Can Elon Musk turn Twitter into an ‘everything app?’ Experts say it’s not looking good
The continuing turmoil at Twitter, which has also raised questions about the ultimate fate of the social media site, may have also thwarted some of the other plans Elon Musk had for his new acquisition — to create an app for everything.
The billionaire, a frequent Twitter user, has spoken about purchasing Twitter as part of his crusade for a free speech forum that is important for the “future of civilization” to have as a “common digital town square.”
But he’s also revealed a few hints that he has another goal in mind with the acquisition — to create, in his words, “X,” “the everything app.”
Although details are slim, Musk has suggested his inspiration would be China’s WeChat, which offers a series of services for users such as messaging, social networking, peer-to-peer payments and e-commerce shopping.
Currently, Musk is dealing with the fallout of some of his corporate moves. Hundreds of Twitter Inc. employees were estimated to have decided to quit following a Thursday deadline from Musk that staffers sign up for “long hours at high intensity,” or leave.
The company also notified employees that it will close its offices and cut badge access until Monday, according to two Reuters sources.
Meanwhile, the staff departures and continued turmoil has fuelled speculation that the site’s collapse is imminent. Yet even if Twitter survives, Musk will likely face some significant challenges in creating his everything app, including a potentially skeptical North American market, some analysts say.
A handful of successful super apps
“So far we have only seen a handful of successful super apps in Asia like WeChat, not in the West. There are good reasons for that,” Xiaofeng Wang, principal analyst at the global market research company Forrester, said in an email to CBC News.
While Musk hasn’t said much about his plans, he did tweet in October that “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.”
And during a question and answer session with Twitter employees in June, Musk spoke about the lack of a super app like WeChat outside of Asia.
“If I think of, like, WeChat in China, which is actually a great, great app, but there’s no WeChat movement outside of China,” he said. “And I think that there’s a real opportunity to create that. You basically live on WeChat in China because it’s so useful and so helpful to your daily life. And I think if we could achieve that, or even close to that with Twitter, it would be an immense success.”
Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app
The Chinese super app WeChat has more than one billion monthly users, according to one estimate, and is a ubiquitous part of daily life in China. Users can hail a car or taxi, send money to friends and family or make payments at stores.
“We are seeing him now attempt to take some of the elements from the super app and try to incorporate them into Twitter,” said Jasmine Enberg, an analyst at Insider Intelligence. That includes the Twitter blue check subscription service, at $7.99 per month.
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Easier to start from scratch
But Enberg added that Musk faces an uphill battle turning users into customers on a platform they’re used to accessing for free.
“It probably would have been easier for him to start it from scratch,” she said.
As well, consumers in North America are used to using different apps for different activities, and may be more concerned about privacy issues, she said.
“Bringing payments into a social network is an incredibly difficult task because there are a lot of security and privacy concerns already with social networks,” Enberg said. ” And it’s going to be hard to convince users to fork over more personal and payment information to Twitter at this point.”
Julian Birkinshaw, the academic director of the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Private Capital at the London Business School, said he believes Musk’s plans for a super app are a “non-starter.”
He suggested Musk can’t just copy the success of WeChat because it evolved at a moment in time in China when they didn’t have a good payment system.
‘No problem to be solved’
“If someone tried to do that in Europe or Canada, a lot of people will say, ‘Well, I don’t need that. I’ve already got my Apple Pay, I’ve already got my PayPal … [or] I just use my debit card.'”
“There is no problem to be solved. And so to try to kind of fold in some new functionality when in fact people are very comfortable with their ingrained habits about how they live their lives — there’s no reason to do that,” said Birkinshaw, who has researched WeChat.
Wang said WeChat’s success was built on a high level of consumer trust. According to one of their company surveys, 58 per cent of consumers in China trust the content brands post on social media, while only 20 per cent of consumers in the U.S. do, she said.
Chinese consumers are more willing to have deeper engagement with brands on their WeChat official accounts, buy products on their WeChat mini programs and complete transactions directly with WeChat Pay, share personal information and join loyalty programs via WeChat CRM, she said.
“It would be a lot harder for a Western social media app to build the same level of trust and create a full-functional business ecosystem on the platform,” Wang said.