When you hear about Twitter these days, chances are it's because of the latest dispatches from our bombastic, erratic Tweeter-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump.
The President's use of the platform is unprecedented, and he might even be the driving force in its sudden growth spurt last quarter. But his tweets — for all the @replies, news stories, and perhaps investigations they've inspired — are really just the sideshow. There's another Twitter user whose messages don't generate the same level of emotional response, but matter much more to our future.
It would surely pain President Trump to read this, but @elonmusk is actually Twitter's most important handle.
Elon Musk is undeniably one of the most remarkable public figures of the modern age. He's a billionaire eccentric, a renowned genius, a multi-hyphenate executive juggling multiple paradigm-shifting companies — so it's not surprising in our social media-driven world that he's also the most interesting and important person on Twitter.
Musk's tweets play a part in his singular vision of the changing world.
He doesn't just take to the platform for grandstanding and bluster. More than anyone else, his tweets play a part in his singular vision of the changing world.
When Musk tweets, the tech and business worlds stop to check the timeline. He posts news about his companies long before official statements, shares his some of his most interesting personal thoughts, and takes on outlandish challenges. But most importantly, he brings everyone into the conversation.
For every one of his grand statements about Tesla, SpaceX, the Boring Company, Neuralink, and OpenAI, you'll likely find two or three replies to the general public who tweet back at him. Musk's tweets and replies are filled with extra product info, insights, and more likely than not, really bad dad jokes.
What I love about The Boring Company are the low expectations. Nowhere to go but down.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 17, 2017
He uses the platform unlike anyone else of his caliber — which is due in part, no doubt, to the fact that there just aren't any other execs out there on a much-publicized mission to save humanity from itself.
Man of the Tweeple
If you're going to be the man driving the effort to preserve the people, you have to be a man of the people. Thanks to the communal nature of Twitter, with its capacity for instant engagement with anyone in the world with a public profile, Musk's larger-than-life persona is expanded — and familiarized — even further.
Musk's online presence can be less guarded and rigid than other celebrity executives, giving us a unique and (relatively) unfiltered look into his mind. Can you imagine Tim Cook crowdsourcing the name of an Apple venture, like Musk did for his Boring Company's tunneling machine? In fact, that company probably wouldn't even exist without Twitter — can you imagine anyone else launching a major endeavor as a follow-up to a stream-of-consciousness tweetstorm about being stuck in traffic?
The closest parallel to Musk's executive presence on the platform is probably T-Mobile CEO John Legere — but their vibes are totally different. Legere is a chronic oversharer, and his tweetstorms can quickly take a turn into overt, unhinged barbs at his favorite target, telecom topdog Verizon. Don't get me wrong, his tweets can be funny and weird like Musk's, and he's been known to drop company news ahead of his PR team, too — but new wireless plans just aren't on the same level as rocket launches and self-driving cars.
It's not all puns and fun
Still, Musk's Twitter doesn't give us absolutely unfiltered "real talk" all the time — that much was clear when he deleted critical tweets about the Muslim ban in February. Even the puns end when problems arise.
When Musk tweets, the tech and business worlds stop to check the timeline.
Some of Tesla's factory employees have publicly raised concerns about the company's working policies and pushed for unionization. When the initial allegations surfaced, Musk remained on the platform to defend himself and the company, responding to questions from Gizmodo via DM.
When it came time to directly engage with the issue, though, he took a more traditional tack, opting to send a company-wide email that was later leaked to BuzzFeed News. Even if Musk positions himself as our friendly neighborhood billionaire online, he's still a high-powered CEO with the bottom line and productivity squarely in his sights.
That's not to say Musk's more irreverent and engaging Twitter presence is a complete fabrication; there's too much going on for that to be the case. The unpredictable spurts of activity, the seemingly random jokes and personal admissions — there's no sense of curation here.
I have alerts set for when Musk tweets, so for better or worse, I see them all. I see an unbelievably agile, active mind at work, picking and choosing what he wants to share with the world within the realm of his vast responsibilities. It just so happens that what he wants to share often has an outsized shot at changing the world — so those tweets are well worth paying attention to.