Rob Csernyik is a 2022 Michener-Deacon fellow and a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.
The recent past when using Twitter played a lucrative economic role in my career feels like a distant memory. For instance, in 2020, I tweeted a story idea out to my followers, expecting little. Instead, more than 400 people liked the post and among the comments was a message from a magazine editor. Using fewer than 280 characters, I secured a story commission for a national publication and a four-figure paycheque.
Recently, after a year of Elon Musk’s flights of fancy, the platform now called X doesn’t feel like the same place that steered me toward two long-term freelance gigs as well as one-off gigs that have made a material difference to my income. It’s not the same place where it felt like clever entrepreneurs could build their brand or profile as well as their business.
Instead, as the community and engagement my account once had slow to a trickle, I am also consistently tagged in the imaginary moneymaking schemes of crypto scammers. This fantasy is the most frequent “business opportunity” that I cross paths with there today.
A lot of long-term users have been quick to eulogize the worlds they built on the erstwhile Twitter, rushing to replicate them on similar apps. But filling voids of community and conversation is one thing, and replacing professional opportunities is another entirely.
That’s why I’m mourning the economic usefulness of Twitter, as the platform is still informally known. I can keep in touch with people in myriad ways, yet I can’t pull work out of thin air. The prospect of professional opportunities kept me logging in and without them, the appeal is gone.
Mr. Musk’s decisions, from the rushed revamp of the verification system to limits on what account holders can do without paying subscription fees, have been fickle and roundly criticized by users. They have also negatively affected his investment in the platform. Reuters recently reported that monthly U.S. ad revenue declined by more than half every month since his October, 2022, takeover. Earlier this year, Mr. Musk said the company’s value had plunged by half to US$20-billion, though other estimates suggest lower figures.
Twitter had long marketed itself as a place to do business. Not only for large advertisers but for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The ability to connect with colleagues and customers through bite-sized messages was an attractive business development tool across a multitude of industries.
Because it was free to take part and a widely used public platform, everyone from mom-and-pop business owners to startups to creative workers such as artists and writers could boost their audience and, in turn, their bottom line. Even today the company’s webpage touts enhancing brand awareness and growing businesses by building “a strong organic following” with “no money required” as some of the platform’s best attributes.
Yet having tasted some nectars of success on Twitter, it no longer feels true in the same way. On one hand, there’s the shrinkage – data intelligence firm Apptopia suggests it’s lost 13 per cent of its daily active users since Mr. Musk took over. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed accounts in my orbit shift from avid posting to silence on the platform.
On another hand, there have been shifts in reach and audience that hinder professional intentions. My original posts get minimal interest compared with even a year ago. I’ve almost been embarrassed to make professional requests because, despite having more than 1,200 followers, they’ll be seen by a paltry fraction. Tweeting a story idea for sale now feels like shouting into a void instead of an interested marketplace.
I can’t put a price tag on exactly how these shifts affect my bottom line, but the modest platform I built no longer feels like a helpful tool I can use to advance my career and to find paying work. But since I don’t have a direct alternative, it means I have to do a bit more active searching and cold e-mailing to find opportunities, rather than periodically tweeting them into existence.
Twitter’s decline has been a harsh lesson in how fleeting influence and opportunities can be online. Twenty years ago, social media was barely a concept and today entrepreneurs treat it like a permanent limb to business strategy. It’s a best practice to participate, even if the platforms wax and wane over time, and so too will our individual benefits.
While Myspace and Vine lost their dominance and influence owing to competition and shifting tastes, the rapid decline in Twitter’s value and the company’s product are from Mr. Musk trying to fix certain things that weren’t broken to begin with. Making a mess of his own business is one thing, but I wish he didn’t have to affect mine.