I know, I know. Yet another Elon story. Especially dangerous when what is written today is already tweeted away tomorrow by this generation’s Tony Stark. But it’s a story too big to disappear when so much cash — $44 billion — is disappearing. More like burning, as advertisers and employees leave both the easy way (voluntarily) or the hard way (not). It just gets worse for Musk (and sadly for Twitter employees) with each passing day. Shockingly worse.
Undoubtedly, Musk feels misunderstood throughout the chaos. After all, how could we mere mortals understand the logic behind his resource-depleting (and human-decimating) Twitter lark? Don’t we understand that Robert Downey Jr. has nothing on him? Elon is our very own visionary Iron Man who can do no wrong as he drives us onto bold new roads with Tesla and takes us into brave new worlds of space via SpaceX.
It’s not all doom and gloom in Musk land. He still boasts his armies of followers (more like disciples) – all 115 million-plus of them – who still thrive on his bombast and hang on his every tweet. Surely there is gold in them thar hills, and that’s exactly where Musk seems to be heading. Past most of us. Past Twitter’s communication platform glories of the past. And into brave new worlds of commerce, finance and Web3 with those who already worship him as the leader of the pack: the crypto bros.
To be fair, not all Musk followers are deep into the world of crypto. Nor are all of them bros. But those who aren’t are the silent majority. The true faithful are those who are loud and proud and will follow Musk wherever he takes them. And that central mission is no longer Mars. Now it’s into the worlds of payments and blockchain – you know, cryptocurrency, NFTs and all of that mind-bending stuff. Musk’s true plan may actually be to ditch ads. Why be beholden to the concerns of careful, content-moderation-needing advertisers when you can rip off that Band-Aid and openly bleed! He’s talked up the idea of a super-app, dubbed “X,” that would be a rival to WeChat, but with less chat and more transactions from the “we” who adore him. So all of these past weeks’ shenanigans may be one big tease. One giant head fake.
It’s kind of like the iconic film “The Usual Suspects.” The signs of Kaiser Soze are everywhere – if you only look closely and piece them together. First, immediately after Musk’s takeover, Twitter announced “NFT Tweet Tiles,” a new feature that will enable users to buy and sell NFTs via tweets. Not a bad idea since his followers already crave that world which is still just in its early days. I, for one, am a huge believer in the power and potential of NFTs (as I recently wrote in TheWrap). Yes, I know we are in the midst of the most frigid of “crypto winters.” But that doesn’t mean that Web3 and NFTs will somehow simply go gentle into that good night. There’s a reason why massive global brands like Nike continue to run fast among the chain’s blocks. Nike alone has generated about $200 million to date just on NFTs. Even stodgy old institutional bank J.P. Morgan is in the Web3 game.
Musk’s incessant chatter also increasingly focuses on transforming Twitter into a new form of payments, money transfer and overall financing. Let’s not forget that payment processing is in Musk’s DNA. He started his whole Iron Man thing by co-founding PayPal. So forget Venmo, Zelle and others of that ilk. “Just tweet it!” a la Nike. Elon may even pay his bros to do it. No crypto wallet needed. Just connect your old-world bank to your Twitter account and “bam!” — you got something. “OK, we’re gonna give you $10 and you can send it anywhere within Twitter,” he told the press last week. Since he’s already spent $44 billion, what’s a few more bucks here and there to juice his new Twitter world order?
And financial transactions mean many different things. Basic payments and money transfers, of course (high volume, but low commissions). But also bold new NFT sales and crypto transactions that will return once there is a thaw (perhaps with lower volume, but higher commissions and overall numbers). Just think about the possibilities. About 500 million tweets flutter about us each day (or about 6,000 every second). If Elon could convert just 1% of those into monetary transactions with an average $10 commission (numbers that certainly aren’t pie in the sky in a mind like his), that would generate $1.5 billion per month. Even if you cut that in half, you still land at $750 million per month, or $2.25 billion per quarter. That’s a helluva lot more than Twitter’s best quarterly revenues of about $1.5 billion in Q4 last year. And it’s a helluva lot more than can be generated by scared-off advertisers and $8 blue check-mark subscriptions (which CNBC estimates could at best reach $360 million quarterly if 15 million of us pay).
Sure, Musk has myriad other ideas to monetize Twitter (the man clearly doesn’t sleep), perhaps even ripping a page out of the playbooks of Google, Apple and other Big Tech giants by extracting a pound of flesh from the Creators whose work fuels their platforms and multitrillion-dollar valuations. That’s the whole $8 per month blue check-mark thing that gets most of the press.
And then there’s the former Twitter QB Jack Dorsey “Flea Flicker.” Twitter’s founder and once-resident Svengali always focused first on his payments platform Square. Dorsey did his own head-scratching thing when he bought Jay-Z’s music platform Tidal in 2021 – a move that has yet to bear fruit. Inspired by Mick and Keith, perhaps these Twitter Twins – these two frenemies – can toss their contentious talks aside, coalesce their transactional and entertainment visions, and tame all the haters together.
No doubt Musk will continue to bury us in a mountain of head-scratching tweets and scare off even more advertisers (which remains Twitter’s single source of revenue right now) by letting his not-so-quiet voice speak. Late last week, Musk characteristically proclaimed that his Twitter “will do lots of dumb things in coming months” and that “bankruptcy is not out of the question.” And most will take Musk at his word about his bird’s quest for uncaged, unhinged and frequently dangerous tweeting in the name of “free speech.” To Trump or not to Trump, that is the question! For Musk, it appears to be the former.
But is it all chaos? Or is it all just part of some diabolical plan? One certainty is this. Elon’s “X” factor and legions of crypto bros have his back no matter where Twitter flies.
For those of you interested in learning more, visit Peter’s firm Creative Media at creativemedia.biz and follow him on Twitter @pcsathy.