Some will see that as an apt metaphor for state of business at the social media platform. In changing Twitter’s famous blue logo to a black-and-white “X,” part of a sweeping rebrand that has alienated longtime users and left marketing experts perplexed, owner Elon Musk is trading a bird in the hand for the promise of a wide-ranging “everything app,” one analysts say may never materialize.
He is leaving behind a symbol of silliness, outrage and celebrity that meant something to hundreds of millions, even earworming its way into the dictionary.
“It has become a verb. That’s the holy grail,” said Forrester research director Mike Proulx. “This is a brand that has secured a place in our cultural lexicon. Musk has wiped out over 15 years of brand equity in the Twitter name.”
Twitter’s chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, said on the platform that the logo swap heralded larger shifts at the company as it transforms into a sweeping venture, encompassing commerce and an online payment system like the one Musk helped pioneer two decades ago at PayPal and a predecessor, X.com.
Yet marketing experts said that the move was an unnecessary gamble on a hazy future, coming from a platform with wide brand recognition. Though Twitter has weathered a year’s worth of bad news — its ad revenue is down 50 percent, alternatives are springing up, and regulators are circling — they said it would not make sense for the company to dodge by changing its handle, as some saw Facebook’s rebrand into Meta after the release of a trove of internal documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen.
“For most users and advertisers and folk in the tech world, the product itself is the problem,” said Boston College communications professor and branding expert Michael Serazio. “Putting a new name on it doesn’t change that in any material way.”
While striking, the letter X is hardly original when it comes to branding. Google has dubbed its start-up lab “X,” and Meta has trademarked a stylized version of the letter for its own social media.
The best argument, according to the marketers and many of Musk’s fans, is that what he is building will eclipse Twitter and the name change will force people to consider it as an entirely new venture, perhaps even one that deserves new investment and a shot at going public on the stock market.
Yaccarino declared that “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity,” including payments and the buying and selling of “goods, services, and opportunities” that will be “powered by AI.”
But that lofty vision is also an uphill climb.
“How many times has that worked in the past, where there is a big rebrand based on an original product failing? Where they rebranded to a larger strategy and pulled it off?” Serazio asked. “None come to mind.”
As Musk has welcomed back users banned from Twitter for breaking the platform’s rules against hate speech, the freewheeling discourse has sent some to new and unwieldy places, such as Mastodon and Meta’s Threads.
That atmosphere is an awkward fit for a company that hopes to persuade users to send money back and forth for unseen goods and services.
Then there are the security challenges that go with protecting such payments. Twitter’s security is so suspect that whistleblowers have said half the employees could make changes to the code without being detected or tweet as any user.
The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the company for lapses that may have put it in violation of prior agreements to protect user data.
U.S. and global finance regulators have more people and more power than the FTC, and they will be watching Musk closely.
“What the name change does is signal a new direction‚” said Forrester’s Proulx. “But to wipe the slate clean and start over, it takes time, money and people — three things that the company does not have right now.”
The identity switch follows other radical shifts Musk has pushed through since buying the global conversation platform for $44 billion in October.
Musk got rid of about three-fourths of Twitter’s staff, threw out rules against organized disinformation campaigns and personally engaged with accounts previously suspended for hate speech.
To drive more users to pay $8 a month for a premium experience that includes wider distribution and the ability to edit tweets, Musk imposed limits on the regular interface, most recently paring back the ability to send direct messages.
The Pew Research Center reported in May that a quarter of Twitter users said they did not expect to be using the platform in a year, further reducing the value of advertising.
A rebrand will probably make such a separation easier for those on the fence.
“I’ve been reluctant to leave Twitter entirely, but I have to tell you I won’t have a problem leaving X,” tweeted Hugo Award-winning science fiction author John Scalzi, a power user who has tweeted more than 170,000 times.
Linda Chong contributed to this report.