Lewis: The razor’s edge | VailDaily.com

Lewis: The razor’s edge

I am under no delusion that everyone agrees with my columns. I write them because I believe it is important to discuss today’s key issues and I try to provide a fact-based perspective for my opinions. I also try to call out issues on both sides of the aisle. Still, if I was a public company CEO, I would not be writing this column. 

Anyone in the public domain these days who “speaks their mind” will easily offend about half the population. If you are an actor, sports personality, or CEO, speaking your mind could have a direct impact on your brand or business. With the current level of polarization in America, stating an opinion publicly is even more problematic.

This is why most companies, and their leaders, refrain from the lose-lose that is political activism. The few that do express strong opinions, like Mr. Pillow, ultimately wind up negatively impacting their business.

Elon Musk is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time and I would not bet against him in terms of making Twitter successful, but I do have one recommendation — focus on being the CEO and not a political activist.

Twitter’s business, like most social media companies, sits on a razor’s edge. People seek out these platforms for the variety of opinions and stay for the controversies. The controversy is the entertainment — the engaging force. Twitter needs conflict and disparagement like a reality show needs drama, but there are limits. If you are too controlling, the drama disappears, as do your viewers. If you have no controls, chaos ensues creating a platform that becomes a useless wasteland of hate and misinformation. Then the advertisers bail.

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Initially, Musk made a bold statement that he is a “free speech absolutist” disrupting the current balance on Twitter, akin to suddenly steering the car off the road. While some, mostly on the far right, cheered, many advertisers fearing their brands could be at risk paused their advertising.

With the car (aka Twitter’s revenue stream) heading for the ditch, Musk then tried to convince advertisers that his hyperbolic message was not really his intent. The car is now swerving wildly left and right while he tries to regain control — and balance. People start to leave Twitter because they hate the idea of no controls and others leave when he reverses course. Advertisers sit on the sidelines and wait to see if the car will recover.

If you own a platform where all (or most) opinions are welcomed, it helps if the CEO is the impartial referee and not, as in the case of Musk, one of the radicals.

Musk’s ludicrous statements, like tweeting the utter fiction that Paul Pelosi’s attack was the result of a conflict with a homosexual prostitute, will have an impact well beyond Twitter. Right-wing free speechers in Montana aren’t the ones buying all of those expensive Teslas. California accounts for a full 15% of Tesla’s business and is its largest U.S. market, so it is probably not a great idea to alienate your single largest customer base with a hateful tweet, especially one that is a complete fabrication.

The axiom that “all press is good press” is patently false when it comes to expressing politically charged beliefs. The more appropriate axiom here might be “anything you say will hurt you.” Think about it. If you know nothing about Elon Musk and want to buy an electric car, Tesla gets a fair shot. However, if the CEO Tweets nonsense deriding something you feel strongly about, then you will probably pass on the Tesla.

I enjoy writing these columns knowing that not everyone will agree with me and that is just fine — especially because I am not trying to sell you a car or anything else. Elon Musk has two choices for Twitter. He can remain unbiased and make Twitter an open platform for news and dialog or he can take it down the same road as Truth Social and Fox News by taking a side and inserting his will to frame the discussion.

He has the right to do either but, from a business perspective, all of his companies would be more successful if he focused on leadership and defered the political activism to others.

Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology last year and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.

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