- This is an evolving story: updates appear at the end of this article.
Just a week ago, Musk posted a series of tweets indicating that the very name of the social network would be changed to ‘X’ with imminent effect. In one fell swoop (pun not intended) the social network was thrown into confusion and uncertainty. The roll-out of this re-branding began in haste that, over the course of this past week, saw the name changed to X (just the letter), and the familiar blue Twitter bird symbol being ditched as quickly as possible although the laws of physics and time made it so that this was a far from smooth, seamless and uniform act.
The new X symbol is an ugly, threatening-looking piece of work, in my view, Trumpian in its aggressive appearance. Musk took a very Darth Vader approach when he celebrated the unveiling of the black-and-white X atop the Twitter headquarters building in San Francisco last Thursday night PDT. All that was lacking in the video clip he posted was the Imperial March soundtrack.
There’s an irony here as you’ll note the text in the embedded tweet above saying “Watch on Twitter”. The original naming and imagery is everywhere and at scale so don’t expect to see single branding with the new X for a while: it will most likely roll out little by little and certainly not everywhere all at once.
It’s a far cry from the friendly blue bird that has become one of the most widely-recognised positive symbols of a brand although that image began a journey of tarnished reputation from Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter late last year. The blue bird is everywhere, from the obvious apps, social share buttons on websites and other online places, to a social address on a plumber’s van, to customer support channels, to just about anywhere you can think of where people connect with others.
It stood as a recognisable symbol of social connectivity around the world for over a decade, and its demise was marked by Martin Grasser, one of the team of three who designed the logo in 2012, in a Twitter thread.
The overall branding change prompted an outpouring of reactions such as the handful below and many more which you can find via the #TwitterBird hashtag.
I think it’s fair to say that reaction to the re-branding is mixed at best and falls mostly on the side of disbelief and non-understanding. The logo change has produced a huge outcry as the sampling of comments above indicates. And not liking it at all is a clear message from a user on Threads, Mark Zuckerberg’s Twitter competitor, that he succinctly expressed.
Of course, Musk is free to do whatever he wants with Twitter, and he’s doing precisely that. This is a man who does not align with accepted conventions and ways of doing things preferring instead to ignore if not actively trash behaviours that others comply with and that he dislikes.
By many reports, Musk is intent on converting Twitter into a one-stop super-app with features ranging from social networking and messaging like the old Twitter, to financial services including mobile payments and more such as those WeChat offers its one billion monthly active users in China (although that’s small beer compared to Facebook’s three billion monthly active users globally according to parent Meta).
Twitter/X CEO Linda Yaccarino articulated the benefits of the branding change in a series of tweets (and what do we call those now? Xeets? Xosts?) that have attracted tens of millions of views. The corporate messaging talks big but what, exactly, is the business strategy she’s explaining, and what does it all actually mean? One Mastodon user ran the messages through ChatGPT to get an analysis, and it makes for amusing if not pretty reading with the polite phrase “corporate waffle” springing to mind.
The post-Twitter era
As Musk’s latest act is not yet complete, much of what’s next is speculation and guessing, some of which no doubt will be poorly informed.
There is so much being changed that getting an understanding of what Twitter/X is becoming is hard. Maybe start by understanding what’s happened that has led to where we are now – TechCrunch has done a good job with a timeline of change to date.
It is clear that Elon Musk does have a grand vision for what he wants X to be – not simply a social network but the one-stop super-app I mentioned earlier – however poorly it’s being articulated. In terms of what to call this, the road ahead is littered with obstacles that might even challenge Musk’s steamroller approach to getting his own way without any compromises.
For instance, the very name ‘X’ has already hit some copyright and trademark buffers in Japan, while Reuters reports that hundreds of companies hold trademarks in various countries to the same letter. And Apple’s App Store won’t allow the iOS app to be listed as just the single-character ‘X’.
Perhaps referring to the current social network as ‘Twitter/X/whatever’ might be prescient.
In a credible assessment, The Guardian sees X as marking an everything or nothing gamble.
In business terms Mr Musk’s rivals are circling. Just a day after the rebrand news, the video-sharing platform TikTok responded with its own announcement that it was expanding into text-only posts. It joins Mark Zuckerberg’s Threads, which hit 100m sign-ups in its first five days earlier this month.The Guardian, 28 July 2023
Meanwhile, Wired states that the bird is dead but zombie Twitter is not, no matter what’s it called now or might be called next with the X rebrand currently far from complete.
As marketers and journalists debated the effects of the name change, and tweeters (x-ers?) eulogized the bird, the posts continued. In the months since Musk bought the platform, Twitter has proved somehow irreplaceable—even in its battered state.Wired, 29 July 2023
Yes, in spite of the continuing deterioration in civil discourse and the rampant pimping of products and services by users (and by Twitter/X), people do keep logging in to the platform and continue using it. I still do although for me it’s a clear and evident downward trend as I spend greater experiential time on T2 and Threads. Not so much on Bluesky as this is starting to exhibit some of the crude and unpleasant behaviours you see on Twitter if you’re not careful with your filtering.
Twitter was a go-to source for news, politics, sports, and entertainment—along with misinformation and hate speech. In recent months, the platform’s issues have gotten worse while tech glitches have also arisen. People have more than once gathered to reminisce and mourn the death of Twitter. But each new day, it’s still there. And despite the frustrations, people keep logging in.Wired, 29 July 2023
And here are two thoughtful perspectives from Slate in a long piece on the post-Twitter influence reset:
Twitter isn’t dead yet, and it remains to be seen if the platform will truly flatline in the grand tradition of Friendster or MySpace. But that’s not for its leader’s lack of trying.
[…] A post-Twitter order will be better for journalism and better for mental health. The only trade-off is a diminished professional footprint. Is that a good deal or a bad deal? Nobody seems to know for sure.Slate, 27 July 2023
Let’s not forget that Twitter has long been a significant communication channel for journalists and politicians. Politico Europe takes a snapshot view across media and politics at the heart of the EU machine in Brussels with some frank and highly candid opinions from over a dozen influential voices in the EU centre of power, “a city where no parliamentary discussion or Commission initiative can go by without a witty tweet and an attendant hail of sarcastic replies and barbed quotes”. If I were to summarise the sentiment I read in the article, it is: this re-branding sucks!
I expect that the EU Bubble will continue to sail on this Titanic-shaped social media [platform] for the foreseeable future. We are all stuck on X because there is no equivalent on the market providing the same features with the same scale, but the day a serious equivalent appears on the market, Musk just made sure there would be no brand attachment to keep us on X.Politico Europe, 30 July 2023
And so we look out on a landscape that presents little clarity for Twitter/X users and advertisers alike. For users, it might not yet be time for the leave-or-stay decision but it surely is almost past time for having an escape plan ready for when that moment appears – and it might be a sudden moment.
For advertisers, the present uncertainty stimulates FUD when there are budgets at stake. This could be a moment to revise and consider again traditional marketing and advertising approaches. And consider what you’ll do if your monetizable audiences on Twitter/X reduce sharply or even disappear entirely.
[11 August 2023:] Another example of the continuing bull in a china shop behaviour of Elon Musk was illustrated this week by X’s hijacking of the Twitter handle @music from its original owner who claimed it 16 years ago. No discussion, no warning, just the grab with a mealy-mouthed “offer” of an alternative in exchange.
There are more examples of this behaviour following the first instance over the @X handle last month. It’s a worrying trend as it could happen to anyone, to any company or organisation, with a handle that Musk would like to have for X. Add this to your ‘cons’ column about X.
You may not be a fan, but the X re-brand looks like it’s here to stay as new brand guidelines were published last week.
At least now it’s clearer how the overall brand elements – logos, typeface, etc – fit together and how you should use them. It’s clearly an update to the original Twitter guidelines from October 2020 that are still available for download.
Others have logo ideas, though.
It’s debatable, though, whether Musk would warm to any idea of an alt to his X. But maybe he might. At least his unpredictability is predictable.
[3 August 2023:] The most interesting development (subjective, I know) today is a lengthy post by Twitter/X CEO Linda Yaccarino published on the X blog yesterday PDT. The post talks about innovation for the future and lists what Yaccarino describes as “achievements” each month since November 2022, the month after Elon Musk closed the deal to buy Twitter.
Yaccarino says “the pace of innovation speaks for itself”. I’d argue that it certainly doesn’t given the chaos and FUD that accompanies just about every event surrounding Twitter/X these days. What the content lacks in quality, it certainly makes up for in spades with quantity. It’s a long laundry list of events, all presented in a rosy light, in bullet-point form.
Some explanation would be very good for the company right now, although doing it in a blog post wouldn’t be how I’d recommend that. Perhaps a concise and authentic summary would have been good. This is a time when counsel and advice from experienced communicators would be very helpful to Yaccarino. Sharon O’Dea tweeted that point very nicely.
[1 August 2023:] It seems that Elon Musk inherited Mark Zuckerberg’s phrase of “move fast and break things” from Facebook’s early years as that could apply to the rapid pace of change we’re seeing, with breakages occurring in unobvious ways.
Major developments since I posted this article just yesterday:
- “Is X bracing for exodus?” Some of the 1,350 Twitter/X employees are still receiving regular stock grants and the occasional windfalls have been enough to keep them at their jobs over the past year of tumult, writes Casey Newton in his latest Platformer newsletter. Today, those employees will receive their final grant of $54.20 stock. And the question is how many of them will stay much longer.
- San Francisco residents and the city council took great exception to Musk’s huge illuminated ‘X’ sign on top of the Twitter/X building. The city council ordered it to be removed immediately. That happened late yesterday.
- Apple made a u-turn and agreed to the iOS ‘X’ app being listed after all in the App Store.
- The headline in The Pink News article on 31 July says it all – Elon Musk trashes what remains of Twitter with death of ‘retweet’ and excruciating new ‘X’ tagline.