Analyzing Elon Musk's Twitter-to-X Rebrand and Its Lessons for Church Communications
If you’ve been following tech news recently, you know the last year at Twitter, now called X, has been… disruptive? Crazy? Tumultuous? Chaotic? Let’s just say it’s been a bit uneasy.
How we got here.
In January 2022, the tech billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk began buying Twitter shares. Eventually, he purchased enough shares to become the largest single shareholder of the social media platform.
Over the next several months, Musk said he wanted to purchase Twitter. Then he didn’t. Then he did again. That’s simplified a bit, but you get the idea.
By October 28, Musk completed his purchase of Twitter for roughly $44 billion.
Shortly after he became the owner of one of the most recognizable brands in the world, Musk began making changes to the company and platform. Here’s a brief overview of some of the major milestones:
Musk laid off 80% of Twitter’s employees—resulting in a workforce of about 1,500 (from 7,800).
Twitter’s verification system changed to a paid subscription model. It was then removed. Then it launched again. Twitter Blue, now X Premium, offers exclusive features starting at $8 per month.
Among the many changes instituted by Musk since his takeover, Twitter retained only 43% of its top 1,000 advertisers (April 2023 vs. September 2022).
In June 2023, Linda Yaccarino, a former NBCUniversal marketing executive, replaced Musk as Twitter’s CEO.
In July, Musk rebranded Twitter as X.
What’s up with Twitter’s new name?
Elon Musk has tried to make X happen for decades…literally. In the late 90s, Musk’s X.com was going to be “an online hub for every kind of financial transaction in the world,” according to Mashable. (A few years ago, Musk purchased back the domain from PayPal, the company formerly known as X.com.)
The letter X—commonly associated with death, pornography, algebra, and the unknown—also shows up in other areas of Musk’s life:
The space company he owns, SpaceX.
X Corp., a holdings company he created.
Launching xAI, an artificial intelligence company.
He named one of his children X Æ A-12.
Musk has said he wants to make X an “everything app,” similar to WeChat in China. It’s a grand vision, expanded from his deployment of the earlier version of PayPal and financial transactions.
While it all seemed haphazard and chaotic, Musk’s takeover of Twitter was likely a calculated move to achieve his “everything app” vision. Building this inclusive app from the ground up would have been difficult, and purchasing Twitter allowed him to build on the existing company and its technology while capitalizing on existing brand equity.
The marketing implications of rebranding Twitter to X.
Twitter is one of the rare examples of a company becoming interwoven with culture to the point of becoming a verb. We go to Google to google something. We use Uber (or Lyft or another service) to uber somewhere by using a rideshare service. We take a couple of tylenol, which may or may not be from the brand Tylenol, when we need acetaminophen. We “tweet” and “retweet” and regularly use the terms to discuss how celebrities, politicians, and others communicate with the public.
And the Twitter icon itself is among the most recognizable in the world. The little blue bird can be seen in marketing materials for small businesses and global corporations.
While difficult to measure, Vanderbilt University estimates Twitter’s brand value at $15 billion to $20 billion, comparable to Snapchat. Brand Finance estimates Twitter lost 32% of its brand value last year during the takeover and early changes to Twitter.
Now that all the evidence of the Twitter era is gone, X is left. That must wipe out most of the company’s former brand awareness and equity.
There are some potential upsides to the rebranding, like:
A fresh image, which could attract a new audience.
Erasing the association with Twitter, allowing Musk to move toward his “all in one app” vision quicker.
Brand awareness—While negatively impacted by the change, there’s been significant media coverage and buzz around Musk and the changes at X.
It also poses significant risks:
Brand confusion—While people closely connected to online culture are painfully aware of the change, most consumers aren’t. This disconnect has led to a massive decrease in App Store downloads. The name and look are entirely different, with any reference to its bluebird past erased.
User experience changes—Anytime a social media platform changes how users interact with and experience the app, there’s an outcry. But revamping the entire experience for users, including removing commonplace terms like “tweeting” and “retweeting,” is sure to impact the experience.
Decreased loyalty—Even if all of the changes over the last year have been calculated moves by Musk, there’s been a significant amount of change and the appearance of chaos. This environment has led to advertisers and users leaving. At any point, with each additional change, users can leave X for an alternative, like Threads.
What does all this mean for church communications?
So, what does all this mean for you and your church’s communications? Here are two key elements I want to point out:
1. Keep watching and take notes.
Just about every church undergoes a “rebrand” at some point during its life. Looks become outdated. Vision or culture changes. New leadership. There are several reasons to rebrand, many of which are wise and necessary.
Rebranding demands meticulous consideration and strategic execution. Your congregation ought to feel ownership in the process. The Branding Journal puts it like this: “Historical cases like Gap’s logo and Tropicana’s packaging redesigns stand as stark reminders of the risks associated with sudden, drastic changes in a brand’s identity, often compelling companies to revert to their original branding. Elon Musk’s daring Twitter rebrand to ‘X’ is an even more radical change, encompassing a new name and logo.”
What can you learn from Twitter’s rebrand to X? The story certainly isn’t over. Keep watching and take notes because it may be helpful whenever the next rebranding conversation takes place at your church.
2. We’re still in the digital revolution.
The digital age is still the Wild West in many regards. We’re in the midst of the most significant communications shift since the invention of the printing press. And sometimes, it’s hard to forget just how quickly life is changing.
Apps will come and go. Platforms—and the way we use them—continue to change. It’s okay not to embrace every cool new tech piece or build every new platform into your communication strategy. It’s also alright to stop using a tool when it becomes ineffective.
Know your audience and how they connect. How you engage communication tools and technology should be guided by your audience and your strategy to accomplish your church’s vision. That’s it.
Whether or not you use X for your church’s communications, it’s a curious case study to watch with implications that could be far-reaching.
If your church is thinking about rebranding, I’d love to talk! Church Juice offers free consulting to help you energize your church’s communications.