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Is Twitter’s rebranding to X under Musk really a failed move?

As X (formerly Twitter) turns a year of age under Elon Musk’s leadership, BestMediaInfo.com speaks to industry players about the platform’s rebranding and tries to decode if the rebrand was necessary, and explores if a subtler approach could have avoided the ruckus it created for the platform

What originally began as an SMS-based communication platform started by Jack Dorsey and Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams in March 2006 and later on went on to raise $1.8 billion from the IPO until it finally was finally taken over by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in what is believed to be a turbulent move in October last year.

Not to forget the part where billionaire Musk walked into Twitter’s HQ with an actual sink and posted a video of the same along with the caption, “Entering Twitter HQ – let that sink in!” after taking over the platform in a $44 billion bid.

Since then, the microblogging platform has undergone a slew of changes (from a brand perspective) ranging right from Twitter being renamed ‘X’ or what Musk plans to make it- ‘The Everything App’ to the iconic Blue Bird logo being replaced by the stylised ‘X’ symbol, amongst other things that have impacted the very being of the social network.

The case of Twitter’s rebranding may be curious, but it is not the first time that a social media and networking platform has undergone a name change or rebranding. It was in 2021 that Mark Zuckerburg, CEO of erstwhile Facebook, decided to bet big on virtual reality and develop the Metaverse.

Having said that, the transitioning of Twitter to X hasn’t been as chronicled as that of Facebook revamping itself as Meta. And the traces of the same are not just limited to the varied points of digital footprint of the microblogging platform but also in the mind space of the users who were once referred to as ‘Twittterattis’ in common lingo.

In fact, as per a recent study conducted by WARC (An Ascential Company), citing data from the brand tracking company, Tracksuit, which surveyed 3,172 consumers in Australia, the UK and US about Twitter’s rebranding found that even though only 8% of contributors were unfamiliar with the recent alteration in its name, over 31% of respondents had a negative reaction to this change, versus 22% with positive views—a net gap of nine points.

Moreover, it was after the rebranding of the microblogging platform that X’s web usage and app downloads both declined, despite user churn rising.

“Before the rebrand, one study estimated that Twitter’s value had already dropped by 32%, or $3.2 billion, year on year following Musk’s takeover; after the rebrand, industry-watchers pegged that figure at between $4 billion and $20 billion,” the report mentioned.

Taking into consideration all of these factors and the fact that this October the platform completed a year under Musk’s leadership, BestMediaInfo.com reached out to industry players to decode if Twitter’s rebranding to X was actually the right choice to make since the masses still associate Musk's 'Everything App' with its former name.

Sandeep Goyal

Speaking to BestMediaInfo.com, Sandeep Goyal, Chairman and MD, Rediffusion, pointed out that even though Bombay had been renamed as Mumbai many years back, certain sections of people still prefer calling Mumbai by its old name, i.e., Bombay.

“It takes a lot of time for something like a name that is ingrained inside you for n number of years to change. And that has been the case of Twitter as well because however one may wish for it to be different, the fact of the matter is that it will take time, maybe two-five years or even more—for people to actually start calling it as X,” he said.

In fact, in his view, as long as the term ‘tweet’ exists, the brand name- Twitter, even despite the rebranding will largely remain Twitter. And this, as per him, is not a concern or angst for the brand, because things do take time.

Giving context to his statement, he went on to share the example of Meta which was earlier known as Facebook and emphasised that in the case of the same, the transitioning, in terms of what people call the platform post rebranding, has been far more accelerated and has now been around for a couple of years. The same fate can come X’s way as well, in his view, a few years down the line when the word X will catch on far more than Twitter.

Ashwini Deshpande

As per Ashwini Deshpande, Director and Co-Founder, Elephant Design, if one visits the fundamental reasons for any rebranding, it is fairly clear why Twitter was actually rebranded.

Back when it started, Twitter's purpose was to help people share their thoughts and feelings in short messages with an audience they could not reach any other way. However, the new purpose of the entity is to be a super app that will accelerate all aspects of the users’ personal and commercial life. It is now supposed to be an app for broadcasting messages, news, promotions, transactions and so on. Since the purpose has changed, rebranding was necessary. 

“I have my reservations about the name itself, but I am aligned with the reasons and idea of rebranding. That being said, I do not think the rebranding of Twitter to X is a failed exercise. Also, for a brand that exists online, there is no need to do the change in a phased manner or over a longer period as that would only lead to confusion,” she said.

Soumitra Karnik

On the other hand, Soumitra Karnik, an Independent Creative Consultant, also shared the viewpoint that rebranding Twitter as X was a bold move, whether it was also the right one, is questionable.

If sources are to be believed, then this haste has gobbled up several billion dollars from its value. Twitter wasn't just a name; it was a powerful cultural brand with a strong place in the lives of millions of people. It sometimes takes generations for a brand to reach that stage of iconography. You could say ‘tweet’ and ‘retweet’ to almost anyone around the world, and they'd know what you meant. That kind of recognition is priceless, and it didn't need to change.

“Musk’s ambition for X is to evolve from a microblogging platform to a multifaceted ‘everything app’ that will let its users do banking, messaging, and even Video Calling. Adding these new features could surely be exciting, but Twitter already had the reputation, loyalists and global presence to introduce these without having to start from scratch. By turning into X overnight, that instant emotional connection millions had with Twitter has been lost,” he opined.

Also, while there may be a large fandom for Musk’s swashbuckling personal style, when it comes to things like banking, etc., people, as per Karnik, tend to be conservative and are wary of founders who are known for making impactful decisions in a rush.

“Small businesses, websites, and even big corporations are still using the “Larry” bird logo to direct customers and users to their social media conversations. Changing it so quickly to ‘X’ overlooked the trust and value built up over the years. It's like moving out of a home we all loved, without a real reason to leave,” he said.

In just one year of Twitter’s leadership change, the platform has not only put an end to the brand name Twitter and killed the bird logo in July 2023 but has also lost more than half of its valuation and is now worth only $19 billion.

During this time, it is the App downloads have fallen 38%, Monthly Active Users have gone down 14% and ad revenue in the US has fallen 60% as per various media reports.

Upon being questioned if it was the ‘Musk-effect’ which were to be blamed for the supposedly unsuccessful rebranding effort, Elephant Design’s Deshpande stated that while it is very difficult to separate the brand as an entity from its promoters and their vision for the brand, a promoter's persona is bound to reflect upon the brand and it can be an advantage if used well.

“We have seen that happen for Virgin or closer home, for Tata Group or Mahindra Group's brands when the promoters chose to align themselves with brand launches. As Twitter changed hands, and subsequently its purpose, the time was right for the rebranding. Stating again, I have my reservations about the brand name, the logo and how it was thrust upon the users,” she said.

To this, Karnik also added that the Musk effect certainly played a significant role in the public's unimpressed reaction to the rebranding of Twitter to X.

“Elon Musk is a polarising figure; his OTT personal brand is characterised by radical changes and unpredictable actions. This can breed both excitement and uncertainty. Remember the hilarious hammer strike blooper during the Cybertruck launch? People remember such events and these shape their overall perception, especially when a company seems to mirror the owner’s own personality,” he said.

Karnik also opined that the takeover of Twitter by Musk was literally a public broadcast of a comedy of errors and his cavalier experiments with the grey badge, despite Twitter's strict FTC commitments to cybersecurity and privacy, reflected his disregard for potential regulatory repercussions. It showed he's not too concerned about following regulatory rules, despite the serious promises Twitter has made to protect user privacy and data.

“Rebranding is always a large and complicated move and requires very careful handling. Twitter’s rebranding, the way it happened, felt like a big fat ugly spat or a game of Russian roulette,” he stated.

Additionally, he also pointed out that the site migration is a nightmare. Twitter.com in its 17 years of presence has accumulated approximately 12 million ranking keywords on Google.com alone. An SEO equity worth its weight in gold!

Drawing a line of differentiation between the erstwhile Twitter and current day’s X, he pointed out that Twitter's original brand and the new X are like two different worlds- Twitter was simple yet powerful and all about tweets, retweets, and hashtags. Moreover, people knew it as a place to catch up with the world and join in on big conversations. But now, X is trying to be a lot more—it's a big jump, trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. In fact, the X logo, replacing the familiar bird, signifies a shift towards a more diverse digital space, but also one that's less distinct in its identity.

In Deshpande’s opinion as well, Twitter’s original identity encouraged a lighter, casual tone of voice because of its name, logo and the lingo it had successfully built, something very few brands manage to do.

Words like Twitterati, Tweeple and Retweet had become commonly used words. Tweets and discussions based on hash-tagged topics were hotly debated on other platforms as well. 'Trending' found a new meaning with Twitter.

As explained at the launch, X, in her views represented “imperfections” that make humans unique, but it is too desolate a word and it is yet to be seen if any associations will be built around the explanations.

However, rebranding certainly needed to build quick and widespread associations with the user base.

Furthermore, Karnik also suggested that the number one strategy for Twitter to prevent itself from getting re-owned and rebranded as X would have been a hands-on founder- a woke Jack Dorsey seemed so disconnected from his own business and its dynamic needs.

“No innovations were coming from Twitter. The only innovation was an increase from 140 characters to 280. They should have kept pace with the Googles and the FBs. Also, besides ad revenue and data licensing, Twitter could have looked at more ways to monetise its platform. No one has tried to experiment with a followers-based revenue model. Isn’t that what it’s all about? More the followers, more the influence? So charge people with mega following for utilising the platform. Quite like the tax slabs,” he suggested.


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