What Business Leaders Can Learn From Elon Musk’s Early Actions And Decisions About Twitter

A week after taking ownership of Twitter, Elon Musk faces several crises. Indeed, the company may have set a record for the number of crises to hit an organization so quickly.

Any one of the crises—such as the firing on Friday of thousands of employees, the dramatic drop in revenue caused by the growing number of companies that are pulling back on their advertising, the opposition from advocacy groups, or the loss of a million users—would pose a serious challenge to any organization.

Musk is confronting every one of these challenges—and moreall at once.

The self-inflicted nature of his crises which resulted from his actions and posts —and how he is managing the situations—-provide crucial lessons for corporate executives.

8 Key Lessons

Tell Your Side Of The Story

Act quickly to tell your side of the story about a crisis and the reasons behind your actions.

The BBC reported that “Yoel Roth, the company’s head of safety and integrity, appeared to confirm in a tweet thread that ‘approximately 50%’ of Twitter’s workforce had been cut company-wide.

“He added that most of the 2,000+ content moderators ‘working on front-line review’ were not impacted by the cuts.

“Mr. Musk posted his own comments, saying he was presented ‘no choice’ over what he called Twitter’s ‘reduction in force, as the company was losing $4 million a day.

“He insisted that all those losing their jobs were offered three months of severance pay, ‘which is 50% more than legally required.’”

Have The Right Priorities

In any crisis, it is important to decide what to do or say and how those actions or words should be prioritized.

“Musk, in trying to pitch an anything-goes philosophy when it comes to managing content on Twitter, is alienating the people it needs most for it to thrive,” Nicholas Creel, an assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and State University, said via email.

“Advertisers and Twitter users alike are simply unwilling to be a part of the platform if he goes through with these changes, and yet he seemingly remains committed to seeing it through,” he predicted.

“The lesson here is that if [a] company wants to be financially successful [it] has to consider the desires of the stakeholders that are vital to its success,” Creel advised.

Review Communication Plans

“Business leaders can benefit from Twitter’s very publicly unfolding situation to review their own company communication plans for when they, themselves, are thrust into the media spotlight,” Carla Bevins, an assistant teaching professor of business communication at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, said via email.

Process Matters

“While Musk uses an “I wing it’ approach, the majority of other CEOs employ detailed, the long-term company plans that involve communication professionals, lawyers, and advisors,” she noted.

‘Control The Narrative’

“Quickly communicating your company’s responses is key. In business, it’s essential to quickly control the narrative your company is sending out.

“If you don’t take control of the information that’s being communicated from your company, then there’s a good chance someone else will fill that information gap and shine the spotlight on your company when you might not be ready. It can be difficult to bring a situation back under control if online and social media create an alternative narrative to the one you want to share. Clear and continual communication is essential,” Bevins advised.

Be Consistent

“Musk tweets a message, backs down from it, and/or deletes it completely. Musk’s conversation with Steven King about charging $20 for verification via the blue check is a great example.

“As business leaders, it can be disorienting and frustrating to employees and consumers when there is a lack of message consistency from a company,” Bevins commented.

“My advice for business professionals, regardless of your communication style, be intentional with your word choice and the audiences with whom you’re communicating. You want others to listen to you, so connecting with them and building trust with them is important. Recognize that words have power well beyond a single tweet,” she said.

Customize Tone, Messages and Communicaton Style

“Elon Musk’s communication style is more casual, and as a result, different pieces of him resonate with a variety of different people. As business leaders, it’s important to think about how your tone and message style fit with your target audience’s needs.

“Elon Musk has demonstrated there can be little accountability when he acts impulsively or ‘brainstorms in public’ his ideas about Twitter-on Twitter. Business leaders need to work closely with their communication team to best use the power of social media for positive brand-building,” Bevins advised.

‘Be Intentional’

“My advice for business professionals, regardless of your communication style, [is to] be intentional with your word choice and the audiences with whom you’re communicating. You want others to listen to you, so connecting with them and building trust with them is important. Recognize that words have power well beyond a single tweet,” she concluded.

Dodging Another Crisis?

In the aftermath of the layoff of thousands of Twitter workers, there’s a potential crisis—backlash from investors—that Musk might be able to avoid.

That’s according to Vivek Astvansh, an assistant professor of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, who studied how stock investors responded to more than 30,000 layoff announcements by U.S. companies between 1980 and 2020.

“I found that layoffs framed as proactive management do not elicit a penalty from investors. Proactive layoffs are those aimed at cost-cutting, consolidation of operations, boosting efficiency, or restructuring. In contrast, layoffs made after a drop in demand, financial distress, or low earnings receive a punitive reaction from investors,” he noted.

“Musk has cited a drop in revenue—triggered by social activists pressuring advertisers—as the reason for laying off employees. I view this reason as forward-looking and thus proactive, meaning that investors may not penalize Twitter,” Astvansh observed.

“If this happens, investor reaction would be against the public sentiment that Musk’s heavy-handedness has brought uncertainty for Twitter and the tech industry,” he noted.