For several years, speculation has surrounded Jack Dorsey's role at Twitter. The co-founder had already stepped down as chief executive in 2008, to found digital payments app Square, before returning to his previous role at Twitter in 2015.
In the meantime, Square has grown into a company worth $97bn – far exceeding Twitter’s value ($37bn).
Key investors Elliott Management questioned whether the Twitter chief executive had lost focus and called for his departure again in 2020.
It was a matter of time before he would have to choose between the two businesses and, given their respective values, it was obvious which one he would choose.
However, that didn’t prevent a volatile 24 hours on the New York Stock Exchange.
But how has Twitter’s comms contributed to the fluctuations and how can it ensure the transition of power is smooth?
Tweet and sour
Following rumours of the announcement, shares in Twitter rose nine per cent on market opening. Dorsey and incoming chief executive Parag Agrawal issued statements on Twitter announcing their plans for the transition, but the early gains on the stock market dissipated, closing two per cent below its opening price.
Perhaps the decision to hand the reins to chief technology officer Agrawal underwhelmed investors, who had hoped an external hire might reinvigorate the business.
The handover statements failed to outline a clear vision for the future and much-needed plans to shake up the company hierarchy were not addressed.
What next for Twitter?
Dorsey said in a statement yesterday that he believed the principle of a company being ‘founder-led’ was limiting and that he had worked hard to ensure that Twitter could break free of its founding as well as its founder.
Now that philosophy will be tested. If the share price is an indicator of how favourably the succession plan has been communicated and received, then there’s room for improvement.
Twitter’s communications strategy needs to strike a balance between ensuring continuity to reassure key stakeholders and demonstrating that it is breaking with tradition.
In a culture war where free speech is being pitted against hate speech, social media platforms are coming under increasing pressure to tackle misinformation and online harms, such as cyberbullying.
Twitter’s leader must be both vocal and tough on this.
The social media industry has also become far more competitive since Twitter was founded, with challenger brands including TikTok and Parler emerging to take market share and Meta ramping up its digital capabilities.
To remain competitive, Twitter will need to continually innovate and evolve, investing in technology and identifying new ways to monetise the platform.
Agrawal will need to be a key driver of this change – his previous role as chief technology officer will give him clout – and build his own reputation, separate from his predecessor’s.
Finding his own voice and communicating an original business strategy, perhaps focused on creating a safer platform as much as user growth, will help him emerge from Dorsey’s long shadow.
Tim Jotischky is director of reputation at The PHA Group