Elon’s Twitter Will Fail

November 24, 2022

This is one of those topics that doesn’t seem like it needs me to add to it, as most of the smart, correct things have already been said. Still, I’ve read some odd things from smart people who are missing some of the elephants in the room that make it pretty clear Elon Musk will never succeed with Twitter unless he basically puts it into the equivalent of a blind trust, which he is probably emotionally incapable of doing.

Here are some of the key reasons.

Technology is hard

People at technology companies are often well-paid, and relatively well-treated by the standards of most people who have normal, kind of crappy jobs. I’ve had regular jobs and tech jobs, and I much prefer the way I’ve been dealt with at tech jobs even though I certainly haven’t enjoyed every day at work. It’s still a lot better. 

Here’s the thing — technology is hard. Not every person at a big technology company is important, or even necessary to have around, but a surprising number of them actually are. Sometimes it’s because you’re dealing with a weird social problem like what Twitter called “Trust and Safety”, sometimes it’s because selling things like services or advertising, or uptime, or other concepts is complex and weird, and sometimes it’s just because software engineering at scale is hard, grinding work that a lot of us literally cannot learn to do. Learning to code is not learning to do CrossFit. Some of us are just not smart in the kind of way you need to be to do it. 

Managers don’t like this. Venture capitalists don’t like it (actually, they hate it). Hell, sometimes I don’t like it because I want to build things I don’t know how to build and it costs a fortune and a lot of patience to get them built. But that’s the way it is.

There is this bizarre idea that companies like Twitter have these “coddled” employees, but what they really have are the employees necessary to make something like Twitter work like Twitter. The same is true at places like Amazon, Apple, Google, etc. — there is absolutely bloat and people who aren’t necessary, but in general a lot of the work requires really talented people with extremely in-demand professional experience. If you want those people to do what you say, you have to defer to them a lot, or you can try building it yourself. Good luck. 

Being an asshole isn’t going to work

This is America, so if you want to reconfigure the term “woke” to mean, I dunno, just being unable to handle adversity or whatever, that’s your business. But people don’t have to accept your definition, and when they look at this South African billionaire making fun of Twitter’s good faith efforts to support its black employees during the legitimately traumatic upheaval of Ferguson, they are going to see — at best — a guy being a idiot and a bully for no discernible reason. Again, that’s the generous interpretation. 

The people who don’t like that — the people who ultimately won’t work for that person — will come from many backgrounds and places. What they will have in common more than their race or gender will be a tendency to have the skills, education, and experience that you need to run something like Twitter, unless you don’t really need it to work very well, handle security issues, etc., etc. 

Musk, Sacks, and all these guys can sort of wish that away and pretend they are all brilliant computer scientists, but it’s not going to work with people who have the necessary skills. 

Attention is not revenue

I keep hearing that Musk trolling everyone and dabbling in white nationalism-style tropes and circles is “marketing” because he’s “controlling the narrative”. I get it — he’s lighting a huge pile of garbage on fire and screaming at the top of his lungs and people are looking. In theory, if people are looking at something, you can slap ads on it and make money. 

But that’s only in theory. You don’t get money when people look, especially when they don’t pay for anything (and as Twitter Blue 2.0 has shown us already, there’s no compelling reason to pay for this and Musk can’t think of one either). You get money when advertisers give you money. Yes, they need to people to look, but looking is one of those “necessary but not sufficient” conditions. As I once said to a colleague when my marketing department was asked to generate more “buzz”, I could get us on CNN whenever we wanted if we just starting throwing televisions and musical instruments off the roof. That attention would be BAD, but it would be attention. 

It’s absolutely false that all PR is good PR. Lots of PR is horrendous — this is why there are PR firms. Twitter looks like a badly run, weirdo tech zombie that is being run by douchebags and is veering into a “basically racist” vibe that advertisers aren’t going to touch with a ten foot pole. 

He’s not winning, and I don’t think he knows how to stop.