Elon Musk is no stranger to crises occurring within his businesses. From exploding Tesla cars to failed SpaceX rockets, the billionaire is all too familiar with dealing in crisis management. With his recent acquisition of the Twitter company and app, he’s been seeing more and more criticism regarding his handling of these situations. With his most recent decision to monetize the blue verification check on Twitter through a new subscription called Twitter Blue, users have been in uproar. But the question remains: Is the tumult surrounding these changes truly a crisis, or will Musk’s already tainted reputation remain unaffected?
Before delving into the complexities of crisis communications, it’s necessary to understand what a crisis truly is. Defined in terms of management, a crisis is any urgent situation or circumstance that affects a company’s stakeholders. That is to say, a crisis is dictated by stakeholder opinion and reaction. As the CEO of Twitter, Inc. and self-acclaimed businessman, Musk does not have the capacity to claim an incident as a true crisis or not, but often uses his own platform to unabashedly share his opinion about the arising situation regardless.
When Twitter Blue was launched, the app’s users were divisive. Some believed that verification was a process used to protect celebrities and influencers as well as their audiences from fake accounts, and should not be bought and sold. Others thought that the subscription was a smart business move and that something as important as verification should be a paid service. Many verified users decided to, after the launch, remain un-checked in revolt of Musk’s new rule. Some users, despite not having a public following, purchased a verification check as soon as they were able.
Musk himself has been using his personal account to communicate with both sides of the issue, arguing with those who find this new subscription ludicrous, and praising those who purchased it. There have been suspicions of Twitter Blue subscribers being algorithmically prioritized on the Twitter feed and underneath Tweets, although this has not been confirmed. Musk’s personal beliefs have also seemed to influence users to leave the app and create discourse surrounding things such as his political beliefs and past/current relationships. All of this turmoil has led to a drop in users, with many deleting their accounts and/or moving to different yet similar apps.
An important question to ask as a crisis communicator while analyzing this case is: Who are Musk/Twitter’s stakeholders? A stakeholder is anyone affected by a company’s decisions, so one could assume that includes any and all Twitter users, checkmarked or not. However, many could argue that those who are not paying for the service should not be considered stakeholders, and it is this section of users that seem to be considering the Twitter Blue launch a crisis.
Musk’s image has been in a downward spiral for years now, without major financial effect on his many businesses and corporations. His stock has been unreliable and ever-changing, making it difficult to discern how his stakeholders truly view him and his choices. He is seemingly untouchable, making it through fiasco after fiasco and still managing to come out on top. So, are all of these situations actually crises?
I believe that it is a matter of opinion. The general perception of Musk and his companies are negative, but my view might be biased based on what media and content I personally consume. He still has a huge audience of supporters who worship him and his mind, regardless of the negativity that may cloud his name in certain parts of the Internet. Public perception of an individual is always factored into crisis communications and management, but it is not the end all be all for whether or not that person is facing a crisis.
In the end, there are still thousands of users who have subscribed to Twitter Blue, some who even openly oppose Musk and his antics, but still valued the verification over their personal issues with the CEO. At the end of the day, Twitter is lucrative and still one of the most popular and long lasting social media apps that we have today. It, and its dejected billionaire owner, will not be going anywhere anytime soon.