In August, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted he wanted to take Tesla private and funding was secured. This single tweet resulted in a lawsuit from the Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC), accusing him of securities fraud. The eventual settlement required him to step down as chairman of the board for three years and pay a $20 million fine. In addition, Tesla must add two independent directors to the board.
Musk’s punishment is a result of collapsed contexts on social media. Communication technology flattens multiple audiences into one and expands uncontrollable audiences. Users create an imaginary audience, the one they believe is reading their posts, but this does not reflect reality. Invisible audiences and the lack of spatial, social and temporal boundaries define networked publics audience dynamics on social networking sites.
Collapsed contexts present a challenge for many famous individuals on social media. Musk’s intended audience, of simply voicing his thoughts into a void, was imaginary. His invisible audience was the SEC and led to Tesla’s stock plummeting and the loss of his position. His audience was larger than people listening, it had hard, legal ramifications.
Not keeping collapsed contexts in mind while posting on social media can lead to the need for crisis management intervention. For two brands, Tesla and Musk, that need to produce corresponding messaging, it can be difficult to field defined messaging that fits both brands, as well as audiences.
The digital age and shift to communication on social media thrusted companies into communicating with their stakeholders and audiences on digital platforms. Consumers are on social media. Brands need to communicate with them in ways that makes sense. The shift to digital communication puts new pressure on brands for consistent messaging and branding.
As social media continues to cultivate culture, it is important for companies to understand how to effectively communicate key messages on social media. Previously, communications professionals used traditional forms of communication such as television, radio, newspapers, billboards and eventually websites. But with the rise of social media, marketers have found themselves in a new realm of communication techniques to reach their audiences.
Brand managers quickly adopted Twitter, especially as it is used more actively for business. Companies tweet along with the faces of the company, most successfully the CEOs, who have the highest social status and are considered the ultimate company spokespeople. On social media, CEOs have the opportunity to influence conversations, build their own public image, as well as their companies’. But they must do so carefully and keep these widespread, unknown audiences in mind.
How should Tesla move forward? Should it introduce another star to represent the company?