For more than 10 years, Twitter has been recognizable by its blue and white bird logo, which has become a symbol of the social network’s unique culture and lexicon. “Tweet” became a verb. A “tweet” referred to a post. “Tweeps” became the nickname for Twitter employees.
Late Sunday, Elon Musk started to lose everything.
The tech billionaire, who bought Twitter last year, renamed the social platform X.com on his website and began replacing the bird logo with a stylized version of the 24th letter of the Latin alphabet. At Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters, X logos were projected in the cafeteria, while meeting rooms were renamed for words containing X, including “eXposure,” “eXult,” and “s3Xy,” according to photos seen by The New York Times.
Mr. Musk had long said he would change the name, but he sped up the process in one tweet early on Sunday when he stated that “we will soon say goodbye to the twitter brand and gradually all the birds.” He has said he hopes to turn Twitter into an “everything app” called X, which would include not just social networking, but also banking and shopping.
Early Monday, so did Mr. Musk shared a photo of a giant X projected onto Twitter’s San Francisco office building with the caption, “Our headquarters tonight.”
The moves – which continue – are the most visible changes Mr. Musk has made to Twitter since closing the deal to buy the company in October. Behind the scenes, he has taken many steps to overhaul the company, eliminating thousands of employees and changing the platform’s features, including badges that were intended to authenticate users, as well as the rules governing what can and cannot be said on the service.
Still, the name and logo changes were impossible to ignore. And by starting to remove the Twitter name, Mr. Musk ditched an entrenched brand that had been around since 2006—when the company was founded—that had delighted and frustrated celebrities, politicians, athletes, and other users in equal measure. Twitter introduced its blue bird mascot in 2010 and updated it two years later.
Many Twitter users, who have spent years tweeting and building their presence on the site, seemed alienated by the shift. “Has everyone seen the (eXecrable) new logo?” the actor Mark Hamill tweeted on Monday, using the hashtag #ByeByeBirdie. Others viewed the move as Mr Musk’s final blow to the site, with some stubbornly saying they will still call the site Twitter and continue to “tweet”.
When brands become verbs, it’s the “holy grail,” says Mike Proulx, vice president and research director at Forrester, because it means they’ve become part of popular culture.
“The app itself has become a cultural phenomenon in many ways,” he said. “In one fell swoop, Elon Musk has essentially wiped 15 years of brand value from Twitter and is now essentially starting from scratch.”
Mr. Musk risked the wrath of Twitter users, even though he can’t afford to upset them. His company is facing financial difficulties and increasing competition, with rival Meta releasing an app for real-time, public conversations called Threads this month. The new app quickly hit 100 million downloads in less than a week, though the app’s usage is under scrutiny.
Mike Carr, a co-founder of the branding company NameStormers, said Mr. Musk can be interpreted as an ominous “Big Brother” tech overlord vibe. Unlike the blue bird, which he described as warm and cuddly but perhaps a bit dated and weighed down by bad press, the new logo is “really harsh,” he said.
Still, it evoked phrases like “X marks the spot” and could help Mr. Musk differentiate the platform from his Twitter baggage, Mr. Carr said.
“If they got this wrong and it was someone other than Elon Musk, he would be at greater risk because people could make fun of it,” said Mr. Carr, who has helped come up with names for thousands of clients, including the used car company CarMax.
Mr. Musk has long been interested in the name X. In 1999, he helped found X.com, an online bank. The company changed its name after merging with another start-up to form PayPal.
In 2017, Mr. Musk said he bought back the X.com domain from PayPal. “No plans at the moment, but it has great sentimental value to me,” he said tweeted at the time.
Tesla, Mr. Musk’s electric car maker, also has an SUV, the Model X. One of Mr. Musk’s sons, X Æ A-12 Musk, is often referred to as X for short. The holding companies formed to complete the acquisition of Twitter were called X Holdings. Mr. Musk also runs an artificial intelligence company called xAI.
“I like the letter X,” he said Posted on Sunday.
Mr. Musk has shown disdain for Twitter’s previous corporate culture. He has quibbled with the number of bird references in the company’s internal team names and products. At one point, he changed the name of a crowdsourced fact-checking feature to “Community Notes” from “Birdwatch.” He also recently had someone cover the w on behalf of Twitter at its San Francisco headquarters.
Among those who seemed unaffected by the change was Jack Dorsey, a Twitter founder and former CEO. He said in a tweet Monday that while a rebrand was not “essential” to achieve Mr Musk’s vision, there was a case for it.
“The Twitter brand carries a lot of baggage,” says Dorsey wrote. “But all that matters is the utility it provides, not the name.”
Martin Grasser, a San Francisco artist who was part of a team in 2011 who helped design the most recent Twitter bird logo, said it was meant to convey “simplicity, conciseness and clarity”. The goal was to have a logo as memorable as Apple’s or Nike’s, he said.
Mr Grasser said Mr Musk could do whatever he wanted with the brand, but “I hope the bird takes a place in the culture that is a happy memory or becomes one of those logos that belongs to the culture rather than a company.”