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Is Elon Musk About to Set Fire to Twitter's Employer Brand?

2 min read.



Employer Branding, Talent Attraction, Brand Authenticity

What effect would the leadership of Elon Musk have on the employer brand of Twitter and its capacity to retain its best talent?..

News that Elon Musk has revived a deal to buy Twitter just days before a court battle over the acquisition was due to begin, raises further questions about the future of the social media giant.

Could Musk’s involvement and what one commentator described as his “unique sense of empathy”, prove to be toxic to Twitter’s employer brand, resulting in serious repercussions for its future?

That's IF the deal goes through this time, which is by no means guaranteed. Some have already called it out as a delaying tactic.

Billionaires are not exactly experiencing a spike in popularity right now, as much of the ordinary population deals with a cost of living crisis and waits in vain for the effect of trickle-down economics to kick in.

Musk in particular has seemingly gone out of his way to build a somewhat ‘edgy’ persona as a visionary, ‘win at all costs’ disrupter who is only interested in outcomes not journeys. Much of it (in something of an irony tsunami) has been cultivated through his own Twitter account.

Some reduce descriptions of him to just one word.

Remember when he called one of the men responsible for rescuing a boys football team from a cave in Thailand a “pedo guy”? And then got away with it in a subsequent court case?

Critics argue that he isn’t the best candidate to act as an arbiter of free speech on the world’s most popular social media platform.

He was recently given the shortest of shrifts by Ukraine’s outgoing  ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, in response to his (unasked for) suggestions to end the war against Russia.

Changes at Twitter

The Musk ‘brand’ is arguably much stronger than either of his two best know ventures, Tesla and Space X. And that could be a problem for him and for Twitter.

If he does become owner of the platform, it seems unlikely that it will be business as usual. The world’s richest man, worth an estimated $220bn, is expected to replace current CEO, Parag Agrawal when the deal goes through. He will be hands-on from the get-go. An ego that big doesn’t deliberately attract so much attention and then hand things to somebody else.

To start with, he could take the company private for a period, while it undergoes a restructure.

In addition, among the many facets to his persona, he sees himself as a champion of free speech and may be tempted to reactivate the accounts of controversial figures such as Donald Trump. Which is…just…great.

Clearly, change of some kind is afoot for Twitter employees.

Anecdotally, staff have already reacted to Musk’s potential stewardship. “I feel like I’m going to throw up”, one employee posted on an internal noticeboard in April, with another saying they were “honestly kinda terrified” by the billionaire’s plans.

Others, it should be said, like the challenge he throws down -  "Elon is a serious powerhouse in the building and sets the culture for everyone, which makes it exciting to work there”, said one employee online.

Employer brand and leadership


Space X employees recently drafted an open letter which says “…for all our technical achievements, SpaceX fails to apply…the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion with equal priority across the company, resulting in a workplace culture that remains firmly rooted in the status quo.”

It goes on to question the firm’s “unequal enforcement of our oft-repeated “No Asshole” and “Zero Tolerance” policies.”

You could argue that the former of those policy ambitions failed at the first hurdle.

There have also been allegations of sexual misconduct levied against the CEO. Just leaving that there.

Clearly there is a misalignment between the employer brand of (in this case) Space X and Musk’s own actions and public proclamations.

If that is brought to bear on Twitter then it could have serious repercussions for staff retention in an ultra-competitive tech sector, causing a regrettable loss of top talent.

The question is can you have a fully-functioning employer brand with such an unpredictable element at the head of it? Does the real-world persona of Elon Musk make it more or less likely to attract people to work there?

We might be about to find out.

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