- Dr. Te Wu is the CEO and CPO of PMO Advisory, a project management training and consulting firm.
- He writes that Musk needs to treat the rebranding of Twitter to X as a business transformation.
I have been following the events of Twitter with bewilderment. It’s not every day one witnesses such rash attempts at self-mutilation in the name of rediscovery.
The latest saga is the rebranding of Twitter to X. It feels like an irrational endeavor for Elon Musk to remake everything in his image and as an homage to his fascination with “X” as in Model X, SpaceX, xAI, and even the names of his two recent children: X Æ A-Xii and Exa Dark Sideræl.
With Musk’s immense wealth and a brain like no other, nothing seems out of the realm of possibility. As Twitter spins into the vortex of a black hole, the birth of yet a new star, X (or maybe X.com), is now in motion. But the future is rarely assured.
Throughout my 30-year career, I’ve worked on a number of transformational projects, such as implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications in sizable companies, including Fortune 500 companies.
From a project management perspective, here are the top five actions I would undertake to make this latest transformation successful.
1. Treat it like a complete business transformation – not a rebrand
Rebranding is a marketing ploy and focuses mainly on connecting people with the new concept, whether that concept is a logo or other aesthetically enriching symbols. What Musk needs is much more than rebranding.
From a grand project perspective, the rollout of X is better presented as a business transformation. Business transformations are much more revolutionary than marketing and perceptual changes.
Reframing the challenges correctly is vital for Twitter at this stage. With so many brutal changes and value destructions that have already occurred in past months, Musk should adopt playbooks from the business transformation community:
- Assessing the value of the various components
- Deciding what to obliterate and what to salvage
- Reassembling high value and high potential components
- Restructuring and re-engineering key processes
- Revitalizing the revamped and renewed business
2. Focus on new product development
Musk has always wanted to build a “killer app” — a super app that can do everything. There is nothing in the West that makes the top of this list, including Meta’s family of products such as WhatsApp, Instagram or Facebook. Musk has recently confirmed via Twitter’s new CEO, Linda Yaccarino, that he wants to build a better version of something that resembles WeChat.
WeChat has over a billion montly active users, most of them Chinese, and is the Swiss Army Knife of apps.
This cross-platform app deftly integrates a set of “must have” tools. This includes a simple yet sophisticated communication service for individuals and groups that includes messaging, voice calls, and video chats. Whole communities and businesses are formed around these features, and they are further accentuated with a robust electronic payment system.
The electronic payment feature, for example, became so ubiquitous that the Chinese government actually had to pass laws forcing businesses to accept cash. Otherwise, foreigners like me could not even buy food while visiting the country.
When I taught at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in the summers before the pandemic, I passed by a vending machine selling freshly squeezed orange juice. At the time, I could not connect to WeChat’s payment system (or another rival local payment system such as Alipay) without a local Chinese bank account. Thus, time after time, I looked longingly at others who just tapped their phone to access the yummy juice. That is, until a student took pity on me and made the purchase on my behalf.
The social impact of these super apps is more than commercial. According to my Chinese students, for example, the entire business model of common pickpockets had to be reinvented, because very few locals carry cash anymore since all they need are their phones.
3. Capitalize on existing Twitter users
If Musk’s goal was always to create a super app, then his acquisition of Twitter made more sense. Instead of building an empire of users from the ground up, Musk can start with over 360 million existing Twitter users.
Meta recently proved this point by launching Threads in July of 2023. In just five days, Threads attained 100 million users, surpassing previous records for pace of technology adoption, which itself was just set with OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
For Musk and Yaccarino, besides wooing new users, part of a winning strategy must include current Twitter users. Incentivizing them to keep on using X is pivotal.
4. Clarify the vision
Much of the events since Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter less than a year ago have been shrouded in chaos with no obvious consistency or direction other than total obliteration.
This includes not just firing or letting go of nearly 80% of Twitter’s employees, but also the loss of major user bases.
For example, New York’s Transit Authority ceased providing updates on Twitter because of reliability issues. For Musk to win back high-volume authoritative users, especially business communities, it is vitally important for X to present a believable vision that can excite both existing users and new customers.
One of the first exercises when we launch transformational projects is to discuss the future vision and construct roadmaps leading to those visions. Often there are competing views. By working collaboratively with key stakeholders, we evaluate the pros and cons along the many points of this journey. Often we get lucky, as more obvious paths for these transformational journeys reveal themselves. To be clear, there remain disagreements and even conflicts. Bringing them out early gives project teams more time, which means more options to consider.
5. Execute ruthlessly
Nothing recommended above is easy to achieve. Business transformation is more of an art than a science, and building new product features can be extraordinarily difficult. Take the payment system that is at the heart of WeChat’s success in China.
Meta, then simply Facebook, tried to create its own digital currency in 2019, but it flopped in 2022 due to intense regulatory scrutiny. Developing communication features is relatively easy compared with forming new communities. This is especially true with so many substitutes such as WhatsApp, Microsoft Team, Slack, and even Threads are in play.
Even the staunchest Twitter loyalists are likely to be shaken by the erratic changes of the past year, and winning them over will be difficult. Yet, for X to succeed, it must win or at least achieve “good enough” on all these fronts.
Being the world’s richest person is its own advantage, and Musk’s track record of achieving the seemingly impossible creates its own possibilities. But unlike landing a reusable rocket on an ocean barge or massification of electric cars, this time, Musk is dealing with the culture and ephemeral behavior of people. Assuming he can build such a killer app, will people follow?