Can Elon Musk bring tangible change to Twitter?

Platform Industry: Tesla's Elon Musk

When news broke that the worlds richest man Elon Musk was buying a >9% stake in Twitter, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Whilst it is true some of the more radical activists at the company threw their toys out of the pram, management both current and previous greeted the news with glee and excitement.

Co-founder and former CEO, Jack Dorsey gave the news a big thumbs up, tweeting “I’m really happy Elon is joining the twitter board! He cares deeply about our world and Twitter’s role in it”; as did the new Chief Executive Parag Agrawal who hinted that he had been working with Musk on product ideas for a few weeks.

The importance of the relationship between the Board and the Chief Executive cannot be underestimated. A good Board member can be a huge asset to the CEO; and if the Board as a whole trust the Chief Executive to action their strategy then the potential for long-term outcomes is considerably higher.

One of the most important interest areas surrounding Musk’s relationship with Twitter is whether he will have sway to action his preferred outcomes; which seem to be (1) making Twitter more usable; (2) reducing the ‘wokeness’ of the company and pushing it towards a ‘free speech’ platform; (3) opening up Twitters algorithm for transparency; and (4) cutting down on spam.

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Whilst improving the functionality and usability of Twitter is certainly achievable, with Musk wasting no time in seeking feedback on functional changes; and becoming a free speech platform is ‘easy’ in terms of business decisions; whether other Board members and management within the organisation will likely put up a bit of a fight on attempts to open up Twitters algorithm. Afterall, it may reveal some interesting information as to how the company deals with political debate; and whether the overt bias seen on the platform is real, or encouraged. The legal and reputational ramifications for this are unknown, but likely harsh.

Finally, whilst Twitter is influential in terms of the news agenda, it is far from being amongst the largest social media players in terms of users. As a result, whether removing spam, bots and sockpuppets is viable for the company is up for debate. My guess is that they’ll not act on this.

If the Tesla and SpaceX CEO sees this as a long-term engagement, which at this stage seems likely, then tangible change to the struggling platform is likely. However, do not underestimate the potential for lower-level employees in Silicon Valley to bite the hand that feeds them; and use operational shenanigans to bypass Board and executive orders. Activists rarely change their minds.

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To counter this, it might be worth Mr Musk insisting on a business rule-based audit committee at the company to ensure operational execution of strategy.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this article. Automatic translation from English to a growing list of languages via Google AI Cloud Translation. Commentary by Rob Phillips.

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