The Twitter rebrand is a disaster – here’s why

Far from signalling a bright new future, Elon Musk's decision to rebrand Twitter to X suggests the company is in more trouble than many thought
X Logo On Size Of Hq Building

Things have been looking bad at Twitter for some time. Since Elon Musk bought the platform for $44bn (£34bn) last year, it has shed users and advertising revenues, as well as its place in the social media ecosystem. 

Time then, according to Musk, for a rebrand. Announcing the news, he detailed plans to “bid adieu to the Twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds” (a reference to the blue bird logo that has been synonymous with Twitter since it was founded). This morning, the logo visible on the website and the badges assigned to employee profiles had changed to an ‘X’ symbol, while the new logo was emblazoned on the outside of the company’s headquarters.

Twitter is not the first to attempt a rebrand to paper over strategic cracks. Branding history is littered with companies wanting to put the past behind them or signal a new direction with a name change. Most of these happen at the corporate level, with the aim of showing investors that things are changing.

RBS Group rebranding as NatWest Group is a recent example, but Philip Morris, Facebook, Google, Royal Mail and WeightWatchers have all tried it. Usually, however, they only serve to highlight what customers and investors already know: there are problems in the business that its leaders would rather move on from.

The issues at Twitter

At Twitter those problems are obvious. Musk himself has said revenues are down by 50% since he bought it in October. Staffing levels have dropped precipitously. More than 7,000 people worked for the company before the takeover, but that number is now down to 2,300, according to Musk. Documents seen by CNBC claim the figure is closer to 1,300.

There are no official numbers on monthly users, but Matthew Prince, CEO of DNS service Cloudflare, claims that Twitter’s traffic is “tanking”, while Insider Intelligence predicts user numbers will fall from a high of 368.4 million in 2022 to 335.7 million in 2024. More than that, there’s a feeling among Twitter users that the changes Musk has made, from introducing a subscription service to limiting the number of tweets people can see, have worsened the experience.

All of this means rivals are circling. Bluesky, created by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has hit more than 1 million downloads (it operates a waiting list for new users). Facebook-owner Meta is also getting in on the action with the launch of Threads, which was the fastest app ever to hit 150 million downloads (although there are signs it is struggling to maintain interest with reports that traffic is down 70% from its peak). 

Musk wants the rebrand to signal a new direction for Twitter. CEO Linda Yaccarino has called the changes a “second chance to make another big impression”, claiming that in the same way Twitter changed the way we communicate, X will “transform the global town square”. 

Musk envisions X as an ‘everything app’ that will enable messaging, payments and banking. Yaccarino says it will be a “global marketplace for ideas, goods, services and opportunities, powered by AI that will connect us all in ways we’re just beginning to imagine”. 

The idea, then, is to put Twitter’s past as a social media platform behind it, in favour of building a ‘marketplace’ that offers so much more. The best way to get users, customers and advertisers behind that new ethos, Musk believes, is through a rebrand.

The difficulties of rebranding

Yet wanting to build a new company out of an old one and actually doing it are not the same thing. Google’s rebrand to Alphabet meant to signal that it was more than a search company, yet the business and the majority of its revenue remains synonymous with this. Facebook’s rebrand to Meta aimed to do the same, but the metaverse made up just 1% of the company’s revenues last year.

Rebranding Twitter to X does not make Musk’s vision any more likely to become a reality. The company needs to tempt users back with new features, while convincing advertisers it is a safe space for their brands to appear. Only when it has the trust of both audiences once again could X even think about becoming a bigger platform. 

The amateurish way it has launched the rebrand is hardly likely to put minds at rest. Currently, the X name is only used on desktop, not on the apps. The Twitter name and the blue birds are still visible across its properties, from apps to its twitter.com URL. Musk said the x.com url would redirect to Twitter.com; currently it does not.

The decision to drop Twitter blue for black appears to be the result of a Musk poll, rather than any deep strategic insight. The logo is not an original piece of work, but simply the ‘x’ glyph from Special Alphabets 4 font (making it impossible to trademark). 

If anything, the rebrand is a distraction that will cost the company time and money when it cannot afford to waste either. The loss of equity from dumping one of the world’s most valuable brand names, according to Brand Finance, is hard to measure but likely to be sizeable.

What is clear is that Twitter is in trouble. The rebrand suggests it is in more trouble than many realised.