The media circus surrounding Twitter and Tesla chief Elon Musk doesn't seem to be dying down. Twitter recently said it would sue Musk to force him to honour his US$44 billion deal to purchase the company. This came after the social media company accused Musk of "knowingly, intentionally, willfully and materially" breaching an agreement to buy Twitter. He backed out of the US$44 billion deal on 8 July. Twitter also released a statement saying that it is committed to closing the transaction on the price and terms agreed upon with Musk, explaining that it had not breached its obligations under the merger agreement.
Aside from Musk, Twitter has also had to fight its own PR battle when it admitted to overstating user numbers for approximately three years, which also resulted in Musk accusing the company of misleading the public about the number of spam bots that form Twitter's users.
Even its employees are concerned about Musk taking over Twitter because of his preferences to reduce headcount and content moderation as well as limit remote work, Reuters reported . Reuters reported that an employee does not believe the circus is over and a few others only felt "more weary about the road ahead". Separately, Twitter said in a filing on Wednesday that it is not planning company-wide layoffs but could likely continue to restructure the business.
As exhausting as this journey seems for Twitter's employees in general, one can only imagine how tiring it is for the PR and communications team which is often relied upon to manage an image of the brand and of course step in for damage control. While it is definitely in their area of expertise, PR professionals know all too well what it's like to have to swoop in and clean up a mess - especially a really public one.
Hence, the team at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reached out to industry players to find out what exactly would they do if they were a comms person working at Twitter.
Peter de Kretser, co-founder and CEO, GO Communications
If I were a comms person working at Twitter right now ... I would most probably run or tweet for the hills! Protracted legal proceedings will ensure the impasse of these two colossal goliaths will not end anytime soon – the comms strategy needs to look at the Super Bowl "long game"! One of Twitter’s highest users and followers, Musk, has clearly stated he wants out all the while his bedrock, Tesla, continues to take a share price nosedive! Singlehandedly, the unpredictable magnate has smashed the credibility of the platform, undermined leadership, disintegrated employee morale and alarmed advertisers faster than one can type 280 characters. If it isn’t working internally, forget about the rest!
A concise and clear internal stakeholder strategy to revitalise team morale and provide long-term reassurance (especially with shareholders) is paramount irrespective of the judicial result.
"Credibility Build" is the heartbeat of the current state of affairs with Musk’s alleged use of fake Twitter accounts seemingly the greatest gripe among the public. A clear presentation of facts to rebuke this may go a long way to retain public believability and sentiment if proven untrue. Twitter should also tread carefully with its public commentary during this fragile time leading and during court proceedings. An episode of Law & Order will remind you that, “What you say can be used against you in a court of law”. Already Musk has seemingly implicated himself (legally) with his rather grandiloquent comments over the Twitter platform no less…perhaps a sense of irony that his own tweets may be his ultimate undoing. Public perception will continue to waiver and the flamboyant entrepreneur will always have his "Musketeer" fans! Perhaps when the case is resolved or settled out of court, it might be time to reinstate Trump and "Make Twitter Great Again"!
Charlotte Mceleny, PR director - Southeast Asia, India and ANZ, Media.Monks
If I were a comms person working at Twitter right now ... I would be exhausted, confused and drinking a lot of wine. While that’s partly a joke, anyone in our industry knows that, although Twitter has always been known as a great place to work, the recent whiplash decision-making surrounding this Elon Musk deal has probably been extremely stressful. I think the comms team has dealt with the chaos as well as they could. The Twitter point of view on every backflip and sidetrack has been very clear and professional. With the latest news being the new lawsuit, it's up to the courts to decide. So I hope the comms team has ample wine, and each other to lean on because it’s not over yet.
Syed Mohammed Idid, head of corporate communications, PLUS Malaysia
If I were a comms person working at Twitter right now ...I would resign. It's a clear indication that top management did not conduct due diligence that resulted in this reputational faux pas. It's a no-win situation for the employees, even if the case is won, they would be having a shareholder who doesn't want them and he is also well known to ill-treat his own employees. So it's a situation that some might think in comms of being in between the devil and a hard place, but if you value integrity above all, the decision is crystal clear. The morale of the story, comms practitioners must have one basic core value and that's integrity. With that you will have the courage to mitigate not only your personal career but also work crisis and that's the fundamental of reputation management.
Lars Voedisch, principal consultant, MD, PRecious Communications
If I were a comms person working at Twitter right now ... I would focus on what’s important for the business right now and stay out of the possible public mud-slinging. Move on with confidence! There are two essential parts to deliver on: Firstly, show the market that it’s business as usual for now and that the company is stable and will prosper and proceed without the discussed acquisition. It’s about assuring users, partners, investors and other stakeholders that the takeover was just one of many options to grow the business. At the same time, it would be essential to explain why the company feels obliged to look into legal options as it has a responsibility to its shareholders – and then stop there. If necessary, repeat and clarify facts, e.g. Following obligations as a listed company, but don’t add anything else to that conversation.
Charu Srivastava, deputy MD, Redhill
If I were a comms person working at Twitter right now ...I would firstly clear my calendar and activate all monitoring tools to keep a close eye on the proceedings and the related conversations, including Elon’s Twitter feed. I’ll simultaneously be working on create messaging founded on facts to squash any internal and external concerns. This will be done in close consultation with and guidance from our legal team as well as working closely with my teams. I will definitely avoid getting into a tit-for-tat word war with Elon and his team. The focus will be on communicating honestly, genuinely and accurately, when necessary and without influencing the legal proceedings. Most importantly, I’ll focus on communicating with internal and external stakeholders to ease any concerns and rumours about the company’s stability and their employment. Of course, I’ll be doing all this while sitting down with a big bucket of buttered popcorn!
David Ko, MD, RFI Asia
If I were a comms person working at Twitter right now ….I would cut my losses and move on, and not continue to generate new news cycles with a lawsuit that feels vindictive and punitive. Even if Twitter won the legal battle and Musk is required to take ownership, imagine the disruption to business and significant loss of talent that will happen. You might argue that’s already happened, but prolonging the pain and uncertainty does the business no favours, and we know investors hate uncertainty. As a publicly listed company, Twitter has a duty to their shareholders to offer reassurance that their money is invested in a stable, steadily growing company that is not distracted by extraneous factors such as unpredictability in the C-suite. Compelling Elon Musk to buy Twitter introduces a tremendous amount of uncertainty.
Jeninder Kaur Gill, PR director, Sambal Lab
If I was a comms person working at Twitter right now ... I would focus on delivering a well-crafted narrative that takes the attention and “importance” away from the Elon Musk factor, to reinforce confidence in the business itself and its strong fundamentals. The focus would be to highlight the company values that continue to be the guiding principles that have built Twitter into this billion-dollar success story that it is today and will continue to be so with or without Elon Musk. Given that the issue with Elon Musk has transpired into a legal case, comms would serve well to focus efforts to avert any further harm to Twitter’s employee and shareholder base and avoid messaging that could jeopardise their legal case against Mr. Musk. Companies would do well to activate their network of a diverse pool of industry advocates across different mediums to help drive the narrative, both externally and internally, with the intention to contain shareholder and employee confidence and buttress share price value. It’s times like these as a PR practitioner you would be patting yourself on the back for those hours spent building relationships that matter.
Desmond Ku, founder and director, The Bridge Agency
If I was a comms person working at Twitter right now ...I would keep calm and carry on since this crisis situation is stressful. Working with our legal team closely, but also during and after litigious situations ensures that our responses are effective for all parties. Not commenting because of pending litigation is not only detrimental, but also misses an opportunity to affirm an organisation’s reputation and credibility.
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