When I owned my own business, I had a very clear understanding that I was my brand as well as my own boss. I don’t mean “brand” in the way that so many young professionals mean it when they talk about their “personal brand” on social media, but as an extension of my business and livelihood; if I chose to publicly support a political candidate, or take a stance on a controversial issue, or have a total meltdown on social media, I understood there would be consequences. I might offend or turn off potential clients and effectively lose business.
As a result, while my partner and I never shied away from openly supporting political candidates and causes, the practical need to eat and make prospective clients feel like they were handing over their money to someone relatively emotionally stable tempered me a bit. I never saw social media as a place for me to verbalize my uncharitable thoughts about senior GOP Trump enablers, shied away from sharing too much of my personal life, and most certainly did not air dirty laundry about other clients. Because yes—people were doing business with my company, but they were also doing business with me; the line between the two was razor thin. My business and I shared the same values, morals, logic, and psychic energy.
I’ve been thinking of all this during the last few weeks, and particularly these last few days, as I’ve observed—along with the rest of the world—Elon Musk’s public behavior in his new role as the sole proprietor of Twitter. From changing his bio to “Chief Twit” and dragging a literal kitchen sink into the company’s office, to tweeting conspiracy theories and calling former executive staff members jerk-offs (with emojis, but still), he’s made it clear that his personal brand is “Frat Guy Planning Pledge Week.” Life’s a big kegger, and he’s serious about making it epic—and happy to do some hazing along the way.
And why shouldn’t he have this attitude? Unlike for me and my former business, Musk doesn't need Twitter to succeed in order to put food on the table. He can afford to alienate a large swath of the populace before it would likely affect the platform’s performance. And yet, in being so transparent about his feelings, his attitudes, his allegiances, and his (kind of awful) personality, what he does risk is not so much alienating Twitter’s users as much as dramatically shifting how they see their role in the Twitter-verse itself. Somehow, we are not just individuals utilizing a service; we now are individuals working in service of one man’s whims.