On November 21st, Elon Musk gathered Twitter’s remaining employees at its San Francisco headquarters to tell them that, after forcing out roughly two-thirds of the workforce in a matter of weeks, layoffs were over. He keeps laying people off anyway.
Dozens of Twitter employees across sales and engineering departments were laid off last week, including one of Musk’s direct reports who was managing engineering for Twitter’s ads business, according to company sources and social media posts from affected employees seen by The Verge. This means Musk has done at least three rounds of layoffs since his promise to stop doing them in November. Meanwhile, he has given a directive internally to revamp how ads are targeted in Twitter’s main feed within a week — part of his plan to fix what he has publically called “the worst ad relevance on Earth.” (The Information first reported that fresh cuts hit the sales team last week.)
Musk’s plan is to change Twitter’s ad targeting to work like Google’s search ads, which target primarily by keywords that are searched for, rather than a user’s activity and profile data. It’s an approach that works well for a search engine — where people go to express specific intent for finding something — and has helped Google build one of the most profitable businesses of all time. But it hasn’t worked for a social media business to date.
In a tweet on Saturday, Marcin Kadluczka, the laid-off engineering manager for monetization who reported directly to Musk, hinted at the infeasibility of the one-week deadline in a tweet: “I believe Twitter can really improve ads in 2-3 months (no necessarily in a week though).” I’ve confirmed that Musk gave the aggressive deadline just before Kadluczka and others in the ads, consumer, and sales orgs were laid off last Friday.
Here is where I’ll caveat that Musk gave a similar deadline to revamp Twitter Blue when he first bought the company that wasn’t met. He could also change his mind about how ads should work on Twitter. He didn’t respond to an email asking for comment.
Improving Twitter’s ads has been a key focus of Musk’s since he bought the company. He has correctly pointed out that Twitter’s ads are less personalized and effective than its competitors. (As my colleague Nilay Patel likes to say, critiquing the Musk era of Twitter is by no means an endorsement of the previous regime.) But it’s unclear if changing targeting to be keyword-driven like Google ads will actually improve the quality of Twitter’s advertising, as others with a better understanding of the trade-offs than me have pointed out: