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Why can’t we stop calling it Twitter?

After purchasing Twitter, Elon Musk decided to rebrand the social media platform as "X". However, many who use the platform still refer to it as Twitter and posts as tweets. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) After purchasing Twitter, Elon Musk decided to rebrand the social media platform as "X". However, many who use the platform still refer to it as Twitter and posts as tweets. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
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In the early hours of July 23, 2023, Twitter — the self-proclaimed digital town square — became X. Or did it?

Though it’s been more than half a year since the divisive rebrand, the platform’s web domain is still twitter.com — even x.com redirects to the original link. In billing reminders to X Premium subscribers, as viewed by CNN, the email states: “Your X (formerly Twitter) subscription will renew soon.”

It seems that, even though the logo was switched out and verbiage on the website changed, the platform still can’t quite “bid adieu to the twitter brand,” as its new owner, billionaire Elon Musk, said in a tweet the day of the rebrand.

While some people (mainly fans of Musk) have embraced the X brand, most have not.

Many people, both online and in person, still call the platform Twitter, and refer to posts as tweets.

A handful of news outlets still describe it as “X, the platform formerly known as Twitter,” or some variation thereof.

Last month, when X CEO Linda Yaccarino spoke at a U.S. Senate hearing about social media’s failure to curb child exploitation, one of the victims’ mothers referred to the platform as “Twitter, or now X,” in her video statement.

This may be, in part, to avoid confusion. It’s also, according to experts, likely due to the psychology of design and branding.

Why many of us loved Twitter

Twitter launched publicly on July 15, 2006, and within a few years had built up widespread brand recognition.

It became one of the few companies “with a product experience so unique that its brand name has become synonymous with a behavior,” Ramon Jimenez, Global Principal at brand consultancy agency Wolff Olins, told CNN via email. “We ‘tweet,’ we ‘google,’ we ‘uber,’ and so on.”

Twitter pervaded every part of online life and popular culture. In 2011, the phrase “tweet” was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, with “retweet” added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in the same year.

While Twitter was far from perfect, people flocked (no pun intended) to the platform.

For many, Twitter was a place to share their thoughts on major events as well as big milestones — from new jobs to engagements and travel. For journalists, it was a way to stay on top of cultural trends and reach out to potential sources. For public figures, it was a way to connect with followers and seem more approachable.

“The name Twitter, that meant something to users,” Marty Neumeier, author, brand instructor and Director of Transformation at Liquid Agency — a brand agency — told CNN.

Then came the changes — and, eventually, the rebrand

After Musk bought the platform in October 2022 — six months after initiating the acquisition, which saw its share of controversies — Twitter quickly changed.

In an effort to reduce costs, “the focus was ‘cut as many people as possible as quickly as you can,’” journalist Zoë Schiffer told CNN. Her book, “Extremely Hardcore: Inside Elon Musk’s Twitter,” in which she recounts the experiences of Twitter staffers under Musk, came out on Feb. 13. These cuts included the majority of the content moderation team and many engineers. The result was an unstable platform and the elevation of misinformation, Schiffer said.

In early 2023, Twitter Inc., the platform’s parent company, became X Corp. Then, just over 17 years after Twitter went public, Musk started tweeting that it was time to rebrand the platform to X.

Musk has had an affinity for the X branding for decades — he wanted to name his first startup X, which was one of the key reasons he had a falling out with his co-founders, said Schiffer. He also named one of his sons X.

“From the moment that he decided to buy Twitter, he starts telling his close associates, ‘This is my chance to resurrect x.com.’”

Musk said the Twitter rebrand was part of his push to transform the platform into “the everything app” —  a place that seamlessly unites experiences into one interface, X said in a blog post last month.

While some new features were integrated before the rebrand — such as Blue subscribers being able to upload hours-long videos and send voice memos in direct messages — Musk’s vision wasn’t fully realized at the time of the rebranding last year.

The fallout

The rebrand caused a wave of confusion online, especially when the logo was changed but the company was slow to update the website itself — the Twitter branding, including the words “tweet,” “retweet” and “quote tweet,” were still on the site for days afterward.

Meanwhile, Musk continued to post about his preferred brand terminology, responding to users by saying that tweets should now be called “x’s” and that the entire concept of retweeting should be reassessed. He has since walked this back, saying at The New York Times’ DealBook Summit at the end of November that he prefers tweets to be called posts.

“All the work that they put into Twitter and tweets and you know, all the cool terminology, that just got erased,” said brand expert Neumeier. Since the 1980s, Neumeier has helped big tech companies — including Apple, Adobe and Google — build their brands. He even worked as a brand consultant for Twitter briefly in 2013. “It’s as if it was crossed out with an X. Like, ‘you can’t have it anymore.’”

While Twitter isn’t the first big tech company to rebrand in recent years — think the parent companies of Google and Facebook changing to Alphabet and Meta, respectively — it is one of the most extreme examples.

The fact that many users didn’t understand why Twitter was rebranded made it hard for them to accept the platform as X, all four of the experts CNN spoke to said. Schiffer said it is partly because the core platform itself hasn’t really changed.

“I think it’s one thing to rebrand your company if you’re launching a completely new product and you really want to widen the scope of what your brand stands for,” said Schiffer. “It’s quite another thing to just slap a new name on an old product.”

CNN reached out to X, but it declined to comment.

With audio and video calling, the addition of the Grok AI onto the platform and peer-to-peer payments, which are coming later this year, X may finally be differentiating itself in a bigger way — although whether it’s enough for people to stop calling it Twitter remains to be seen.

While Musk’s fans were among the most vocal about liking the rebrand, they weren’t the only ones. Schiffer mentioned that many former Twitter staffers were relieved when Musk announced the rebrand, because the company no longer resembled the one they had spent years building and protecting.

“Some of them really breathed a sigh of relief,” she said. “They were like, ‘Okay, yeah, Twitter is dead.’”

Brand marketers on why the name X isn’t resonating

Twitter’s rebrand to X has so far fallen flat in mainstream culture, said Neumeier, because the name “gets lost in sentences” and “looks like a misprint.”

Name changes take some getting used to, said James Withey, Global Executive Strategy & Innovation Director for brand specialist Landor — explaining that people would still call Nissan “Datsun” for a while after its rebrand in the ‘80s.

The X rebrand may have a harder journey, Withey said, due to it being an unusual case of a high equity brand — one that was a cultural force for well over a decade — being renamed overnight.

“The choice of new name doesn’t help, in that it is just a letter and not evocative of the user experience, as Twitter was,” said Withey. “X also doesn’t lend itself to being used as a verb — ‘I’m going to X about this’ just doesn’t have the same currency.”

Since the rebrand, some X users have continued to advocate for the platform’s former branding. When one account put out a poll asking what users call the platform, almost 95 per cent of the 33,210 votes were for Twitter. Other fans have created t-shirts with “I Still Call It Twitter” emblazoned on the front.

On Reddit, fans of Twitter have taken their aversion to the X name to the extreme. After the rebrand announcement, one user asked whether an entire generation could file a class action lawsuit to prevent the new branding.

“You have to remember what a brand is,” said Neumeier. “It’s the customer’s gut feeling about a product, service or company. So the brand is what they say it is… it’s not that customers can’t stop calling it Twitter, it’s that they won’t.”

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