Social media officially has enough utility for "normie" billionaires
From "don't get high on your own supply" to "who controls the memes, controls the universe"
I hate when people use the word normie but bear with me, it’s the best I can think of for this.
Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg became particularly active across social media platforms in April. Probably because they’ve been observing Elon Musk, who has always seemed to have an inherent grasp on internet culture, but recently sky-rocketed into another realm of relevance because of it.
I find this forced shift for billionaires who are traditionally private to routinely post on social media to be fascinating.
Long gone are the days of “just delete your social media”, as its importance has started to draw increasing parallels to something like a laptop — meaning, if you don’t have quick access or understand how to leverage it, you’re at a cultural disadvantage.
But playing the game to Musk’s extent, as mentioned later in this piece, requires an approach that sits well with the general public and/or a cult-like pocket of the internet.
Why public figures tend to stay quiet on Twitter
Elon Musk holds cultural relevance by nature of his net worth and the role that his various companies play in society, but that cultural relevance has skyrocketed due to his use of social media — often channeling the power of memes.
”A meme is an idea, image, or style that is spread through social media platforms. Traditionally, memes were a concept or catchphrase, but have since evolved to include images, videos, GIFs, and viral phenomenons. The meaning is subject to change over time.” — Wikipedia
Musk recently questioned why many of the most-followed Twitter accounts haven’t been active in recent years — going as far as to question if the platform is dying, despite recently exceeding its active user base growth expectations.
The reason public figures tend to stay quiet on Twitter is quite simple — its culture is a double-edged sword. Twitter embodies the nature of a comment section, making it particularly harsh for those prone to receiving an influx of public opinion. Andrew Schulz said it well when responding to Musk:
A large percent of general users have become passive for this reason as well. A 2021 study by Pew Research showed that 25% of Twitter users in the US produce around 97% of all tweets. Additionally, it’s evident that platforms like Instagram and TikTok give users greater incentive to post through higher engagement and growth potential.
Despite the evident cons for both public figures and general users, Twitter differentiates itself from other social media platforms as the hub for breaking news and public discourse. For example: if your Instagram app is faulty, you run to Twitter and search ‘Instagram down’ to see if others are experiencing the same thing. As a platform that’s focused on written content, the search function is gold — specifically when it comes to observing things unfold in real-time.
Those who can use Twitter to its full advantage are often those who can tweet with no constraints. This may be because they’re in full control of their career and a personal slip-up has little to no effect on its trajectory, or they’ve built up a cult-like following that embraces every chapter of their journey. Many public figures hold both of these advantages, yet still remain passive users — why isn’t too tough to pinpoint.
The art of Twitter
I believe there are two pockets of Twitter that are most compelling:
One involves those who are strong with information curation — think journalists. The other involves those who assess their train of thought very little before tweeting — think Caucasian James or Quen Blackwell.
Elon Musk channels both pretty well. The information he shares is compelling by nature of what he’s built, and simultaneously, he feels liberated enough to tweet off the cuff.
“I don’t know — I’m tweeting more or less stream of consciousness, you know. It’s not like, ‘Let me think about some grand plan for my Twitter’ or whatever. I’m literally on the toilet or something, like, ‘Haha this is funny’ and tweet that out. That’s like most of them, you know, oversharing.” -Elon Musk at TED2022
Again, being a public figure who is also a high-engagement internet personality requires an approach that sits well with either the general public or a cult-like pocket of the internet. A following of millions means little if your audience isn’t engaged, but Musk certainly doesn’t struggle there.
A public figure who plays the internet game similarly well is Doja Cat. She’s always been a rare talent since emerging on the scene back in 2014, but “Mooo!” is what shot her into mega-fame, even before she had songs hit on TikTok. It’s evident that understanding and continuously embracing the power of memes tends to push public figures into another realm of digital power.
Social media is fascinated by the shameless
I recently came across a TikTok from @cozyakili about social media’s lack of nuance and utilization of polarizing narratives. He draws parallels to pop culture so that he can make complex human nature narratives compelling to the masses. The entire video is nothing short of brilliance, but here’s an excerpt:
“There’s this online narrative where everything has to be really, really polarizing to attract any attention. [Everything has to be outrageous].
The narratives that work well to sell us on beauty products, courses, books, [or ideas]— are the narratives that kind of tell us we are shit without that thing.”
Despite my annoyance towards some of Musk’s antics on the platform, one thing social media has taught me over the years is that people are fascinated by the shameless.
I didn’t view Elon Musk as a polarizing figure before, but the far left has a tendency to force people into political ideologies. If you don’t deem yourself a Democrat, you’re a Republican by default. And being a billionaire certainly doesn’t help Musk in this assessment.
“Protecting freedom of speech” is key messaging that Musk has used while expressing his interest in buying Twitter. While a constitutional right for every American — let’s be honest, the term “free speech” has been weaponized by the right, specifically when speaking to feeling silenced across social media platforms in recent years. Unfortunately, Musk fell weak to a polarization play:
Musk sent out tweets afterward to clarify his distaste towards both extremes. But as mentioned earlier — if you’re not 100% with the left, the far left believes you’re against them by default. The graphic above shared by Musk showcases an increasing stance toward the right, and the internet lacks enough nuance to assume that will be continued until he’s an extremist.
Those who have gained mass recognition solely through social media (ex: influencers) and maintained longevity over the years, did so by continuously pushing through criticism. Even the valid criticism. And I mean, you can’t blame them — we’re only human, and life goes on with or without others’ approval.
Because of things like this, people deem others narcissists far too easily today. Musk gets this label a lot. Though I’ll admit, there’s no denying that this personality disorder thrives amongst the nature of today’s social media algorithms. People tend to be fascinated by those who have no regard for others. Why? Because the average person embodies a bulk of mental constraints through fearing others’ opinions. Love or hate these public figures, that nature about them remains compelling.
And at the end of the day, whether people love or hate-watch someone’s content, it’s still engagement. Algorithms do not decipher between those numbers.
Sidebar thought: I don’t believe Elon Musk is a narcissist. Though I do believe he’s someone who has yielded enough confidence to be shameless about his journey in a way that comes off in a similar way.
Ryan Long and I recently discussed how being able to handle backlash on social media is both a built-up skill and tolerance. Especially on Twitter.
The more it happens, the more you can make sense of the feedback— not just by quantity, but more importantly by its quality.
In the moments of internet hate, it can feel like the world is against you— but within 72-hours, you often realize the bulk of it fit into a 24-hour news cycle instead of being valuable for the long-term.
How does Musk approach this? Musk’s gauge of public opinion and reign of strong Twitter engagement weren’t built solely in the month of April— when he became the platform’s largest shareholder and offered to purchase it for $44 billion just two weeks later. He’s gravitated toward the platform for years:
During TED2022, Musk noted that despite not assessing his tweets much before sharing them with the world, he does still assess the public’s reaction. Over the years, it’s clear that he’s gained a quality understanding of the depths of internet culture — which has snowballed into his, and partly his companies’, cultural relevance today.
Now other billionaire CEOs are no longer questioning its utility for themselves.
Bezos trying to social media
Jeff Bezos recently pulled a bold move by trying to bring down Elon Musk in the midst of his Twitter domination:
Pushing back on your own proposal just a few hours after tweeting it? Quite the weak move.
It’s not that the question didn’t have merit, it’s that…
Chinese-based sellers accounted for 75% of new Amazon sellers in Jan 2021
Chinese-based sellers make up 38% of the top sellers on Amazon
Bezos was not gonna miraculously have the left on his side for obvious reasons
The right is currently sucking Musk dry
This was ballsy considering Musk put out the infamous Bill Gates tweet just three days prior. Bezos could’ve easily got pushed into the meme vortex, which is maybe what he was aiming at— but Musk decided to not even give him the time of day.
Side note: it’s necessary to call out that the political graphic showcased earlier received more engagement than this wild shit. In my eyes, they’re not even close in terms of shock value — but that just exemplifies the power of polarization.
Bezos diluting his statement after receiving an influx of backlash — on a question that holds validity despite his identity and weak cultural timing — shows that he’s not yet accustomed to the nature of utilizing social media platforms via stream of consciousness. He’ll get there.
Bezos has had a defiant and secretive nature to his online presence — very calculated about what he would post if/when he did. Meanwhile, Musk has always exerted more transparency by treating Twitter feedback like democracy when it came to building his companies in public. Bezos is now trying to get comfortable with the game.
“He’s not ready for that internet fight life.” -Ryan Long
Before Twitter, Bezos became increasingly active on Instagram once his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez launched her account back in September. Before, he had only ever shared more buttoned-up CEO-esque content… then boom, buttons down:
I’m a complete and total bitch for this, but:
Sanchez seems to have posted herself on her IG Story, screenshotted it within 24 seconds, and then either shared it to his account with added text or… I don’t know. I’m going unnecessarily far into this lmfao. NEXT.
Yes, social media has utility — but there’s more at play
Tesla famously has a $0 marketing strategy — much in part due to Musk’s cult-like following and addictive charisma (or shamelessness) — as said by Jennifer Clinehens via Medium.
Elon Musk has an inherent knack for internet culture that Bezos, Gates, and Zuckerberg do not currently exude. Similar to how some have a natural niche for comedy or art — some people just have a thing for it.
You can get a sense of someone’s aura even through a screen, and some have a knack for expressing their individuality. I’m not sure how to elaborate but — the people that get it, get it. If someone drops a thread (🧵), takes advice from social media gurus, and/or always has others assess their shit before posting — they tend to not fall into the category. I don’t care about their follower count. I’m sure they’re great humans. But those are often clear indicators.
I find Twitter to be quite telling about a person’s subconscious due to likes being public and it being best used as a stream of consciousness (yeah, that term again) via written word. In turn, the platform has very few superficial factors at play in comparison to its counterparts.
Though, I will call out that Musk’s lack of credit when reposting memes is pretty fucking wild— Taylor Lorenz once wrote about this. It’s quite simple, especially when he’s often screenshotting and reposting from the original creator. It feels especially grimy knowing the unique creativity and individuality that can go into something as simple as a meme — even more so when considering that credit could change someone’s life.
“Staging is disgusting — it’s like the equivalent of having plants in the audience for crowd-work. I feel like the internet has no rules. You know, the same way that people like meme guys feel no way about stealing content.” -Ryan Long when we discussed people who stage on-street interviews
Despite the beef that I have with not crediting creators, like Gaby Goldberg has written about, curators are a form of creators and there is a business model for good taste.
It’s especially hard for corporations to be good with memes, making it one of the few things that individuals have full power over today. Corporations lack strength in creating memes because the chain of approvals that are built into their structures make the end product “feel corporate” and lose any sense of individuality.
Tesla taps into memes well because the vast majority of its marketing power is individualized through Elon Musk, who is a master meme curator. Taco Bell recently dominated meme culture by giving Doja Cat full reign over the Mexican Pizza comeback, who aside from being the best female performer of my life thus far, is also a walking meme herself.
Even if Bezos hired a sick ghostwriter for his tweets, he likely doesn’t have a strong enough sense of curation to approve the good stuff. And even if he did, I believe in karma and the power of authenticity enough to believe it wouldn’t amount to much for the long-term because it’d lack true individuality.
Can you tell I take this stuff seriously?
Zuckerberg is human beep boop
Throughout the years that social media was arguably more wholesome, Mark Zuckerberg had posted up to 66 times in a single year. As polarization grew, and much of the blame was put on his platforms, Zuckerberg started to share far less.
Zuckerberg posted to his Instagram feed only 18 times in 2020, averaging one to two posts per month. In 2021, he upped his on-feed appearances to 29, averaging two to three posts per month. Just in April of 2022, Zuckerberg posted six times to his feed— all while Instagram had a decline in daily active users for the first time in its history.
Like Bezos, I would consider Zuckerberg a normie billionaire CEO. It’s not a dig, it’s just that they take a more cookie-cutter and calculated approach to social media — “wholesome” content, while outside of that tends to come off as filtered.
Caption: This always makes me laugh.
Zuckerberg hehe haha. Yes, exacerbate mental illness let’s fucking gooooo!
I recently tweeted about how Zuckerberg made an unsettling amount of independent media appearances (ex: Lex Fridman and Tim Ferris), considering he has always stuck with safe options like Good Morning America in the past.
Independent media appearances are what I want and expect of people in power today, so I’m not in full hater mode — I just can’t deny that it feels inauthentic to start doing so only when independent media is now indisputably at the forefront of culture. Musk started making rounds back in 2018 when he appeared on Joe Rogan.
‘Never get high on your own supply’
My last normie billionaire CEO amusement is aimed at Bill Gates. Over the weekend, his social media manager shared what was a ‘day in the life’ equivalent to his IG Stories — 6 slides, photos with text over them — you know the vibes. This content was an outlier for him and I’m very upset that I forgot to screenshot.
In the past, tech execs have admitted to going on dopamine fasts, utilizing social media very little, and/or hiding screens from their kids. The concept of ‘never get high on your own supply’ was covered well by Alex Hern in The Guardian back in 2018. Tech execs’ hiatus was felt little as the money rolled in— their platforms playing into the attention economy that they understood the mechanics of and therefore avoided, while infiltrating the average household and youth mind.
Steve Jobs’ children hadn't even tried out the iPad after it hit shelves in 2010.
"They haven't used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home."
I find it fascinating that we’ve gotten to a point where social media holds so much utility in society that, despite preferring to tune out, even people of this stature feel that it’s now necessary to be an active rather than passive user. Though it’s likely a moment in time — as privacy will surely become the biggest flex in the future.
Long gone are the days of “just delete your social media” with its importance drawing increasing parallels to something like a laptop — if you don’t have quick access or understand how to leverage it, you’re at a cultural disadvantage.
I was shocked when I recently heard that a friend who got hired as a nurse practitioner was required to actively post on social media for the job, despite not caring for it nor feeling particularly equipped to do so. Though the requirement may seem obvious considering the medical accounts across platforms, I assumed it wasn’t a necessary part of the job and instead something taken part in by choice.
All of this just has me thinking more and more about digital footprints.
Updates (2022 and 2023)
Bezos is getting into it.
Gates? Not so much.
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Zuckerberg? Getting there, for sure.
And Elon Musk has unfortunately gotten really annoying lately.
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