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Aug 27, 2018

Tesla and Twitter

Time to stay off Twitter, Elon Musk—you’re not Trump.

In the three weeks since Tesla CEO Elon Musk posted his bizarre “funding secured” tweet, Tesla has been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and its stock value dropped by 20 percent. Although the share price is starting to recover after plans to take the firm private were reportedly cancelled, it’s been a harsh lesson for Musk, who has had probably the worst few weeks of his career, and that’s before Azealia Banks told everyone on Twitter that he was “scrounging for investors.” She has since apologized for the remark, but the damage has been done. 

 In my role as reputation manager for global business leaders, I usually advise that CEOs should be as authentic as possible. Having read Elon Musk’s timeline, I’d advise him against this. Even his board was blindsided by his announcement, and his increasingly bizarre online behaviour—from promising he would be better on Twitter to accusing a Thai cave rescuer of being a pedophile—should be a cause for concern.

 I warn my clients time and again about the appeal of social media and how its use should be carefully monitored to avoid catastrophes like this. Not only that, but when they do happen, it’s vital to handle the fallout in the right way, or things can go from bad to worse. For Tesla, the vultures are circling, and its credibility has been seriously damaged.

Contrast this with U.S. tweeter-in-chief Donald Trump, who is just as disastrous, but somehow gets away with it. Why? Well, for one, Trump uses Twitter in a different way. Well aware of the power of social media, he uses the platform to keep the news wheel spinning, ensuring that by the time journalists have had a chance to properly research and produce news items based on what he has tweeted, he’s tweeted another three times and the news agenda has moved on, effectively making what could potentially be very damaging stories into yesterday’s news within hours.

By doing this, he reduces the ability of journalists to hold him accountable, and at the same time opens the door to the very thing he uses to castigate them—so-called fake news. He impounds this further by describing media outlets who attempt to hold him to account as “failing” or “sad.” Infantile language aside, this shows the real value he places on the news media is based on ratings, not the quality or accuracy of the information it provides.

The reason this isn’t a constant crisis for the White House is because Trump’s online persona has been very carefully managed to keep it separate from the political role he represents. He doesn’t use the official presidential Twitter handle, instead sticking with his pre-political moniker of @realDonaldTrump, not @POTUS.

Accused of being unpresidential online, Trump’s frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago mean he is literally distanced from the White House offline, allowing the press office to give the impression that, while Trump is on Twitter, they’re quietly getting on with the job at hand.

As for Tesla, the company has no such separation. Musk and Tesla are inextricably linked; as founder and CEO he lives and breathes the business, even to the point where he reportedly works 120 hours a week and sleeps in the factory. It looks like the lack of rest is finally taking its toll on him, and it’s only a matter of time before that takes its toll permanently.

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