What internal comms can learn from Twitter-gate

If the goal of Musk’s Twitter takeover was to capture headlines and signal the reboot of an aging social platform, few can argue that the strategy missed the mark. But for those businesses unwilling to test their resilience against a tide of negative headlines and mass resignations, there are lessons to be learned about how to preserve employee engagement and business continuity in times of change. How would a great internal communicator have managed the Twitter takeover more successfully? Here’s what was missing from Musk’s Twitter-takeover strategy.

The employee engagement challenges that come with leadership changes

The announcement of Elon Musks’ new role as Twitter CEO marks more than a change in leadership for the enterprise; it signals the start of a complete cultural reset that Musk calls “Twitter 2.0”. While most internal communicators aren’t likely to encounter such a profound workplace revolution during their careers, there is a lot to be learned about how to navigate organizational change effectively from Musk’s Twitter-takeover. 

If you think leadership transitions are challenging, you’re not alone. When Harvard Business Review surveyed HR executives, 83% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Transitions into significant new [leadership] roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of managers.” Consequently, it’s no surprise that nearly half of all leadership role transitions are ultimately deemed unsuccessful.

Rather than presenting a challenge solely for HR professionals, successful leadership transitions require strategic efforts across the C-suite, with internal comms playing a pivotal role in communicating change and ensuring alignment. Since new management usually comes with some component of uncertainty, employees often begin questioning their job security—especially if timely and transparent updates are excluded from the transition plan. Ultimately, it’s up to internal communications to minimize employee uncertainty so that people are excited about their future with the organization.


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Learn by example: analyzing Elon Musk's biggest engagement missteps

Musks’ missteps at Twitter can teach internal communications professionals a few things about maintaining employee engagement, whether or not they’re navigating a change in leadership.

First, the mass resignations following the beginning of Musks’ reign as CEO underscore the importance of building employee trust and psychological safety. Following a round of layoffs, one of Musks’ first orders was halting flexible working policies to request that all employees immediately return to Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. Not only was such a request unreasonable for many employees based in other locations; it also immediately put pressure on workers to radically change their lives in order to satisfy their new leader. Rather than expecting all employees to jump through hoops to satisfy executive demands, leaders should strive to implement policies that empower employees by aligning with both their needs and business priorities.

The way Musk carried out lay-offs at Twitter is also a lesson in the importance of empathy. Unlike leaders at AirBnB and Stripe, Musk made no effort to explain the reasoning behind his decisions to the employees it impacted. Studies show that lay-offs are linked with declines in employee trust and engagement, and when the process isn’t communicated well, it exacerbates these adverse impacts.


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4 missing puzzle pieces from the Musk-takeover strategy

If the goal of Musk’s takeover was to capture headlines and signal the reboot of an aging social platform, few can argue that the strategy missed the mark. But for those businesses unwilling to test their resilience against a tide of negative headlines and mass resignations, there are lessons to be learned about how to preserve employee engagement and business continuity in times of change. How would a great internal communicator have managed the Twitter takeover more successfully? Here’s what was missing from Musk’s Twitter-takeover strategy.

#1. A considered approach to transparency

The worst thing that internal communications professionals can do, particularly during times of change, is to go silent. Transitions are already a confusing time for employees and a lack of transparent updates will only make their current situations feel more perplexing. But there’s a fine line between clarity and transparency, one that needs to be trodden carefully in times of change.


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While Musk has done an arguably “good” job of being vocal and visible in his leadership transition and, in that sense, has achieved transparency and authenticity, a failure to bring employees along on his journey has resulted in the loss of top talent. Knee-jerk decision making, such as the quickly reneged return-to-office policy, leaves employees feeling unsettled and unclear on the executive direction.

A good internal communicator would have understood that the business needs to be aligned on change at the highest levels and communicate as a unified cohort. Where Musk has taken sole ownership of the microphone, a good internal communicator would have democratized voices from around the business to include familiar and trusted perspectives.


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Where Musk’s approach has been regarded widely as dictatorial, a more strategic and internally aligned strategy could have mitigated fear and created more psychological safety, in turn preventing unwanted resignations. While visible and vocal leaders are a crucial part of setting the stage for change, employees need to feel that the wider business is aligned in a new direction. For internal comms, this means incorporating diverse voices into a campaign of change communications that continues over time.

Employee App Showing Leadership Vlog

#2. Involving employees in change

While Elon Musk's leadership style is decidedly top-down, internal communicators must recognize that employee feedback is a crucial component of an efficient change management strategy. In addition to giving leaders a platform and disseminating updates, comms professionals should keep a pulse on employee outlooks and develop opportunities for workers to share their input. With an employee experience platform, leaders can harness feedback forms, pulse surveys, and social networking to gauge sentiment and uncover the changes employees wish to see.


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#3. Reading the room

A lack of care for employee needs and welfare has characterized Musk’s Twitter takeover, exemplified by wild demands for employees to return to office-based work within days of announcing the policy. Inevitably, the policy failed, and Musk was forced to reverse the decree. A failure to consider how new policies would impact different employees and to elicit so much as a pulse-check on how the announcement would be received led to an embarrassing situation that signaled an out-of-touch at best, maniacal at worst leadership style.

A good leader advised by a great internal communicator would have taken the time to review radical changes in policy with consideration to how they would impact loyal employees. Advice on how knee-jerk policy changes could damage long-term employee engagement may have prevented further costly resignations.

Events like these underscore the important function of internal communicators as ‘readers of the room.’ Undoubtedly, surveys would have been conducted at Twitter pre-Elon to understand how flexible working was received by the workforce, and this data could have proved integral to more effectively managing a return-to-office campaign.

Leadership Survey Intranet Form

#4. Leading with empathy

Launching a new vision and set of values is commonplace when a new leader joins a business, but a failure to sense-check against employee needs will lead to disillusionment, as evidenced by Twitter-gate.

Where Musk has relied on a string of failed ultimatums, a good internal communicator would have advised an empathetic approach designed to inspire employees to follow a new vision and anchored by a respect for their dedication.

Instead of sending out reactive emails signaling the start of what many now see as a reign of terror – see Musk demanding that employees sign up to a new ‘hardcore’ code of conduct by an unreasonably allotted deadline – a more reasonable approach would have led with respect and trust in employee’s dedication to their roles.

A good internal communicator would have embraced the opportunity to reset values in collaboration with employees, harnessing empathy to navigate radical changes. An empathetic approach would have seen a considered explanation of the new regime feature highly in the roll-out. Where Musk rules by decree, an astute leader would instead lead by example and focused on inspiring employees instead of undermining them.


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Want to put the engagement lessons learned from Twitter-gate into practice?

When an organization undergoes periods of change and disruption, the quality of communication will determine how quickly its people will adapt. Having a central platform to house and disseminate critical updates, collect feedback, and fuel culture makes for a smoother transition, where employees are brought on the journey and informed along the way.

A modern employee experience platform fit with all features to collect real-time feedback, communicate with diverse audiences, centralize policies and updates, and unite employees around shared values becomes invaluable when change is afoot.

Case Study

The Estée Lauder Companies: Designing the world's best intranet

Discover how The Estée Lauder Companies is transforming employee experience and internal communications for 60k+ global employees with Unily's employee experience platform. Get an exclusive look inside the world's best intranet of 2022 and learn why MyELC made history as the first-ever beauty company intranet to feature in the Nielsen Norman Group's Intranet Design Annual.

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To find out how Unily supports the world’s biggest brands to transform employee engagement and manage change with a world-class employee experience platform, get started with a free demo today.

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Reinvent your intranet for the employee experience era.

Kaz Hassan - Community & Insights Lead

Kaz Hassan

Community & Insights Lead

Having spent 8 years immersed in the employee experience space, Kaz has a reputation for being a thought leader with a cutting-edge stance on the latest industry trends and predictions. Learn More

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