Now what?


Elon Musk standing against a dark background with his hands out in a “who me?” gesture.
Elon Musk talking at a SpaceX occasion in February 2022. | Jim Watson/AFP by way of Getty Photographs

Elon Musk paid $44 billion for Twitter. Subsequent up: Making Twitter price (no less than) $44 billion.

Congratulations, Elon Musk?

Eleven days in the past, you instructed the world you needed to purchase Twitter for $43 billion, which generated some … skepticism. Now it seems such as you’re actually going to do it.* For $44 billion, it seems.

Now what? Extra particularly: Now, how are you going to run Twitter, which is a for-profit enterprise that isn’t excellent at making a revenue?

The world’s richest human being has made some extent of claiming that he’s shopping for Twitter as a result of he cares about free speech, not cash. For now, let’s take him at his phrase.** However even in that case, Musk will need Twitter to, you realize, earn cash.

And greater than that, he’ll need Twitter to be price no less than as a lot as he paid for it — which was 38 % greater than Wall Avenue thought it was definitely worth the day he introduced his plan to purchase it. And he, and the people who find themselves serving to him finance the deal, would presumably prefer it to be price much more.

So how are they going to do this?

To recap: Twitter’s greatest drawback as a enterprise — one which it has all the time struggled with — is that it’s a free, ad-supported enterprise that doesn’t have sufficient customers to make it engaging to advertisers.

As I wrote 11 days in the past, when ElonTwitter didn’t appear inevitable, in any respect:

Twitter has the identical enterprise mannequin — free and supported by advertisers — as Google and Fb. Nevertheless it has a lot, a lot much less attain than these corporations, so advertisers aren’t going to present it as a lot assist.

That’s why Google introduced in $257 billion final yr, and Fb introduced in $117 billion — and Twitter did $5 billion. And it’s why Google is price $1.7 trillion, Fb $583 billion, and Twitter $36 billion.

So. What can Elon do to make Twitter extra beneficial? He hasn’t mentioned out loud, although he reportedly made some sort of gesture to this when he was courting traders final week.

However Twitter is Twitter, so individuals have recommendations. Let’s take a fast survey:

Lower prices. The usual mergers & acquisitions playbook all the time contains this one: The corporate to procure would work higher with fewer individuals working it. Right here’s investor and Twitter energy person/troll Marc Andreessen:

Presumably, Musk already has plans to fireplace a few of Twitter’s staff — and maybe he anticipates different employees leaving in a huff just because he owns it. And I might assume he plans to shrink its content material moderation group, since he says he needs much less content material moderation. Then again: Whereas Twitter’s workforce grew by 36 % final yr, it nonetheless solely has 7,500 staff — simply 10 % of Fb’s whole. And people staff do generate income — about $1 million per yr per worker, in line with CSIMarket. Elon Musk’s Tesla, by the way in which, generates about $760,000 per worker.

Convey in additional tweeters. This can be a powerful one. Twitter’s viewers development hasn’t completely flatlined — it’s really ticked up lately — however Twitter has spent years making an attempt to get extra individuals to enroll, with little to point out for it. (Which is likely one of the causes the corporate stopped reporting its month-to-month person numbers again in 2019.) The conclusion, from nearly each Twitter individual I’ve ever talked to: Everybody is aware of what Twitter is, and those who need to use it, do. Might you make the product extra interesting to extra individuals? I assume? However nobody is aware of how. (And don’t hassle arguing that there’s a horde of conservative/free thinker customers who will flood again to Twitter if Elon makes it extra inviting for them: If there have been, Donald Trump’s Reality Social can be booming, not a ghost city.)

Promote extra/costlier advertisements. Additionally a tricky one. A line that the majority Twitter followers agree with goes one thing like, “Have a look at how influential this platform is! In spite of everything, we’re on it! So advertisers ought to be clamoring to achieve us, the influential individuals.” However advertisers are usually not shopping for it: They like to go the place they will attain lots of people directly. And whereas advertisers are newly excited by spending cash on “influencers” on social media who can promote their stuff to their followers, these influencers don’t hang around on Twitter — they’re on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

Promote entry to Twitter. This can be a standard one, and it syncs with the “take a look at how influential Twitter is” argument: Twitter is seemingly essential to Elon Musk. Wouldn’t he pay to make use of it? And the reply there seems to be: Sure. However what about everybody else? “I feel there’s one transfer left,” a former Twitter govt mused to me right now. “Some type of pay-to-tweet.” You don’t cost anybody to learn Twitter — simply to make Twitter. Perhaps it’s a single worth, perhaps it scales up primarily based on attain.

That is an thought Twitter has been flirting with because the very begin — however not likely doing, past its “promoted tweet” advertisements. And should you’d wish to put a constructive spin on it, you may notice that pay-to-tweet ought to dissuade most individuals from tweeting out the dumbest stuff. Then again, you’ll be able to think about situations the place individuals who have some huge cash tweet lots of dumb stuff, as a result of. And the place individuals who have much less don’t tweet as a lot — or in any respect. That’s no enjoyable, or a lot use to anyone.

Promote one thing else? Like, Twitter, says tech commentator Ben Thompson, who argues that Twitter ought to simply deal with working Twitter — the service that shows your tweets all over the world in actual time — after which license entry to that to anybody who needs to construct a enterprise round it, nevertheless they’d like. Consider it as a white-label Twitter that Twitter sells to individuals who need to make their very own Twitter: Perhaps you need to run a Twitter service that solely focuses on long-haired Persian cats and their house owners, and your buddy needs to run one devoted to ivermectin followers: You purchase the info from Twitter and current it any manner you want. Adverts? Pay to learn? No matter you determine: Twitter’s simply promoting you the gasoline.

However once more, Musk actually does want … one thing. Even when he actually is shopping for Twitter on behalf of humanity, he’s purchased a enterprise. And easily working Twitter as a nonprofit for what he describes because the better good isn’t an possibility. His Twitter deal is partially financed with debt from banks, which can ultimately need their a reimbursement; a few of the debt can also be linked to his Tesla shares, and Tesla inventory is each unstable and really, very extremely valued. If it had been to crash (see: Netflix), Musk’s funds would get fairly rickety, rapidly.

There’s additionally the likelihood that Musk doesn’t actually contact Twitter that a lot in any respect: He’ll pull again on moderation, enable the likes of Donald Trump again on (no thanks, says Trump), and perhaps determine it’s much more enjoyable to be a Twitter person — totally free! — than a Twitter proprietor. After which search for somebody to take it off his fingers. That will change into a lot tougher than shopping for Twitter.

* Commonplace caveat about the truth that the deal hasn’t formally closed, together with a Commonplace Elon Musk caveat that notes that he’s … erratic.

** Taking Elon Musk at his phrase could be an costly and dangerous proposition, however you’re simply studying some phrases on the web totally free, so we’re in all probability okay right here.

Bought a greater thought about what Musk ought to do with Twitter? Let me know (Twitter works, and so does this e-mail: kafkaonmedia@recode.internet).

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