Just showing up was a good start for Mr. Musk. That admittedly is a low bar but, for someone who often skirts business decorum, and sometimes the rules, participation was hardly a given. He then described Twitter with what, for him, was an unusual amount of warmth. Whereas some people choose hairstyles to express themselves, he said he enjoys Twitter as a particularly effective megaphone for his ideas.

He has no shortage of those. In response to employees’ questions, Mr. Musk described grand plans to morph a fairly niche social-media network into something like a super-app, where a billion people live. Posts should be allowed to be “pretty outrageous,” but people must feel comfortable. Revenue will come from ads, but also from payments and subscriptions. And remote-working employees’ jobs are very safe—assuming their work is “exceptional.”

With specifics glaringly absent, it is certainly worth asking: In a world where remote work is now the norm for white-collar employees, how many people will choose to stake their career on Mr. Musk’s subjective esteem? And who will sign up to run this unscripted show?

Mr. Musk also said Thursday that he doesn’t care about titles, noting that leading Tesla he is legally “Technoking.” But he also said he expects Twitter’s employees will listen to him in terms of how the service will evolve. He clearly wants to call the shots, but will likely call on someone else to execute them.

Mr. Musk has had great success motivating talented people to build the impossible before. Rocket ships and electric vehicles both turned out to be quite “S3XY,” though. Today’s market has chewed up and spit out the social-media sector, its pitfalls laid bare.

We know bots are an inevitability. We know that advertisers often steer clear of controversial content. And we know adding more engaging TikTok-like video content could further pressure ad monetization in the near-term. No one is safe: Meta Platforms has lost over half its market value this year, and Twitter’s shares might have done even worse absent Mr. Musk’s iffy bid. With interest rates rising and consumers pinched, some sell-side channel checks suggest online ad spending could be getting worse.

Leadership aside, a job at any social-media company isn’t exactly the most inviting opportunity right now. If Mr. Musk really “loves” Twitter and wants to see it fly, he might try to be a little more lovable.

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