In May, Linda Yaccarino was named the CEO of Twitter in a move that surprised many in the worlds of tech and advertising, alike.
Yaccarino had previously spent almost 12 years as the chair of global advertising & partnerships at NBCUniversal. Upon her appointment, many had considered that she was parachuted in to stem the flow of advertising dollars that had been rapidly leaving Twitter since Elon Musk acquired the site for US$44 billion (around AU$67 billion at the time).
However, advertising dollars have continued to decline and bad news stories have persisted. Everything from a rise in hate speech on the platform to prolonged outages to mass layoffs and staff sleeping under desks have been a fixture in the news cycle. The most recent news was that every photo and video uploaded to the site then known as Twitter was deleted thanks to a glitch.
“Musk continues to erode many of the features that brought people to Twitter originally — most recently deciding to delete the ability to block people which sent shockwaves through the Twitter community,” Lisa Given, director, Social Change Enabling Impact Platform and professor of information sciences at RMIT University told WLT.
“Particularly for women, this one really hits hard because that was something very empowering and within people’s control when dealing with the darker side of Twitter.”
Musk made the announcement that the block feature would be removed before any official communication from X. However, removing this feature might see the platform foul of the policies on the App and Google Play stores. Even Monica Lewinsky chimed in to tell Yaccarino that the move was ill-advised when she spread the news as the CEO.
Our users’ safety on X is our number one priority. And we’re building something better than the current state of block and mute. Please keep the feedback coming. https://t.co/ekIvyOhRqQ
— Linda Yaccarino (@lindayaX) August 19, 2023
From the outside, it can seem as though Yaccarino has wilfully inherited a poisoned chalice. Musk already had a reputation for out-there ideas, overpromising and underdelivering. In fact, he had even openly criticised the World Economic Forum — for whom Yaccarino chaired the Future of Work task force. Musk had described the organisation as “increasingly becoming an unelected world government.”
“Even in the very early days [of Musk’s ownership] we saw a lot of mass firings and a general promotion of instability which made a lot of people nervous whether they were working for the company or whether they were using the platform — and it’s only continued to get worse,” added Given.
It’s in this constant state of flux and keeping people guessing.
“I think he enjoys it, it’s very much his personal style,” explained Given.
“He has the benefit of deep pockets so he can make decisions that your average CEO wouldn’t make. There’s a volatility that makes me wonder if he is surprised when people lash out at some of the decisions and does he really believe that these are good decisions. I don’t know that he has the expertise to really advise on some of the things that he chooses to.”
Yaccarino, however, comes with deep expertise in leadership and running digital media businesses. But even she seems to be struggling with Musk’s whimsical whirlwind approach to decision-making.
“What we’ve seen is the appointment of a CEO but not a relinquishment of power. Linda is riding the coattails, it certainly appears to be a very reactive stance,” said Given.
“Immediately, the phrase that comes to mind is the glass cliff. In times of crisis, companies often will put in an extremely competent woman… to try and clean up the mess and often they don’t last very long. Even if they are successful at righting the company, they can often be exited quite quickly and replaced with another man at the helm.”
But can Yaccarino even right the ship?
X’s user base has declined globally and in Australia. According to data from Ipsos Iris, Twitter’s audience dropped by 8.7 per cent in Australia in July. Analyst Eric Seufert also showed that Twitter had fallen out of the top downloaded chart on the App Store and pointed to a lack of understanding among the general public about the company’s rebrand.
Yaccarino needs to be able to demonstrate that the vision of an everything app is not misguided and can provide real, tangible benefits to users. For someone with an advertising background, she certainly has the requisite skills to do so.
The company’s tech stack certainly needs to be improved given the number of recent outages and glitches. This won’t have been helped by Musk’s mass layoffs that saw almost three-quarters of the company made redundant in the space of a few months.
One way for Yaccarino to set X back on a smoother course would be to wrest back control from Musk. That would be remarkably challenging but, as Given told WLT, she is known for being a “very talented negotiator.”
Musk, however, is still the company’s chief technology officer and his unceasing desire to announce new features at a relentless pace means that X is often found releasing half-baked new tech.
Whether there is any way for Yaccarino wrest control from Musk remains to be seen but, at this point, it seems unlikely.
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