Sorry, Linda Yaccarino. X Is Not Going to Get Any Better

CEO Linda Yaccarino efforts to win back advertisers to the former Twitter will be continually sabotaged by Elon Musk.

| Updated on: Sep 20 2023, 17:12 IST
5 Tech Titans who reacted to Twitter-killer Threads - Jack Dorsey to Elon Musk, check it out
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1/7 On their part, Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, posted this note on the Threads app, “Here we go. We have lots of work to do, but we’re looking to build an open, civil place for people to have conversations.” (REUTERS)
2/7 At the same time, Meta Platforms CEO, Mark Zuckerberg said, "Our vision is to take the best parts of Instagram and create a new experience for text, ideas, and discussing what's on your mind.” (AP)
3/7 Elon Musk - While Musk did not directly talk about the Threads app, the Twitter chief took a dig at Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comment about how Twitter runs, saying, “It is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram.” Musk also responded to a meme with a laughing emoji on Twitter which showed a keyboard with copy-and-paste buttons, implying that Threads was just a copycat of Twitter. (REUTERS)
4/7 Jack Dorsey - The former Twitter CEO and current co-founder of Bluesky Social mocked the similar interface of several Twitter alternatives in a tweet. He wrote, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 7 Twitter clones.” (REUTERS)
5/7 Bill Gates - Announcing his arrival on the new microblogging platform, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wrote on Threads, “I’m excited to jump into @threadsapp,” while also sharing a GIF of him jumping over a chair. (REUTERS)
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6/7 Carl Pei - Nothing co-founder and CEO Carl Pei has also joined Threads. In his first post, he wrote, “I don’t know if Threads is going to make it or not, but at least it has closed the door for Bluesky.” (Bloomberg)
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7/7 M.G. Siegler - In a tweet, M.G. Siegler, general partner at Google Ventures wrote about Threads, “Sort of strange that Instagram is about to launch Threads to try to eat Twitter just as Retro is starting to eat Instagram Stories…” (Google Ventures)
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Elon Musk and Linda Yacarrino have insisted advertisers are coming back. (AP)

I've had a running joke on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter for a while, though I don't think it's all that funny anymore. Frankly, it probably never was. It goes like this: Whenever Elon Musk does something obviously repulsive to his customers — that's advertisers — I declare it “another great weekend” for X Corp. Chief Executive Officer Linda Yaccarino and her efforts to bring back ad revenue.

Consider this past weekend, when Musk's deft helping hand included ​​​​offering his support to comedian Russell Brand, who has been accused of rape and sexual assaults, according to British media reports. (He has denied any wrongdoing.) Musk also called “legacy” media companies “supervillains of speech suppression.” And, a week after threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League and blaming it in part for X's drop in revenue, Musk chose to say George Soros' foundation “appears to want nothing less than the destruction of Western civilization.”

With all that lunacy, I'm sure Yaccarino's phone is just ringing off the hook with advertisers desperate to be associated with it.

Of course, Musk is entitled to his views and is free to post them on the service he inexplicably spent $44 billion to acquire. And Yaccarino is free to agree with him. But if her goal —  her measure of success —  is to bring ads back to X, then surely she has seen all the evidence she needs to know that will be impossible. Conditions are not going to improve. Musk isn't prepared to control his impulses, if they can even be called that any longer. As the saying goes, if someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Or rather, if someone shows you who they are, weekend after weekend, post after post, believe them the second, third, fourth and fifth time.

When Yaccarino was appointed to the job in mid-May, I was one of many who suggested that the prospect of Musk giving up power seemed unlikely. His new role of “chief technology officer” spoke to being more hands-on, not less. And having previously said the CEO job would be filled once he had found someone “foolish enough to take the job,” you wondered who would be the sort to take it on. In theory, Yacarrino, an NBC executive, made a lot of sense, a rare glimmer of good judgment. She is an advertising guru with years of experience dealing with the kind of clients X has lost. The question was whether Musk would give her a fighting chance.

In hindsight — and also, er, foresight — she was losing before she even began. “Freedom of speech is paramount,” Musk insisted to a bunch of advertisers during an on-stage interview with Yaccarino, who was still at NBC at the time. She had been desperately trying to coach him to say at least one sentence that might reassure the room. She failed, and yet it was after this event Yaccarino was said to have convinced Musk to let her take “charge,” which realistically meant picking up the jobs Musk didn't deem important or care to do.

In the four months since, Yaccarino must have come to dread weekends. At the beginning of the week, as has been well documented, Musk typically dedicates his energy to his other companies — Tesla, SpaceX and others — before turning his attention to X toward the end. This is when the nuttiness begins, like that time he suddenly rebranded Twitter to “X,” adopted a cheap logo suggested by a follower and had some people strap a big luminescent X to the roof of the building, only for it to be taken down for breaking a host of city rules. It's unclear how much warning Yaccarino had of the change. X did not respond to requests for comment.

Even when Musk may think he is helping, he is not. Also over the weekend, Musk highlighted a recent video by Tucker Carlson, claiming the ex-Fox News agitator now has a viewership that exceeds the entire US population. Hogwash. A “view” on X — according to a page outlining its metrics — is counted whenever someone sees 50% of the video for at least two seconds. So if you refresh your Twitter feed and scroll past the video without caring about it, it counts. That is not, in any fathomable way, a comparable statistic to what a cable TV channel, and therefore advertisers, would consider a valuable viewer worth paying to reach. On YouTube, for comparison, a “view” is counted when user actively initiates a video (i.e, presses play) and watches for at least 30 seconds.

Putting aside the fact that many brands would rather sponsor a serial killer's wake than be seen anywhere near Carlson, the wildly overstated viewership erodes any kind of trust advertisers may have had around how their ads might perform. It makes Yaccarino's job all the more difficult.

When all this comes home to roost is not clear. Musk and Yacarrino have insisted advertisers are coming back. They said it in August, June, May, April and December. Trusted external evidence says otherwise. “X Unlikely to Win Back Advertisers Before Holiday Season,” read a recent Bloomberg headline. And as an added bonus, Musk could be on the verge of cratering engagement further by installing some kind of paywall for all X users.

So here's what the future could bring. Yaccarino, citing misplaced but maybe not unreasonable optimism, could resign and say the situation was unworkable. Or she could wait for Musk to lose confidence for some reason or another — maybe a mild bit of pushback on strategy — after which she is thrown to the wolves, like the other former executives who have been fired. Option three, she goes down with the ship, whenever that finally happens.

What is quite clear is that no marketers in their right mind should go near X today. Musk's bad judgments are escalating, and while Yaccarino might tell advertisers their brands won't appear near any undesirable content, the available stock of “good” content on X feels smaller than ever. As far as brands are concerned, it's no longer question of what Musk has done, but what he might do next.

Dave Lee is Bloomberg Opinion's US technology columnist. Previously, he was a San Francisco-based correspondent at the Financial Times and BBC News.

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First Published Date: 20 Sep, 17:10 IST