Elon Musk recently declared that a tweet which cost him and Tesla $20 million in fines — each — was, in hindsight, “worth it.”
That may sound like the can’t-be-wrong bragging of an eccentric tycoon or the conclusion of a recent cannabis convert who’s still laughing at his own 420 joke But here’s the thing: He’s not wrong.
How about that one that cost you 20M, how was the ‘like’ ratio on that one?
— James Patten (@yames51) October 27, 2018
Tesla’s primary platform of news and promotion is Elon Musk’s Twitter account. Think about it. You’ve never seen a Tesla speeding on a winding mountain road in a TV commercial, its virtues extolled by an unbilled Jon Hamm voiceover. You’ve never heard a radio ad offering to “get you in a Tesla! Today!” There’s no social media strategy attempting on-brand Tesla memes tied into whatever weird thing just happened at the Super Bowl. Yet one significantly random tweet from Musk receives infinite news coverage beyond social media, reaching even those who prefer real life over their cellphones. Consider that $40 million the cost of a top-tier Silicon Valley marketing team that Tesla doesn’t have. Otherwise, Twitter is free.
Certainly, we can’t know what “worth it” means to Musk, who claimed his August tweet “considering taking Tesla private at $420” was a weed o’clock wink to his woman-friend, Grimes. Then again, 80% of chief marketing officers at U.S. companies aren’t sure of the value of social media outreach, according to the biannual CMO Survey. These are among the same CMOs signing off on the billions of dollars which brands spend on social media they can’t quantify,
As of October, Musk has 23.3 million Twitter followers, up almost 5% from the 22.2 million followers clocked at the time of the “$420” tweet, according to Socialbakers. That’s close to the average month-to-month growth of top brands on Twitter. For good or ill, no other automotive brand has the reach and impact of Musk’s tweets. At this, Musk is second only to the U.S. president. And this sort of advertising can’t be duplicated.
Musk can tank Tesla’s stock with a weed joke, only to collect the accolades from his followers when it rebounded last week following a record $312 million profit. Just three days after he announced a Twitter break following the “worth it” tweet, he told Twitter he deleted his job titles from the Tesla website just to see what would happen. He didn’t mention how the Securities and Exchange Commission forced him to step down as chairman for those “false and misleading” statements in his 420 tweet. Regardless, now the Internet is questioning whether job titles are even necessary.
Deleted my Tesla titles last week to see what would happen. I’m now the Nothing of Tesla. Seems fine so far.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 29, 2018
You won’t find Ford CEO James Hackett hanging out on Twitter, requesting “ur darkest memes” in between product announcements. But here’s Musk doing just that, while also tweeting well wishes to Twitter bestie Tyler the Creator (who wrecked his Tesla SUV the night before), answering product questions and discussing with followers the superior like-to-follow ratio of Twitter over Instagram.
Brands pour billions into social media campaigns, but criteria for determining ROI often returns intangible results. A “like” is not likely to translate into a sale, nor does it carry the same weight as an endorsement of a product offered from a friend IRL. Brands which use Twitter to respond to customer questions gain product loyalty by making customers feel heard.
Old-timey advertising still offers the most obvious rewards for brands. Which could be why Ford just launched a “Build Ford Proud” ad campaign featuring “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston making undisguised Elon cracks about tech visionaries looking to the future instead of building it. In one commercial for the Ford Escape SUV, Cranston references a Tesla Roadster, currently orbiting the sun, courtesy of Musk’s SpaceX, While this SUV was never shot into space, Cranston says, it “proudly sits in over two million garages.”
Perhaps. But on Twitter, where the Ford Motor Company has a mere 1.14 million followers, it is Elon Musk who knocks.