The billionaire could be forced by justice to acquire a social network which he ultimately does not want. For Twitter, it’s a deep crisis that is already keeping advertisers away.
Distracted employees, cold customers, management with tied hands and an opaque future: Elon Musk’s interest in Twitter, then his attacks and finally his rejection, put the Tom Thumb of social networks in a very bad patch.
“The ideal for me would be that he leaves us alone, so that we can continue our merry way,” summarizes a Twitter employee, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
This engineer evokes the departure of several employees and above all a “climate of uncertainty which does not lead to a truly serene state of mind”. “We are still trying to continue to do our work normally, because the main reasons why we chose to work for Twitter are intact,” he tempers.
Since mid-April – when Elon Musk expressed his desire to buy this “public square” – the social network has been subjected to a barrage of attacks and mockery from the multi-billionaire.
“Musk’s repeated disparagement of Twitter and its staff creates uncertainty and delays that harm Twitter and its shareholders,” summarized the lawyers for the blue bird in the complaint filed Tuesday against the boss. of Tesla and SpaceX, to force it to keep its commitment to buy the platform at the price agreed at the end of April.
The businessman’s remarks “also expose Twitter to adverse consequences for its business operations, its employees and its share price”, they continued.
“Twitter is going through a massive image crisis,” eMarketer analyst Debra Williamson told AFP.
“We think the most loyal advertisers have stayed, but those for whom Twitter isn’t a priority may have scaled back their spending while they wait for this to settle down.”
Elon Musk repeated at will, without proof, that the network was infested with fake accounts, in a proportion much higher than that given by the Californian company (5%).
“Attracting new advertisers is not easy when they wonder if a good part of your users are bots”, remarks Kellis Landrum, boss of the marketing agency True North Social.
Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, thinks the libertarian leader has mostly scared brands by criticizing content moderation.
The fight against hate and disinformation is widely defended internally and by the American left, but also by many advertisers, anxious not to be associated with “toxic” messages.
In early May, during an annual marketing event where big advertising contracts are negotiated, Twitter “failed to reassure them”, says the media specialist. “They didn’t sell as much as usual at all. And it’s been soft ever since.”
The San Francisco-based social network can’t afford to lose customers. Unlike its neighbors (Google and Meta) who make staggering profits from digital advertising, Twitter lost hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020 and 2021.
The group will capture less than 1% of global advertising revenue in 2022, according to eMarketer, compared to 12.5% for Facebook, 9% for Instagram and nearly 2% for the very young TikTok. And its user base could shrink in the United States, predicts Debra Williamson.
Elon Musk once made investors dream, evoking the goal of reaching one billion users, without specifying how he would achieve it.
Now, “we are witnessing a legal battle that will end either with Twitter in the bosom of an owner who ultimately does not want it, or with Twitter alone and weaker than before,” notes the analyst.
The case is set to last for months, in a difficult economic context, which requires rapid adjustments in strategy, to monetize new audio and video formats, diversify sources of income, attract younger audiences, etc.
“Facebook can react to problems. Twitter is stuck, they can’t make any major decisions”, elaborates Angelo Carusone.
Lawyers for the social network also criticize Elon Musk for not having validated “two employee retention programs designed to keep key executives during a period of intense uncertainty, caused in large part by his erratic behavior”.
Internally, some employees have also lost confidence in their management, which they would have liked to be more combative against the richest man in the world.
Parker Lyons, a financial analyst for the company, tweeted several “memes” (parody images) where the board came across as cruel and unscrupulous, sacrificing the tweeting platform for the benefit of shareholders.