Elon Musk is the latest rich man to fall into the Twitter trap.
For almost its entire 16-year existence, Twitter has had a reputation for not living up to its potential and could be so much more. The conundrum of Twitter is that it’s widely known but underused, financially successful but not wild, sometimes expertly managed but also chaotic, and influential in ways that are exciting yet terrifying.
The perennial belief that Twitter is one big idea that isn’t great has made a lot of people think about buying the company just to let it shine, but hardly anyone wants to actually own it.
Whether you’re addicted to Twitter or part of the majority of the world who don’t use the app, what happens to this company matters. Twitter is a digital meeting place that world leaders increasingly fear and want to control, and where elected officials, activists, journalists and executives like Musk spread their messages and settle scores.
Musk made a half-baked proposal last week to buy Twitter, effectively giving the company a for sale sign. What happens next is a guess.
Perhaps Musk will eventually take ownership of Twitter, if he stays interested long enough to find money bags to help him pay his roughly $43 billion bid. Maybe another billionaire, tech company, or financial investor will buy it instead. Maybe no one is buying Twitter.
Read more about Elon Musk and his Twitter bid
The billionaire’s bid could be worth more than $40 billion and have far-reaching implications for the social media company.
Living with an uncertain future is nothing new to Twitter. You could spend days counting the number of times companies considered buying the social media site, or there were rumors of a potential sale.
Twitter has been for sale forever, partly for technical reasons. Unlike some tech and media companies, including Google, Facebook, and DailyExpertNews, Twitter doesn’t have a special type of stock that allows its founders to do anything but veto a sale.
But there is also the perennial belief that Twitter should be something other than it is. There’s no shortage of people who believe that all Twitter needs is a solution — an editing feature, different management, a new type of technology backbone, a shift in advertising strategy, lower costs and app tweaks, or more lax expression rules, like Musk. want to.
Politicians and other influential figures, including Musk, regularly complain that Twitter is censoring too much or too little. And investors in Twitter are constantly saying that the company is not making enough money.
If I could sum it up in one sentence, it would be that Twitter is not Facebook, which has 23 times Twitter’s annual revenue and nearly two billion daily users against Twitter’s 217 million. (The companies count users slightly differently, but you get the point.)
“Twitter’s cultural influence is as great as Facebook’s and yet it’s one-twentieth the size,” said Mark Mahaney, who has been following Twitter for years as an investment analyst at Evercore ISI. That makes people ask, “‘What’s wrong with Twitter?'” he said.
And yet the people and companies who have looked closely at buying Twitter are usually put off. In 2016, Disney withdrew its flirtation with buying it, in part because executives worried about the company’s family-friendly image if it had an unruly social media app. The Salesforce boss, Marc Benioff, changed his mind when Salesforce’s investors resented the idea of an enterprise software company that would own Twitter.
The government agencies most likely wouldn’t allow companies that seem like a good fit for Twitter, including Google and Facebook, to buy it due to antitrust issues.
Twitter is too big, but not big enough either. It’s good, but also not good enough. It’s not Facebook, which makes people want to buy it, but also don’t want to. Twitter can give any owner influence, but also unwanted heat.
Musk may be one of the few people in the world brave (or foolish) enough to want to own Twitter and actually do it. Perhaps Musk is the one who can finally unleash Twitter’s potential. Or maybe he’s just getting on the long list of people who once believed they could.
Before we go…
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