Twitter’s favorite guessing game came to an end today, the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, with the final answer unveiled in a Zoom meeting with Twitter employees. Or did it? If Musk was already in charge, he would have made this a pay-per-view event, surely:
Elon Musk is expected to confirm his desire to own Twitter Inc. TWTR +0.82% when he speaks to the social-media company’s employees on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The billionaire Tesla Inc. chief executive is slated to answer pre-submitted employee questions for roughly an hour at a virtual Twitter all-hands meeting Thursday morning West Coast time, the person said. In addition to reiterating his interest in owning the company and his view of its importance in the world, Mr. Musk is likely to clarify recent comments about remote work and touch on aspects of his strategy for Twitter, including the role of advertising and subscriptions.
Twitter shares were up roughly 5% in after-hours trading after The Wall Street Journal’s report on Mr. Musk’s expected remarks.
It’s not available to the global audience, but Musk’s messaging has already broken through. The New York Times’ Mike Isaac live-blogged the conference call, which started off with its share of technical issues, but then apparently ran smoothly thereafter. Isaac doesn’t point to any particularly explicit and emphatic declaration, as the WSJ reported, but the context of the call clearly showed Musk fully expects to take control of Twitter in the near future:
Mr. Musk attended a virtual all-hands meeting as his $44 billion acquisition of the company, announced in April, continues to move ahead — despite Mr. Musk’s hand-wringing about bot accounts on the site, which many analysts have interpreted as an effort to get out of the deal or lower its price tag.
The meeting has been a long time coming. Mr. Musk was supposed to take questions from employees after Twitter appointed him to its board in April, but that appearance was scrapped after he changed his mind and tried to buy the company instead. His first question was if he would do another event, given that Thursday’s 45-minute meeting wasn’t likely enough time to answer all of the many questions collected over the past few days. He agreed to appear again.
He said WeChat, the Chinese social media and payments app, could be a possible vision for Twitter and said he appreciated people “making a living on Twitter.”
Nothing in Isaac’s notes sounds as though Musk has lost any enthusiasm for his bid. In fact, he seemed to go out of his way to maintain a positive outlook on the future of Twitter and its employees, in part by assuring them that his mandatory-in-office policy at Tesla and SpaceX won’t apply to Twitter — at least not as much:
Mr. Musk recently told employees at Tesla and SpaceX, which he also runs, that they should be working in the office 40 hours a week. In this meeting, Mr. Musk said that Tesla makes cars and does work that is “impossible to do remotely.” He said Twitter is different from Tesla and that people who are “exceptional at their jobs” can work remotely. He worried that remote work reduces the “esprit de corps.”
Interestingly, it appears that none of the employees’ questions (which were pre-submitted) asked directly about Musk’s intent to close the deal. Just the fact that Musk showed up for this meeting sent a signal about his seriousness in pursuing his bid to its conclusion. Not that he has much choice on that anyway at this point, of course; Musk made a legal commitment that Twitter can force him to honor. They did ask about the bot issue, though, and Musk’s answer makes it seem as though he’s looking to tackle that issue quickly once the sale closes:
Ms. Berland asked Mr. Musk about his past statement on “authenticating all humans” who use Twitter. He said he doesnt want to make people use their real names on Twitter and thinks there’s utility in using pseudonyms to express one’s political views on the service.
Mr. Musk indicates he generally hates the amount of bots on Twitter. He wants to make it more difficult for spammers and bot buyers to exist on the platform.
He also laid down some expectations about comment moderation and staff performance, the Washington Post reports. A Musk-led Twitter won’t be a “free for all,” but it should remain “entertaining” and its users free from harassment. As far as staff policies, Musk anticipates some cutbacks and expects people to work for a living:
Employees asked whether he would lay people off, whether his political views would inform his leadership of the company, what he would do to regain trust, and his views on policing content that is harmful but not illegal, such as misinformation. He also indicated that he believed in the advertising business model, which he had derided in the past. He reiterated his concerns about spam and bots and described himself as a political moderate.
On layoffs, Musk said he believed in running companies as a “meritocracy,” saying, “If someone is getting stuff done, great, I love them. If they’re not, why are they at the company?”
On harmful content, he reiterated his views that poeple should be able to express “extreme” views so long as what they say doesn’t violate the law. But he also appeared to sidestep questions about how such content should be moderated, saying that “the standard is more than not offending people, the standard should be they should be entertained.”
Other than the fact that Musk apparently still wants to close this deal, the Twitter meeting didn’t produce any real surprises. Except one, perhaps: Twitter’s stock price rose by 1% after the meeting concluded. That may not sound like much, but today …
Twitter’s stock, which was down as the meeting started, is now up about 1 percent. That makes it one of the best-performing companies in the S&P 500 today.
As Jason Karaian added, that still leaves a $17 gap per share between the current price and Musk’s bid. And the bump evaporated almost immediately, too. Either investors may be reacting to other market conditions, or they don’t trust Musk to follow through on the purchase, or a combination of both. So we may have ended this meeting at the same point it started: wait and see.