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When Elon Musk Calls...
Colin and Samir pick up
Illustration by Garrett Golightly
The Future of Twitter, According to Elon Musk
It’s not often you get to share advice with someone as polarizing, eccentric, and world-shifting as Elon Musk. But that's exactly what Colin, Samir, and several other creators recently got to do, three months into Musk's bumpy ride as CEO of Twitter.
Context: On December 20, Twitter set up a Zoom call with its new CEO and a group of creators, including Colin and Samir, to discuss how the platform could better support creators in 2023.
Here are the top questions they tackled, according to Colin and Samir. And if you want to hear even more about their session with Elon Musk, the guys have you covered.
Question 1: What’s it worth for creators to be on Twitter?
“The first thing I talked about was the base premise of value exchange on Twitter,” Samir said of the Musk call. “Meaning us as creators and you as Twitter—what’s the exchange of value between us? Because right now it’s very unclear.”
Consider YouTube’s creator <> platform incentive structure: Creators upload videos that prioritize both views and engagement from start to finish. That quality content leads to more impressions for the brands running advertising on YouTube. YouTube rewards creators who publish strong content through a payout system—which includes a 45/55 ad revenue split.
But on Twitter? Distribution is strong for creators, but there are few pathways to significant monetization—you can build an audience, but it’s not likely you can build a career. Twitter has said it prioritizes creators, but actions (like when it temporarily banned linking out) speak louder than words.
Bottom line: Twitter doesn’t have a clear value exchange for creators.
And it can’t effectively signal any real long-term value for creators until it solves one major problem—attracting ad dollars. Twitter has long struggled to woo advertisers thanks to content moderation concerns and ineffective targeting capabilities.
No matter how great the tweets are, creators aren’t going to be incentivized to truly build on Twitter until there’s a financial reason to do so. Without a more sophisticated advertising approach, Twitter won’t be able to eclipse its “distribution tool” reputation.
Question 2: So how can Twitter evolve to attract advertisers—and in turn, creators?
Twitter is designed to optimize for time spent on-platform, Musk said on the creator call. Its core premise is to keep people on Twitter (and discourage clicking out to other sites). To advertisers, though, those long session times read as a failure to grab attention and generate a click—a waste of ad budget.
Given that its current design runs contrary to traditional social media advertising behavior, Twitter has two options if it wants to woo advertisers from larger competitors: 1) pick another way to monetize or 2) change its current design.
Samir and Musk on the call
On the call, Musk seemed interested in the latter. He brought up placing ads within replies and threads on Twitter in order to increase their effectiveness and help solve Twitter’s targeting problem. For example, an ad for a golf club likely performs better under a thread about golf than it does on a user’s home feed alongside local news, politics, friend updates, memes about The Real Housewives, and more.
But overhauling the ethos of monetization efforts on Twitter is no small task…which brings us to the how of getting to a Twitter 2.0.
Question 3: What could Twitter learn from other platforms?
Musk asked Colin and Samir which platform is the best at creator monetization during their call. Their answer might not surprise you: YouTube.
“It’s very tough to compete with YouTube, but you have to take some lessons from their playbook,” Samir said, reflecting on what he told Musk. “You have to look at their marketing, how they do ad revenue split, the clear-cut value exchange they have. You have to look at YouTube and see ‘that’s the creator platform—what can we take from that?’”
One of the first lessons? Show what success looks like, as Youtube has done repeatedly throughout the years.
Colin and Samir noted that, on YouTube, there are blueprints for success—standout creators like MKBHD, Mark Rober, and Cassey Ho of Blogilates who provide a template for success. Even TikTok has the same with the likes of Charli D’Amelio, Khaby Lame, and Zach King.
But on Twitter? You’re hard-pressed to find a fully monetized, Twitter-exclusive creator—Twitter clout carries less value than it could.
To give other creators a model for what it looks like to be a Twitter-first career creator taking advantage of all of the platform’s tools and features, Colin and Samir suggested Musk and his team create case studies.
“Specifically with Twitter Spaces, if you’re going to have a tool, creators need to know who the model of a successful creator is,” Colin said. “Who is a creator whom we can copy their roadmap of what they’ve made?”
Question 4: What feature should Twitter launch next?
In addition to these aforementioned tweaks to Twitter’s basic business model, Colin and Samir told Musk they see one big opportunity for a new Twitter feature:
Live streaming video. Twitter is a go-to for live content—you saw all the tweets during every episode of Euphoria this time last year, right? Twitter could better capitalize on its social cache as the place to be for by-the-minute commentary on major cultural events, whether that scene in The White Lotus or the vote for the Speaker of the House.
And the competitive landscape could work for Twitter, not against it: “With Twitch taking such a hit and not having a great year, Twitter has an opportunity to enter the live streaming video space,” Samir said.
Adding live streaming video might also work well for Twitter’s specific money woes—Musk has said he’s targeting a 50/50 split between ad revenue and subscription revenue. Live stream capabilities could easily be a feature exclusive to paying Twitter subscribers.
Zoom out: When Twitter was founded in 2006, the world was a very different place. YouTube was hardly a year old, TikTok was…nonexistent, and “creator economy” were two words that didn’t go together. But we’re not in 2006 anymore—and Twitter seems to understand that if it wants to participate in the immense value creation of today’s creator world, it’s got to be willing to evolve.
On the creator call, Musk brought up what he calls “unregrettable” user minutes—minutes spent on Twitter that prioritize user value over user views. Minutes that ensure Twitter users don’t just consume, but feel good about doing it.
That’s what Twitter needs more of. Getting there will require a good deal of mind-changing, some investment of both time and money, and some good old fashioned technological problem-solving.
It just so happens that the last one is Musk’s specialty. If Musk and his team can build a technology that fundamentally changes the game for Twitter by measuring value the same way it does reach—and they can communicate that shift to creators—Twitter may be able to go toe to toe against its competitors.
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