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Ep12: The Truth behind the Twitter Layoffs (Part 1 of 2)

Well… it’s been quite the month for the tech industry.

Following Elon’s acquisition of Twitter on the 27th of October 2022, he promptly fired almost 50% of the staff. However, it’s how he did it that has angered people.

Following Elon’s acquisition of Twitter on the 27th of October 2022, he promptly fired almost 50% of the staff. However, it’sΒ howΒ he did it that has angered people.

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In this episode we have exclusive interviews with 3 industry insiders:

  1. We get the expert opinion on how the brand and PR were handled from Stephen Waddington, a PR guru, the visiting professor of PR for Newcastle University and a former head of CIPR.
  2. We get the Twitter inside story from Dr Candice Schaefer, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist & Mental Health and Wellness Strategist, and until earlier this year the Global Head of Employee Wellness at Twitter.
  3. We learn best the practice for managing crisis from Arun Krishnakumar, Graduate of the University of Oxford & London School of Economics, and author of ‘Restaup: A Founders Guide to Crisis Navigation’.

Let’s get stuck in!

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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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Steven Waddington
I don’t think he’s got a plan at the moment I think and I don’t understand what he’s trying to do

Leanne Elliott
Hello, and welcome back to the truth lives and workplace culture podcast. My name is Liam. I’m a Business psychologist.

Al Elliott
My name is Al and I’m a business owner.

Leanne Elliott
And welcome back. Hello. Hi.

Al Elliott
If this is your first time maybe your second time listening then welcome. Tell us what you’re doing. Are you are you driving? Are you at work? Are you Skyping? That’s probably a quite a UK centric term that skydiving isn’t it

Leanne Elliott
to skydive to coast yes to bunker distracted,

Al Elliott
talking of being distracted. Then today we are talking about Leo what

Leanne Elliott
we’re talking about the truth behind the Twitter layoffs. Let’s be honest, this shit show that it currently is. I’ll be honest, we have delayed recording this episode because every day we wake up and there is more in the media. Elon Musk has made yet another move. So as of this episode, release date, the 15th of November 2022. Were as up to date as we possibly can be. But yeah, wow, we’re gonna explore what happened, why it happened, what you can learn from it. And yeah, speak some experts as well, because I’m I can’t possibly unpick this on our own.

Al Elliott
Definitely not. So just as a quick refresher, then so you must be living under a rock. If you don’t know that Elon acquired Twitter, the publicly traded company now private on October 27. I’m going to go through the full timeline in a second. But the Fallout has been quite massive, really, reportedly 50% of the staff or up to 50%, the staff have been fired. large advertisers are disappearing users. And if you’ve been on Twitter recently, you know that there’s people are not happy about all this. So our main question we’re asking is did Ilan handle the layoffs the right way? And what is the truth? And what are the lies behind this story? So this is where it’s gonna be three parts, we’re talking about what it means for the business of Twitter. Then we’re gonna be talking about what the impact is layoffs have on both outgoing employees and the ones who remain that’s firmly Leanne’s wheelhouse. And finally, we’ll be talking about what does it mean for the brand and the users. Now we have some exclusive interviews, and we’re talking in a minute about the experts who are going to join us. But firstly, let’s just remind ourselves of the timeline. So it seems a long time ago, but it was April the fourth when Ilan announced that he Oh 9% on Twitter. And then a couple of days later, on the 11th, he was invited to join the board of directors but declined. And then on the 14th, he offered $44 billion, that’s B billion dollars for Twitter, which was blocked by the board. So fast for another 10 days, middle of April, end of April, the 25th. The board finally accepts the offer. But then it’s like a soap opera, isn’t it. But then June the sixth. Elon says I’m not gonna go through with it. Because of these bots, these Twitter spam bots, we don’t know whether that was just his way to try and get out of it or whether he was doing some kind of clever deal negotiation. And then finally on July the eighth, he backs out, and Twitter sues them. So fast forward to October the fourth, and apparently to avoid the lawsuit, but again, we don’t know he’s a clever lad. Maybe he had an idea that this was all going to happen all along. But he agrees to proceed with the acquisition. And on the 27th. He completes the deal since October, the 27th. We wrote, we’re not even a month away a month in the past. He completes the deal. And Pfizer CEO, which is Parag Agrawal, I think is I think you say I’ve only ever seen his surname written down. So I don’t know how you say it. And then on November the fourth, he fires up to 50% of the workforce. And November, the fifth lawsuit started against him. And this is where the advertisers pay big, big advertisers like Audi and General Motors are apparently pausing their ads and leaving the platform. And then just to mix it all up. About five days ago on the 10th. Elon says bankruptcy isn’t out of the question. So that’s a lot to take in. So we’re gonna be joined by three experts to talk about this. The first one is Stephen Waddington. Stephen is a visiting professor of PR for Newcastle University in the UK. He’s also non Executive Director for a number of PR agencies, and he’s the past president of the UK based Chartered Institute of Public Relations. So he’s only talking very much in terms of PR. Then we’ve got Alan Krishnakumar, who is a FinTech influencer. He’s a top hundreds of social leader and the top 100 Asian in UK Tech. He’s graduated from University of Oxford and he’s also got a book called restart up which the founders guide to crisis navigation. And the final guests we’ve got,

Leanne Elliott
well if that isn’t enough for you, I didn’t I didn’t feel able to carry this psychology flag on my air and so a wonderful woman that called Dr. Candace Shaffer is joining us as well. She is a board certified licenced clinical psychologist. She thought I was clever. Yeah, she’s incredible. She’s a corporate mental health and wellbeing strategist. She’s an international speaker, thought leader. And if that one wasn’t enough between 2019 and 2022. She was the Global Head of employee wellness at drum roll. I can’t do it on Twitter.

Al Elliott
That’s it. So we’ve got from the horse’s mouth here, the Global Head of employee wellness at Twitter. So as this is very much a people thing, because we are going to talk a bit about the business and the brand, but the hardcore story is the people. So Leanne, do you want to give us the idea or the context of how it all fits in in terms of people?

Leanne Elliott
Yes, and I think the first thing we need to try and do is try and put the recent layoffs in the tech space into some type of context. So what we know Twitter have laid off 50% of employees. So that’s 3700 people, Stripe as well recently have let go 14% of employees, that’s about 1000. Left 13% of employees, that’s about 680. And then master. Literally, as we were interviewing some of the experts for the podcast, they announced that they are letting go 13% of their employees, which is a massive 11,000 people. If you don’t have a calculator calculator handy, I’ve done that maths for you. We’re looking at a total of 16,380 people give or take a massive amount of people to try and quantify this 16,000 People is more than 19 Airbus A 380 There’s a double decker ones around the world, the fancy ones, school buses 340 the Hollywood Bowl holds 17,500 people so when we’ve almost filled it, if you’re from Canada, we know we have some listeners listeners in Canada or welcome at the Canada life Centre, which is home to the National Hockey League, the Winnipeg Jets actually holds 16,345 So we’ve we’ve overfilled it. So the tricky thing is from a psychological perspective, it’s really hard for us to understand these types of numbers in terms of actual people, let alone empathise with them. Basically, our feeling system can’t count. That’s the simplest way of putting it. There’s an amazing psychologist called Professor Paul Slovic. He actually causes the deadly arithmetic of compassion. He basically says that, um, he actually uses a phrase from Joseph Stalin, which

Al Elliott
might be quoting him on our podcast. I know, there’s such diversity

Leanne Elliott
we have. But yeah, Stellan reportedly said one man’s death is a tragedy a million deaths is a statistic. I think that’s really a really accurate reflection of the psychology that is going on statistics of mass impact, simply don’t movers or pushes to act in a way that they should. I’ll leave the link to Professor slow Rick’s research in the show notes. It’s very interesting. But the fact is, we’ve got a lot to get home with, so I won’t go into any more detail. The point is, this isn’t clickbait. This is a human story, as hard as it is for us to understand. So to help us, let’s hear from our first guest, Dr. Candace Shafer.

Dr Candice Schaefer
I held a a Twitter space, the day that they announced that they were going to have the layoffs. And speaking of this kind of peer support group, I said, you know, one last time tweeps I want to do a listening circle, and I’m just gonna bite everybody on. And we had one employee that was like crying, she has, you know, a two month old son, she’s the primary breadwinner in the family. And she doesn’t know what she’s gonna do.

Al Elliott
As much as it is a human story, we have to remember. And this is what some of the users don’t seem to understand is that Twitter is a business. And it’s now a privately held business. I’ve seen tweets this morning with someone who’s got 94 followers, no profile picture, tweeting at Elon Musk saying I’m going to be leaving now. I’m not paying for free speech. And I’m like, well, that’s kind of I suppose what Elon wants is the people who were never gonna pay to just basically disappear. So we have to remember, it’s a privately held business. And there’s a really famous saying, which only found out today it was a guy called Milton Friedman, who said the business of business is to do business. So if Twitter isn’t profitable, and if it does go to bankruptcy, like Elon threatens, then nobody’s gonna have any jobs. So we asked our experts a simple question. We said, Do you think that Twitter and Stripe which is the other guys that let people go, and we’ll talk more about stripe in a second? Do you think there was simply overstaffed? And this is what Alan thought,

Arun Krishnakumar
I think, Patrick Patrick Collison, the CEO of stripe, himself admitted that they had over hired through the pandemic and now that they’re not seeing the same kind of growth in terms of revenues, and revenue opportunities. They are having to Let go of a few people.

Al Elliott
Then we ask the same question to Steven Waddington, the PR expert. And let’s just see what he thinks.

Steven Waddington
You know, I’ve been a Twitter user for 15 years, I was trying to think how long and the company has never really found a viable business model. So it’s hard to say in that context, whether it was overstaffed or not, certainly, if you compare the ratios of employees, and this is this is what Wall Street looks at. If you compare the ratio of employees to revenue or profit, then yes, it was. It was overstep.

Al Elliott
So aside from the people who jumped on the bandwagon of outrage, people who just want to be outraged by something, most people agree that the layoffs were inevitable. But we wondered, why have they all seem to have happened this month? Why have they had now we asked Alan, what his thoughts were,

Arun Krishnakumar
what we’re seeing today is a pivot by a lot of tech giants from tech firms from pure growth focused approach to profitability. And that is a good thing. And that is what crisis does to entrepreneurs and founders modes, which is, let’s focus on sustaining of sustainable growth, rather than just mindless growth, just pumping numbers, that that could work in a bull market by why you have to keep churning out numbers of numbers of people, you’ve acquired numbers of daily active users and unit economics that as we call or call that, but in crisis, it is all about, do you have enough cash from a decision perspective, it’s got to be very data driven, very analytical, however, in terms of how they’re going about executing is perhaps the more important thing in times like these,

Al Elliott
I asked the same question to Stephen. It was

Steven Waddington
on the was on the way to create a sustainable business model, I think the challenge is lack of management focus. So you had a period of time. A really important period of time, actually that period through COVID and emergence from from COVID, whether it had a part time CEO, so Jack Dorsey was was working part time and that only got corrected about six months or so ago. And you know, with an organisation by its nature, the size and scale of Twitter, you know, you cannot have, you can’t have part time management. It’s an absolutely full time job.

Al Elliott
And in fact, we even asked the psychologist and the person who was the head of wellness at Twitter, whether whether the layoffs needed to happen.

Dr Candice Schaefer
It’s okay if you’re going to have layoffs. But there’s an there’s a way to approach it that recognises people’s humanity and what they have gone on in their lives being considerate.

Al Elliott
So it does seem like the big tech players are all nursing wounds this month. Because it was only last week, I think Amazon became the first public company to lose a trillion dollars in market cap.

Leanne Elliott
It’s the eyes water does. catholyte had money troubles.

Al Elliott
It makes by recent loss on Bitcoin, it puts it into perspective, I think Netflix is similarly it seems like it’s on the ropes. So layoffs from stripe and Facebook are hitting. So we asked this important question, do we think the tech bubble is bursting? This is what Alan thinks.

Arun Krishnakumar
So I wouldn’t call the tech bubble bursting, it is just a correction. As interest rates go up, the valuation models that have interest rates as the denominator are all going to kind of show a smaller number in terms of valuations, which means a correction in share price. So that is a that is a natural cycle. And as soon as you hear that the Fed is starting to pivot, you’re going to see kind of the market going back again. So it is it is it is it is not new, it is a very, very well understood and known cycle, it is just about how much is the Fed willing to push the market down before we start seeing a recovery. So we are going to see the recovery very soon. So I wouldn’t call it a bubble. But it is about how we go about then reacting to the bubble.

Leanne Elliott
Okay, so we’ve we know it’s gonna be harder. This whole economic environment is potentially harder on the tech community. We have to ask ourselves, is Elon Musk the right person for this job? I know what we did, Steven,

Steven Waddington
I think the issue that that we have, and I think the issue that Elon is now faced with is Twitter is a product Yes. But it’s much more than a product. It’s it’s a public sphere. It’s public conversation, and it’s a platform of, of interconnected relationships. And that’s, I think we’ve we’ve seen this play out. Now Elon has brought product mindset to it. And it isn’t a product is very, very something very much more complex.

Al Elliott
So it’s insane because Steven alluded to the fact that Elon strategy is really, really confusing. For example, he tweeted out and he suggested a $20 verifique Haitian PHY which obviously everyone rebelled against. And instead of going back to his his board or his marketing department and saying, you know, what do we think he just went back and replied, how about $8? Now, it just felt that he just pulled that figure from, well, you know, where he might have pulled it from. And he’s also seems to be trolling his own users on Twitter. So we have to ask, what is the potential impact on Twitter, given Musk’s quite strange approach to things?

Steven Waddington
I don’t think he’s got a plan at the moment, I think. And I don’t understand what he’s trying to do, because he’s paid a lot of money for this asset and immediately immediately announced a reduction in the staff and you’ve said it yourself half that’s dramatic. And I was absolutely brutal, and will have created all sorts of chaos internally within the organisation. Frankly, I’m surprised the platform still up. And that’s without even thinking about the emotional and, and human cost. It can’t possibly be right and only in any set of circumstances. I think you’ve got an individual here and Elon Musk, who’s brought bought Twitter and hasn’t got a plan and gut reaction costs, which is what you saw him do. I mean, you know, I could I could understand it, if he’d come out, come out with some sort of plan. And we were talking about the stripe, this the stripe layoffs, as well, you know, very different situation in that they, they announced what was happening with the company took full responsibility and set out a very clear strategy for, for what was happening in, we’ve said it in the case of Twitter is an absolute shitshow. No one knows what’s going on. Customers don’t know what’s going on the app and sorry, advertisers don’t know what’s going on and they’re leaving. The users don’t know what’s going on. They’re just you know, in the extreme. They’re being trolled by, by Musk himself. And goodness knows how this the anyone that’s employed by the organisation must feel, as we say, must be absolute chaos.

Al Elliott
So that was Stephens thoughts. So we asked Candice who actually had worked at Twitter before, what she thought, oh,

Dr Candice Schaefer
it’s heartbreaking. To be completely honest with you. Twitter has a very magical culture. It’s like I said, it’s very hard to explain. And Elon Musk started, the talk about purchasing the company like literally a week after I left and being at Twitter is challenging enough, because it’s constantly in the spotlight. The employees therefore kind of also constantly in the spotlight, even though they’re not directly when your company is being talked about constantly in the news. There’s a certain pressure that goes along with that. And the internal comms team, God bless them. Twitter, they know how to handle a crisis like no other. If any, anyone out there needs great crisis communication, internal managers, just hit me up, I will tell you the names and they could easily find it, I think in any organisation, but just seeing how much uncertainty the employees were put under for the longest period of time of is this still going to happen is not going to happen. We also had a change of leadership from Jack Parag. Shortly thereafter, and you barely had any chance to even try to understand pirogues leadership style, there were changes in the C suite. Just put a tonne of uncertainty. I think in a lot of Twitter employees, and I’m, like, proud of of those who stuck it out all the way until the purchase happens, you know, a couple of weeks ago, but at the same point, worry about their well being and how much stress they’ve undergone. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be productive and actually function to your fullest capacity when there’s just this constant circus going around in the background. And being asked about it too, because because for me, I I left Twitter, maybe seven, eight months ago and all of my coworkers still asked me about it as if I work there. And so not only are you thinking about it at work, every person you know, is asking you what’s it like? How are things going and you can’t escape it?

Leanne Elliott
I think kind of brings up a really good point there and you know that there’s been so much lead up as well kind of talked us through the tight timeline. It’s it’s put so much pressure on people and a lot of uncertainty for the longest of time. I’m. So that’s kind of the business viewpoint in a nutshell. And I think it kind of can be summarised by the point that commercially, no one’s really arguing with the decisions that these massive tech companies will have to make. But how they went about it does leave some, some room for opinion. So let’s move on to people. And I think before we can start to understand the shifts and changes that people at Twitter in particular have been through, it’s important to understand the how things were. So here’s Dr. Candace Schaefer, as we’ve said, the former Global Head of employee wellness at Twitter, and she’s going to explain.

Dr Candice Schaefer
So previously, they did not have anyone in that role, or at least for a while. And so my responsibility was to build an overall employee wellbeing programme from the ground up, which meant kind of looking at the different pillars of well being and really prioritising as to what should be the most pressing, given the issues that are happening with the workforce. So I joined in 2019, that I had about a nine month head start before the pandemic happened. And then, you know, my big focus being a mental health practitioner is it’s not gonna lie, it’s about mental health. And when I was at Facebook, I just learned so much about burnout. And why this is such a pervasive problem in tech, and, you know, around, you know, the workforce in general, it’s not just in tech, but particularly with the younger generations that are putting a lot of their time and energy into work. And using it as their sole source of fulfilment can really burn out easily. And so I put a lot of focus around burnout prevention, and also building community. So in a remote workforce, it can be really challenging to feel connected to other people. And you don’t have the office and if particularly during the pandemic, we didn’t have an office thing there. And so how do we build connections with one another that we would normally get in the office. And so I created a, a peer support programme. We also called it a mental health Allah ship programme, where people could just learn the basics of listening, it seems like a foreign concept, but listening is actually really hard. And just learning to hold a space for somebody. And so after, after that launched, it was incredibly successful initiative we had in a company of maybe 5000 employees, we had 500, trained in that those basics of listening and continued on, even after I left.

Leanne Elliott
And of course, we also asked up to chemist about the culture at Twitter when she was there

Dr Candice Schaefer
is an amazing culture. The tweets that you see on Twitter from people who are just let go from Twitter do not lie about the culture, I miss it very much. And really, I wish there was an easy way to explain the culture, but it’s just very much collegial. Everyone’s excited about the platform, and really feeds off of each other’s vibes. And I particularly was excited about Twitter, just given the fact that while I was interviewing Jack Dorsey wanted to interview me, for a CEO of a company as large as Twitter, I, at the time, I was like a nervous wreck. And unfortunately, we never got that interview scheduled, because he is a very busy guy. But the fact that the CEO has his own sense of mission and really wants wellness to be an important part of the culture. Twitter was really important to me. And that’s something that I had learned previously, at Facebook, that was something I was looking for in a new role.

Leanne Elliott
So to flip this slightly, I mean, let’s put this critical lens on, given what we know about what let’s be honest, seems unsustainable, rapid growth of these massive tech companies added in with a current economic climate, which we actually talked a lot about on our last episode, if you haven’t checked that out, do. So given those two factors. Should people really be surprised if they lose their jobs in tech? I asked Alan.

Arun Krishnakumar
I mean, definitely not in capitalist, corporate America, right. I think just from our employee employee protection perspective, I feel Europe is a lot more protective of their employees than than the US but culturally as well. And that that comes with with I mean, the growth in the US is also gently higher and faster and more reactive when it starts happening. So you, you’re gonna have some, there’s when there’s high returns, you’re always gonna assume higher risks. So it’s just the nature of the beast. So if you I mean, I have spoken to a bunch of my American friends and colleagues, our air former colleagues, and they are happy to accept that one Friday, they show up, and they get fired. That is the nature of the beast. But the bit that really worries me about all these things, and I keep coming back to it, as I, as you probably realise, is is not the fact that they are having to fire people it is the fact that it is just about how they go about doing

Leanne Elliott
it. So again, we’re coming back to how it’s done. So what is the right way to lay people off from a business and people perspective? Let’s hear from Steven.

Steven Waddington
So let’s not make any mistake, right. Layoffs within any organisation are absolutely brutal. It’s a sort of bereavement on a on a corporate scale. And it’s, the emotional cost is really high. You know, we we bring our whole selves to work, we invest increasingly, in our whole selves and our professional lives. And when that’s suddenly and abruptly brought to an end out of our control, then then it’s brutal. And it is, you know, it’s a bereavement process absolutely is. Now, if you look at the two ways that these similar situations have been handled, in the case of stripe, empathetically via memo where the the founders donors took total responsibility for the situation, although they contextualise that in terms of the market there, but they took full responsibility for over hiring. As a result of the the boom we saw during COVID, The Economist boom. And they explained the rationale for what they were doing. You know, you look at the end statements very human in this very, very empathetic step in terms of, you know, handling, North truly awful situation, as best you can. I think that’s a, you know, an example of good practice. In the case of the Twitter statement, statements written in a mix of language in some times in the third person, it was signed off by Twitter, it was just impersonal, didn’t explain what was happening. It seems arbitrary, what Musk is doing,

Leanne Elliott
yes, but it did seem brutal to let so many people go at once. Alan does have an opinion on this

Arun Krishnakumar
venue, when you know you’re getting into a crisis, always assume the worst, and do not do firing off staff every three months to survive the crisis, take a big cut upfront. So so that you bring the bring the cost base of the organisation to a very lean, and in some sense mean level, so that from there, you can start working upwards, and the morale of who are staying in the organisation is not, it’s not too poor, because they know the worst was behind them. Whereas if you if you do 5%, today, 5% in three months time, and another 5% in six months time, that is not healthy for anyone. And that that was a constant insight I kept getting from CEOs who have done this in the past.

Leanne Elliott
One of the things that I really noticed from talking to our guests this week, and one thing that really united people, in their opinion on how things should be done, is really about making sure that it’s done with transparency, and support. So let’s hear from Alan first.

Arun Krishnakumar
And be honest with yourself and with your organisation saying it’s tough times we have to survive, this is the way we think is the best for the organisation to survive, and how can we help you? What are the things that you will need, you probably will find 1% of the audience that you’re planning to fire to be extremely vulnerable. So what do you do to do the extra mile to protect them and give them that additional cushion? So those were the points that really came through? In my conversations with those CEOs?

Leanne Elliott
I think we’re a lot of you know that if you look at social media, and people at Twitter who have been impacted either people who are staying or people have left, you know, there’s understandable outrage because of the lack of communication from the leadership team. The fact that the comms were signed by Twitter rather than a specific person. And I think this is something quite shocking from from Dr. Canvas about communications at Twitter.

Dr Candice Schaefer
I say this also, I still have many colleagues at Twitter. They’ve received no communication from leadership whatsoever. Still, to this point. Oh, And so the emails that said, you know, we’re going to be laying off. We’re unsigned, like they, there was no one no one person attached to that email, it’s just Twitter.

Al Elliott
So here’s the question, then if employees know it’s coming, if they know they’re gonna get laid off, from a psychological point of view, what difference does it make a more human centred approach? Like, why do we need empathy? If really, the bottom line is, I’m so sorry, you’ve not got a job?

Leanne Elliott
I think it’s a really good question. Now, particularly people at Twitter who’ve been through this roller coaster since April this year, more than six months, they knew it was coming, right, they knew this was a very real possibility, that redundancies could happen, the scale of them, maybe not, but certainly the possibility. But again, I think it comes back down to how you go about it, people can be logical people have business brains, they know commercially, something has to change. But that doesn’t mean we have to go about it in a purely business and commercial way, we can show empathy, we can take a human approach, let’s hear from Canvas again,

Dr Candice Schaefer
a, you express that empathy to your your employees who may be suffering job losses, just because you’re letting them go doesn’t mean you can’t treat them like a human being. And I think that’s the biggest thing that I have noticed from not just layoffs with Twitter, but with a lot of different companies over the past couple of years is you’re really taking the human dignity out of it by treating all of these people like they’re a number, or just, you know, a being that’s works for you, rather than an actual person who has a family or doesn’t, you know, have enough savings, left them in their bank account to make sure that they’re going to get through to whatever the next step is. And so being considerate and being empathetic is really about giving your employees the benefit of the doubt that they will understand. But you also work with them to make sure that they have enough time so that they can put everything that they need to do to get their life in order so that their world doesn’t come crashing down completely.

Leanne Elliott
And as we said, you know, Twitter isn’t the only tech company to be really feeling at the moment in terms of its economic pressure. But you know, there’s a right way to go about it, and arguably a wrong way to go about it. So let’s compare Twitter and Stripe and let’s see what Stephen thinks.

Steven Waddington
So I think that so the other thing we should say is the complete Constantine, across the board within Twitter was also fired. So you know, he’s, he’s upset that it doesn’t really he’s not really that interested in engaging with the communities around Twitter, whether they be advertisers or, or the media all uses. So again, that lens, that engineering lens, that’s not to say, you know, that’s not to say, engineers don’t have human characteristics, absolutely, they do. But he’s very much approaching this from a product problem as a product, as opposed to a human relationship, a human relationship problem, I, you know, in the context of what does good look like, I think we looked at the stripe, we’d like to the way that stripe manage this, this process. Very clearly setting now in a memo to staff, there’s also the process just the process of handling how someone leaves an organisation you know, and it’s, it’s you want wherever possible to correct good exits for people. So for all it’s really awful situation, you know, you can create good endings. And I think that’s really really important for closure for individuals closure and again, in the case of the stripe situation, you know that from it, or they made the commitment of additional payments and support for staff that are leaving the company in terms of square the view your you’ve got informed by an email to your personal account. The next thing you knew all your systems was shut down. And that’s it. And that’s, that’s absolutely brutal from a human just a very human point of view.

Al Elliott
Okay, so we’ve covered the business side of things and how the how that’s impacted the business. We’ve just talked about the people side of things, how it impacts the people. Let’s talk about the brand. What’s really confusing me is how Elon is approach is going to affect both his own brand because he does have a brand with obviously SpaceX and Tesla he’s got his own brand and then how it’s gonna affect Twitter’s so we asked Alan what he thought

Arun Krishnakumar
she it’s one thing is about Elon Musk, but in general, I think what I’d starting to see what what we’re starting to see generally is a very, I don’t know, cringe worthy culture, from some of these big Berliners is talking things about situations and crisis that could affect a lot of people so openly on Twitter. Like firing 75% of Twitter staff should never be discussed on Twitter. Just imagine the amount of emotional turmoil they would have gone through. Again, we see that a lot in crypto markets day in and day out, were really immature, that’s heights of immaturity, you’ve got billions and billions that you’re managing as, as a CEO, and you have to show some level of responsibility to the people who have trusted you to look after that cash. The same thing applies to Elon Musk as well. $54 billion. It’s not just his, by affecting his workforce, he’s also affecting his shareholders in some sense, because who’s going to be trusting the organisation to to go and apply for a job that even if they were hiring in the future, if that is the that is the kind of culture that he is trying to build, there will be a few people whom he can pay really high salaries to hire, but they still need the foot soldiers to get the job done. So I think that he’s probably hurt himself as much as is hurt the staff, but his staff are going to feel particularly been affected by the fire drill are going to be affected more in the short term and medium term than him. But I used to have very high respect for the man. And then it’s just that some of these, these folks, when they get to a point of either power or money or whatever, they just lose sense of empathy. They just lose common sense. Whatever it it takes to do the right things the right way. I think they just don’t see it, I guess. And feeling that that sense of in infallible, is that the word? I don’t know, just just kind of loss for words. But how did he go about doing it? Cringe worthy either way, where he’s gone, gone about doing it.

Al Elliott
And obviously, we need to speak to the king of PR, Stephen Waddington. So this is what Stephen had to say,

Steven Waddington
what Musk is doing in terms of you know, on the one hand, he’s making statements about brand safety being really important, and I trust and confidence on the platform being really important, but then, you know, firing anybody of getting rid of the teams that are responsible for, for, for moderation. And, you know, it just doesn’t make sense. So you’ve got to the you’ve got a situation really badly handled, but then also, on top of that, the sort of arbitrary nature of what’s been done. And I think, I think Musk is coming out of this as a as a as a, as a product engineer, and just hasn’t considered the human aspect at all.

Leanne Elliott
So I think the consensus is, is is fairly there in that Elon Musk did not deal with this in a very good way. So you have to ask yourself, is this just going to be a little dent in Elon crown? Is it going to be the thing that topples him? Oh, is he the entrepreneurial genius that will figure it all out? Is Candace?

Dr Candice Schaefer
I think it’s a mix of both. I mean, clearly, he’s done some things, right? Tesla is a great example. And now at least the United States, every car company is trying to figure out how to go electric. So he’s done something right there. But what I think is the issue is, he may have thought that taking over Twitter was a lot easier than it actually is. I think people look at social media companies and think that it’s an easy business to run. And it’s very, very, very complicated. And so with something that particularly like content moderation. I was laughing because Elon Musk tweeted that Twitter is going to be the source of truth. That’s what we will allow on this platform. And Jack Dorsey immediately tweeted back to him the source of truth to whom because who determines what is the facts? What is the truth? Is the biggest question when it comes to getting misinformation off of the platform, and is one of the most complicated problems I’ve ever seen in tech. So I I think he probably came into us a little nasally, it was going to be an easy fix, to make it profitable. When just from a business perspective, it’s a lot more complicated than

Leanne Elliott
that. Now, content moderation on the platform is a big, big issue. It’s something that has been all in the press. It’s something that our experts all picked up on and talked about. So I think it’s really important. Now we take a moment just to see what our experts think about content moderation and the impact that can have, let’s speak to Alan first,

Arun Krishnakumar
the challenge that they’re going to have, and I think, I’m not a big fan of Mark. Zuckerberg, never been one. But one thing that resonates with me that he, he mentioned was running a social media platform is like running a country, you can never completely eradicate crime and in a country, right you can have, you will always have pockets of crime from time to time. So if there are incidents on the social media platform, and through some kind of opinion sharing or whatever, which actually kind of is an outlier. It could be political, it could be a terrorist organisation doing something, there is only so much they can do to balance, kind of getting that out, and balancing that with free speech. So that that kind of balance to achieve that balance. It’s extremely hard for social media platforms to do that, and bringing that moderation. I think that is probably a grey area, I don’t think Musk is quiet. I don’t think he’s getting it. Because he’s, I’ve always seen him as quite a binary guy. When you push binary guys to operate in shades of grey, they often struggle. So how he handles the moderation around Twitter is going to be probably the make or break moment for Twitter, I guess, in the long run.

Leanne Elliott
So what I loved about talking to Dr. Candace about is that her background, as an employee wellness expert actually stemmed from content moderation. So she used to work with a lot of people, a lot of employees, and design programmes to help them deal with the sheer trauma that can come up of moderating this type of content. She has a really interesting say about any social media platform being like a digital world.

Dr Candice Schaefer
So since I’m not on Twitter anymore, I don’t know the exact numbers. But the line that I’ve read for Twitter has been content moderation, people who engage in content moderation, were only reduced by 15%. In contrast to you know, the company as a whole was 60%. And I don’t know what the what the numbers are on Facebook yet, I’m sure we’ll find out. But what’s also important to know is that many, almost every company that owns a social media platform, whether that’s to talk Twitter, Facebook, all of them use third party vendors, and outsource a lot of that content moderation to other companies. So it may not even necessarily be a direct impact depending on if they choose to keep funding these vendors. But sometimes, there’s there’s more content moderation going on on the outside of the company, with another employer than there is on the inside.

Leanne Elliott
And what does that mean for for users? Do you think users of Twitter or Facebook will will we see a difference is as users of the platforms,

Dr Candice Schaefer
you may. And again, it just depends on how many people they’ve cut, but also what policies they’re continuing to enforce. And the way I tried to explain it, for for people who are unfamiliar with content moderation, you got to imagine that a social media platform is kind of like a digital world. You have citizens running around yelling things and doing, you know, living their daily lives. And we have policemen on that, on that platform. And in that digital world. And above that you have detectives, you have people that are doing deep dives on serious criminal activity going on on the platform, so then eventually pass over that information to law enforcement in the real world. And then you have politicians in that digital world people who create the policies that determine whether or not someone is violating terms of service agreement. And politicians ultimately determine what laws are being broken and when So, if the policies change, the platform may or may not become less or more safe. And if you eliminate the the detective level which is usually what companies like Facebook and Twitter have internally, you may see more egregious crimes being let go. Talking like terrorism, child sex trafficking, like pretty, pretty horrible criminal activity going on there. And then our our first level policeman, which is mostly the outsourced workers that you would see, they will probably be less affected. So, it it really depends on where they’re going to be making cuts, but it is very possible that you will see more of a dumpster fire.

Leanne Elliott
And this is part of the story that really has been developing as we’ve been prepping this episode. So you know, we had the guy who was Twitter’s head of safety and integrity. At Twitter gentleman called y’all Roth on the fourth of November, he tweeted, quote, here are the facts about where Twitter’s Trust and Safety and moderation capacity stands today, our core moderation capabilities remain in place. Yesterday’s reduction in force affected approximately 15% of our trust and safety organisation, as opposed to approximately 50% of cuts company wide. And yet, a few days later, Mr. Ross resigned. So according to Elon Musk, the plan is to use AI to help with content moderation. But will this be effective? Let’s see what Canvas thinks

Dr Candice Schaefer
the idea that you know AI is going to replace the human weed content moderator I don’t think is realistic, just given the how violations change over time. And policies change over time, people figure out new ways to violate the terms and service that AI cannot keep up with. And so we’re constantly going to need human content moderators, we just may need less of them.

Al Elliott
So the cleaning seems to be a big threat to the brand of Twitter, now it’s gone private. Let’s find out from Candace what she thinks as an x inside,

Dr Candice Schaefer
just simply because there’s no accountability to the shareholders. Shareholders can be a good thing because they have to know what’s going on, they have a right to know what’s going on. But the less transparent you have to be when you take the company private. There’s there’s no one you have to say yes or no to it’s it’s just the person who owns the company, in this case, Elon Musk, and what he says go,

Al Elliott
we also asked Elon and Stephen what advice they would give to Elon,

Arun Krishnakumar
very simply make your decisions based on data hot, it doesn’t matter how cruel it is. But when you execute them, let others execute them. You’ve you’ve been seen as a ruthless leader has you have absolutely no empathy, just delegate that task or hire someone to do it with a lot more empathy, that is probably the one rule of thumb, I

Steven Waddington
would, I would give him he is a product design genius. You know, he risks though, eroding all the value in his that he’s created in all these other organisations because of the way he’s managing this, this process. Now, the best thing he could do is bring someone in as a leader to the to the organisation who operationally understands the public sphere aspect to public conversation aspect of Twitter, the fact that it is a platform of human relationships, and if it is a product, you should probably also stop insulting the users platform and the advertisers the platform. Because that’s going to that’s going to create a an absolute backlash. And critically, he needs a strategy for what he’s doing here. And, you know, we came, came in with this grand idea of, of free speech and opening up Twitter to free speech. Well, that’s all well and good, but you’ve got to you have to have moderation on on a platform where you can create safe spaces for humans and brands to to advertise.

Leanne Elliott
So we’ve talked about the business. We’ve talked about the people, we’ve talked about the brand, we have to ask ourselves, what’s next and who knows, is been a quite whirlwind already. But I mean, let’s let’s talk about something maybe a little bit more positive. Perhaps. We know Twitter isn’t the only tech company that’s in this position at the moment, as we said stripe also laid off about 14% of their employees. So will the approach at stripe talk have a more positive impact on the people that remain in the business? And what does that means that culture? Let’s hear from Alan.

Arun Krishnakumar
So this again comes from an anecdotal evidence that I gathered during my interviews. The moment you do the ripping of the plaster exercise you will be basically sending a message to the people who remain that we’ve reduced our cost base, which means our runway has increased to three years or four years or whatever, which will easily see us through the crisis that we are in today. And the markets are probably going to turn around in six to nine and 12 months time. So one of the things I have written the book is how the CEO addresses the miners, and how they go about telling them or giving them comfort, that we can now start innovating. And and one of the things that I think it was, it was a startup, a CEO from India, who mentioned that as soon as we ripped off the plaster, and, and the teams knew that they are kind of in some sense out of danger, they started being a lot more proactive and more innovative. Because they knew that that could be new directions the form can take, because there’s a lot more capital available. Of course, not like spending crazily, but they’re they had the mindspace to, to kind of almost unleash themselves and more creative ways within the organisation. I think that because a lot of bureaucracy would have been removed in the organisation by just shedding fat in some sense. So I think that’s that that was a that was a really good insight I got through the process. Yeah. So when you when you kind of get more leaner, and meaner and more efficient through crisis, it’s a good thing for the organisation in general, both from a p&l perspective, but also from from employees who remain in the organisation. They, they feel that they’ve done something right to stay, or to be part of the people who’ve been kept in the organisation despite the crisis. And it only helps them in some sense.

Al Elliott
So Allen’s clearly saying that this is a big opportunity. There’s a pivot, there’s a turnarounds a period of testing. You’ve got a product genius at the helm. But let’s see if Canvas thinks the same thing.

Dr Candice Schaefer
I don’t know, to be honest. I think Facebook has gone through such a metamorphosis. No pun intended that, but Twitter, I don’t I, I am afraid Twitter will not recover from this. This is so decimating for what’s been happening over the past year. And, you know, companies like Google, I think, seem relatively stable, but you just never know, they change over time. And the one thing I’ve noticed with tech is, most companies like to keep this mentality that we’re a startup, that we have this fun atmosphere where people are really working together and doing something that’s revolutionary, and we are a flat organisation. And anyone can talk to anybody. And these companies outgrow being a startup very quickly, with the amount of success that they keep. But it it’s almost an illusion to the employees as well. But an organisation is flat, and that you’re at a startup because this is a corporate business now. There will have to be cuts, there will have to be things that are done from a budgetary perspective. And it can be hard to absorb that and I think a lot of people will romanticise being a startup, I remember being at Facebook and the saying, Oh, we’re starting. We’re not we’re past IPO. You know, we’re really not a startup, but people like to keep that mentality that we are.

Leanne Elliott
So what is it about Twitter that you said, you’re worried that Twitter won’t recover? What makes the situation with Twitter different than that to that restriping and match it with Facebook?

Dr Candice Schaefer
It was the cut of how many people were let go. The culture is I think the one thing Twitter had, like Twitter was not necessarily the most profitable. And that was okay. I think for a lot of people working at Twitter, because they liked the people. And there was something there with the culture uniquely, and when you cut half of the workforce, and then now you know, I’m seeing people who are just leaving, like, they don’t want to be a part of it, if this many of their colleagues have left. And so I don’t know how many people are going to remain to keep the original culture and now that it’s a completely private company, there’s going to be less transparency going on as to what is happening in the company. And usually that I would say it’s probably not a good thing for employees.

Leanne Elliott
Well, I feel like we’ve covered some ground there. Our goodness there is there is a lot there and I I think what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna, we’re gonna pause this, we’re gonna release the rest of it in part two, which will releases a bonus episode the next couple of days, where we will come back to our guests. And I feel like we’ve kind of done kind of where we’ve been. So I think we’ll really focus on what’s left for Twitter, particularly the people who are who are still there, what it means for them. In terms of business leaders, what we can learn from this, if unfortunately, you are considering layoffs, how you can approach this in a way that is human centred, I’ll protect the well being of your employees. And then I guess just finally, some support for people who have been impacted by redundancy. My heart genuinely goes out to you I was murdered in 2015. It still gives me shivers when I think back to it. So we will definitely be talking through some practical tips and psychological tips and everything you need to get back on your feet and get back out there.

Al Elliott
Definitely. And so we’ll hear more from our three guests. The first one, Steven Waddington, the PR expert, who’s a visiting professor of PR is a non exec director and you can find him on twitter@twitter.com forward slash rewards w a DDS, although maybe not for much longer. There has been talking about moving to the other platform.

Leanne Elliott
We’re also gonna speak again to Alan Krishna Kumar, who is the author of restart up a founders guide to crisis navigation. You can also find Alan on Twitter, at 0x A runk.

Al Elliott
And finally, we’re gonna go back to Dr. Candis Schaefer, who is that clinical psychologist and also the ex Global Head of employee wellness at Twitter who’s got so many juicy stories about what it’s like to work at Twitter. So if you haven’t subscribed yet, click that subscribe button because your next episode part two of this will pop straight into your fancy little podcast app that you have to do anything. Got any questions? Got any thoughts? Find us on social media truth lies work, just search for that or go to truth that lies and work.com.

Leanne Elliott
And while you’re looking for a look for Dr. Schaefer, at the same time at Dr. Schaefer on Twitter, but we’ll leave all the links to everyone’s socials in the show notes.

Al Elliott
See you next time.

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