Twitter: What Elon Musk (Might) Mean for Users and Advertisers in 2023 and Beyond

Twitter in the Era of Musk: Five Takeouts For Digital Marketers to Watch Like a Hawk

Elon Musk has bought Twitter, and in a Hookson exclusive, we reveal precisely what he’s going to do with it across 2023 and onwards.

Only joking.

The truth is that right now, and maybe for a while yet, no one really knows what the tech billionaire’s plans are. Probably not even the tech billionaire himself.

But a few predictions have taken flight – many based on what Musk has revealed since He completed his $44 billion Twitter takeover in October 2022. It’s not dramatic to state that some of these potential changes are pretty earth-shattering.

So in this blog we’ll present a run-down of how the messaging platform might fly – or fall – in the coming year. And that includes it perhaps becoming more than just a messaging platform.

Twitter: Checking Out its History…

We strongly suspect that nobody reading this blog needs any introduction to Twitter. After all, the network attracts around seven-billion visits a month and easily places in the world’s ten most-visited websites.

But for a bit of context, here are some bite-sized milestones since the platform emerged way back in 2006:

2006: On March 21, co-founder Jack Dorsey posts the first ever Tweet (but who to?)

2006: July 15. Public launch of the first full version of Twitter

2007: The world says #hello to the #hashtag – and the retweet

2009: Ashton Kutcher wins the race to garner one-million followers, the actor pipping CNN to the post

2010: The Library of Congress reveals its plans to archive every public tweet

2010: Twitter Introduces Promoted Tweets – posts purchasable by advertisers looking to connect with new and existing followers

2013: Twitter launches Vine, allowing users to create and share six-second-long looping videos

2016: Twitter shuts down Vine

2017: The character limit of a tweet doubles to 280

2021: November 29. Jack Dorsey resigns as CEO

2022: October 28. The Elon Musk era begins

2022: 18 December. Musk announces he will step down as Twitter CEO. This follows a Twitter poll in which 57.5% of 17.5 million respondents urged him to quit

259.4 million active daily Twitter users

(Elon Musk)

80% of Twitter usage is happening on mobile


…And Looking at its Future

Now, with Elon Musk occupying the top perch, let’s swoop into what the future may hold for the ubiquitous little blue bird – and the advertisers keen to connect with those billions of users.

Musk-Era Twitter: Five Things For Digital Marketers to Consider

The Tesla man is determined to drive change at Twitter.

And he’s begun with a controversial shedding of 3,700 (around 50 percent) of the workforce. To those who remain, a “hardcore” environment is promised. For the avoidance of doubt, a message from Musk to his staff confirmed that “This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

Of note also is a commitment to freedom of speech – complete with the complications that brings for brands, digital marketers and advertisers.

New Twitter Income Streams to Emerge?

Added to these are Musk’s stated aims to break Twitter’s reliance on ad revenue in favour of income streams from both emerging subscriptions and a payments system seemingly set in the near future.

So, to put it diplomatically, the coming year will be an interesting one for Twitter users, advertisers, employees and, of course, the man at the top.

Here then are five areas digital marketers should keep an eye on.  

#1 The Threat Posed by Freedom of Tweet

One of the more high-profile changes Musk seems keen on is a far more permissive take on what the platform allows its users to tweet out.

A New Attitude

Previously, those breaching what Twitter deemed unacceptable had accounts suspended or withdrawn. But upon acquiring Twitter, in short order Musk demonstrated a new attitude via the prominent unbanning of Donald Trump’s Twitter account – famously rescinded under the previous Twitter owners.

Trump meanwhile, instantly refused to play ball, having founded Truth Social, his own rival to Twitter, complete with ‘Truths’ instead of tweets and ‘ReTruths’ mimicking retweets. Truth Social also shares Musk’s fondness for less moderation.

This whole issue is a moral minefield, one this blog will steer clear of. But it will, at a minimum, be interesting to see these two slug it out in the year ahead.

Will Twitter’s Advertisers Flee the Nest?

The challenge for Twitter though, and something that is relevant to digital marketing, is the impact this liberalisation will have on the network as an advertising/marketing platform.

Twitter has traditionally relied on revenue from advertising. But if users turn off thanks to unchecked content – filled with hate/controversy – so too will advertisers. And that will lose Twitter tons of money.

So this is potentially the most significant issue – because it is an existential challenge – Musk-era Twitter will face.

Interestingly though, the new boss has stated he wants to reduce Twitter’s reliance on advertising to below 50 percent of revenue (for context it stood at 90 percent in 2020). The shortfall? Why, that would come from…

Musk is looking to break Twitter’s reliance on ad revenue in favour of income streams from both emerging subscriptions and a payments system seemingly set in the near future.

#2 The All-New Subscription and Payments Model

Well, kind of new.

Subscriptions first

Twitter Blue emerged in early June 2021, so some months before Elon Musk made Twitter his own.

This paid subscription service offers to sign-ups a raft of premium features tantalisingly out of the reach of mere mortal Twitterati. Now, it’s said Musk has hitched one of his stars to the subscription wagon with a view to increasing revenue.

Benefits include:

  • Added value like bookmarking, coloured themes and icons
  • A reader mode which gathers multiple threads into a view that’s easier on the user’s eye
  • Plus an Undo Tweet function: a delay feature

Undo Tweet is perfect for those career/relationship/credibility-destroying tweets sent in the heat of the moment. The innovation offers a grace period of one minute across which cancellation of that unwise Tweet is possible prior to it flying, with ill-advised confidence, into the world.

Next up: Payments

In a November 2022 meeting with advertisers – livestreamed, inevitably, on Twitter Spaces – Musk spoke of his plans for Twitter to become a leader in the payments market. Translation: enabling users to send money, via Twitter, among themselves and to bank accounts.

Further to this, Musk talked also of creating related products like Twitter debit cards and a high-interest account that attracts big cash.

So Could Banking Become Twitter’s Golden Goose?

The focus on payment facilities and financial products in particular speaks of an evolving platform – one shifting from core messaging into something bigger and, possibly, more useful and attractive.

It could appeal to a whole new audience. And it could also challenge online payment systems like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Meta Pay and PayPal.

And on the banking side, could Twitter begin disrupting a sector in which everyday transacting is performed increasingly online? Musk after all has history in this area, having co-founded in 1999 the online bank It later merged with another company – and the result was the creation of… PayPal. The Tesla Model X. SpaceX. Precisely what is it with Elon Musk and the letter X? Well, seeing as you asked…

#3 Twitter as ‘X’: the Everything App

The proposed payment and banking innovations may be just the beginning of a far wider and groundbreaking Twitter transformation: the notion of the platform becoming ‘the everything app’.

Musk refers, somewhat mysteriously, to this plan as X, and in an October 2022 Tweet he stated that “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.”

The inspiration for ‘X’ is the China-based WeChat app which empowers users to shop, pay for that shopping and, when not shopping, play games.

An Always-On Location

Interestingly, WeChat began life in 2011 as a messaging app, prior to evolving into the billion+-users ‘super app’ it is today. The parallels, then, with Twitter, are plain to see.

Musk clearly sees value in Twitter/X becoming a one-stop app for daily interactions and transactions: a kind of always-on location at which serious stuff like banking and paying bills meets fun stuff like gaming and video messaging. You can argue that an iPhone does this already, although that’s perhaps to conflate hardware and software.

It’s yet another potential move to keep tabs on, albeit one that even Musk would concede may be several years in the making.

#4 Could Twitter’s Vine Rock TikTok?

Remember Vine? In 2013 Twitter bought the short-form (a mere looping six seconds) video-sharing app. But it ended up shrivelling on the… well, the vine, despite the innovation having garnered 200-million+ users when the axe swung in 2016.

Spying what TikTok is achieving (for starters, over one-billion active monthly users against Twitter’s 300-million), and thinking ‘I want’, Elon Musk asked, via a Twitter poll, whether Vine should be replanted.

The Yes vote is winning the day, with around 70 percent of five-million respondents in favour of welcoming Vine back.

A Powerful Promotional Ally

Challenging TikTok wouldn’t be easy, of course, but this does feel like one of Musk’s less out-there ideas: a logical way to attract more users to the platform. And it doesn’t require a massive leap to suspect that for brands and advertisers, Vine on Twitter could emerge as a powerful promotional ally, and an addition that could add serious value to Twitter’s offering in this area.

That said, a proposed payment model to view video content feels like a barrier to take-up:

“What could we do to make it better than TikTok?” Musk tweeted at the tail end of October 2022.

Well, “Charge us for watching videos” would be an unlikely response.

But no doubt his query will generate plenty of advice – all free – from his almost 123-million followers.

#5 Finally, Could Musk Mess Around with Twitter Until he Breaks it?

It’s a possibility.

After all, in the CEO’s opening email to Twitter staff he wrote of a dire economic picture and stated that “Without significant subscription revenue, there is a good chance Twitter will not survive the upcoming economic downturn.”

Following this cheerful missive was another rallying statement. In response to that Twitter poll urging Musk to step down, he tweeted “I will resign as CEO as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job! After that, I will just run the software and servers teams.”  

Users Ticked Off

In his short time as CEO, Musk has thus far managed to alienate users by introducing a charge – incorporated into that Twitter Blue subscription – for the well-understood tick that verifies the accounts of the influential, the rich and the famous.

Somewhat ironically though any cursory analysis of this indicates that if verification is for sale it results in that verification losing its credibility.

And even those with deep pockets don’t seem to fancy the fee much.

Reacting with horror, the writer Stephen King chose a colourful word in expressing his disapproval. But ever the hustler, Musk quickly began publicly haggling with the novelist – on Twitter of course:

“We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?”

Challenging TikTok wouldn’t be easy, but the possible revival of Vine does feel like one of Musk’s less out-there ideas: a logical way to attract more users to the platform. It could be good news for advertisers too.

Popes and Presidents. Revolutions and Rockets

Examples of the credibility risk were swiftly seen when paid-for parody accounts impersonated everyone from the Pope to President Biden, as well as businesses – including Nintendo, Musk’s own Tesla and his rockets side hustle SpaceX.

Many of these hijacks presented humorous takes – the Chiquita banana company overthrowing the Brazilian government, for example.

But the dangers are obvious.

Thanks to a user parodying its Twitter presence, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co ostensibly tweeted that insulin was now free. Of course the authentic Lilly quickly apologised (via Twitter). But during the foul-up, the firm’s stock price fell 2.2 percent.

Impact on Advertising…

Such an unsafe space, one in which hard-won brand values could risk rapid damage, became a no-go zone for some of Twitter’s top advertisers.

Imagine for a second if you owned an ad agency and called just one of these clients your own:

Chanel. Chevrolet. CNN. Coca Cola. Dell. Ford. Meta (née Facebook). Nestle.

Twitter of course is a platform, not an ad agency. But it enjoyed relationships with all of the blue chips above – and many, many more.

What’s uniting these brands now though is their decision to pull or reduce ad spend on Twitter. As reported by MediaMatters within less than a month of Musk’s acquisition, half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers had taken some kind of damaging action.

…Equals Impact on Revenue

Even if Musk is looking at reducing reliance on advertising revenue, it’s still enough to keep him, or his managers (those remaining after those mass redundancies and walkouts) awake.

After all, since 2020, these top advertisers have generated almost $2 billion in spending – and over $750 million in 2022.

Stacked against these figures is the debt saddling Twitter, and by extension Musk. Even a man frequently cited as the world’s richest won’t welcome around $1.2 billion of annual interest charging. Or the jeopardy of disappointing the returns-hungry investors who helped make the acquisition happen.

Twitter in 2023. Rebuilding Relationships? Or Doubling Down?

Even amid grand plans for new revenue sources, Musk would be unwise to play hardball with high-spending advertisers. Such aloofness would recall the scene in Citizen Kane, when the eponymous newspaper magnate responds to a query about a loss-making title:

“You’re right. We did lose a million dollars last year. We expect to lose a million next year, too.  You know, Mr Thatcher, at the rate of a million a year we’ll have to close this place in sixty years.”

But in the real world, such a cavalier attitude won’t cut it.

So, from a marketing perspective, it will be interesting to see if Twitter attempts to rebuild these platform-advertiser relationships – or instead doubles down on the changes that are making it a real third-rail location for brands both large and small.

At Hookson, we’ll be watching closely.

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