It seems to me that a lot of X’s current perceptual concerns could be solved if Elon and Co. established a media and comms team to clarify its public position on key elements.
Over the past week or so, both Elon and X CEO Linda Yaccarino have offered vague statements on certain elements, which has led to media speculation, some of it incorrect, or criticism where it may be unwarranted.
Like, for example, Elon alluding to X’s plan to charge users “a small monthly payment” to access X, in order to combat bots. That sparked widespread reports that X will soon charge all users, which isn’t exactly what Musk said, but in order for his bot-battling plan to be effective, he would effectively need the vast majority of X users to pay.
So he didn’t say it, but he kind of did, while Musk has also hinted at this possibility in the past.
An official comms team could have clarified this straight away, but with a press email that gives you an automatic “We’ll get back to you soon” response, media outlets are left to speculate, which logically sparked a flood of “X is planning to charge all users” headlines.
Yaccarino’s bizarre Code Conference interview this week, meanwhile, left people with a heap of questions, which Yaccarino seemed unwilling, or unsure how to answer.
How many daily active users does X have? How many monthly users? Is hate speech declining? All of these are numbers that you would assume Yaccarino would have on hand, while the question of whether X is actually planning to charge all users also went unanswered, with Yaccarino seemingly unsure what Musk had announced on this.
Which suggests, again, that it’s at least been discussed, but instead of providing any clarity or official stance, X was criticized once again, with Yaccarino herself now in the firing line for seemingly being, as noted in the interview, “CEO in name only.”
Instead, Yaccarino randomly posted some official stats and notes on X over the following days.
And our community is quite engaged — more than 500 million posts a day! @greg16676935420 — how many you up to today?
— Linda Yaccarino (@lindayaX) September 29, 2023
Which, in itself, further confused things, because this stat directly contradicts what Musk announced the previous week, when he said X is seeing 200 million posts per day.
For clarity, Musk said that:
“There are 500 million, um, 550 million monthly users, now going to maybe 600 million monthly users, and any given day there’s on the order of 100 to 200 million posts to the system.”
Elon did note that the number he shared was minus re-posts. But does that mean that there are 300 million re-posts per day? Seems like a lot, but maybe that’s correct.
We don’t know, of course, because we don’t have anyone to ask, so again, it’s left to speculation, and often criticism, or at the least, skepticism around X’s approach.
Which seemed to be part of what irked Yaccarino in her interview, that the media was focused on the past, that it was hyper-focused on metrics, while missing the bigger picture that X is treading entirely new ground, and is making amazing progress in this radical new direction.
Except, it’s not.
X has ambitions to become a whole new platform, which facilitates more video engagement, payments in-stream, shopping, banking, and more. That’s Elon’s “everything app” plan, but thus far, almost all of the innovations that X has come up with, which Yaccarino was so keen to highlight, have actually been old projects that the previous Twitter team had developed, and that the remaining X crew has simply pushed out, clearing its old development shelf.
Community Notes has been in development since 2021, Twitter has had live-streaming in-app since 2016, Twitter Blue was already being sold as a subscription package, they just added verification into the mix, then changed the name.
In terms of actual, start-to-finish, large-scale updates to the app, the X team hasn’t done much at all. Which makes sense, given that they’re now operating with a much, much smaller dev team, which is also coming up against code variations and mismatches that are making such updates increasingly difficult.
It’s very hard, for example, for the X team to get rid of all the bird references in the app, which it would love to do to compete its X re-brand. It’s very difficult for X to roll out large-scale video streaming updates, because it constantly needs to update several layers of code, on several servers.
It makes sense that this is difficult to navigate, and in this respect, the X team is definitely making progress. But it’s not innovating at some astronomical rate, at least from a users’ perspective. The UI is pretty much the same, the in-app experience is the same as always. Yaccarino can’t really be expecting showers of praise for the team’s progress, which are largely internal at this stage.
But again, this could all be clarified by an official comms team that could communicate X’s progress. Rather than have Yaccarino put on the spot, the comms team would have official stances in place, usage stats, progress updates, all of this information would be known, and ideally qualified with data, before Musk or Yaccarino is put before the media.
Maybe that’s not possible, given Musk’s off-the-cuff nature. Maybe that’s just not the way Musk operates, as per his long-held aversion to advertising.
It could also be that this is part of the plan, that all of this is the media game in itself, with each speculated update driving more media coverage.
If that’s the plan, it’s definitely working, as X is still sparking much media attention (including this very post). But it also seems damaging, the fact that the CEO and owner are seemingly at odds on certain elements, that its user numbers remain in question, that it won’t share its own official reports on hate speech.
If X has the data, why not share it, and silence the media debate? If X is going so well, why not back that up with the numbers on each element?
In the past, Musk has alluded to this being an element of his approach, that the media frenzy, good or bad, is actually good for business.
Maybe that’s it, and it doesn’t need a comms department. But it does seem like a lot of the confusion around the app could easily be addressed. The fact that it’s not suggests that the actual numbers are not as good as X keeps saying.