I Was Almost Elon Musk’s Twitter Voice
11:30 AM EST on January 12, 2023
In 2018 a recruiter reached out to me about a possible position running Tesla’s social media channels, with an emphasis on Twitter. I came to realize that this was either an audition or rung on the ladder to likely help Elon Musk with his personal social media strategy. This was years before Musk bought and then wrecked the site, although his ravenous need to be considered a true poster and his soul-deep inability to post were already plain to see. Given that he was trying to hire someone to do his posting for him, it seems like that ineptitude was obvious even to him, although he’s clearly gotten past all that. My pursuit of the job was a disaster—a mix of clueless directives and underlings, a commonly lame interviewing process, and the brand of chaos that I brought to the entire ordeal (think of Mad Men advertising cliches w/r/t to alcohol but replace Hilton with Tesla and bourbon with heroin).
This being nearly five years ago, it was almost unheard of to have an in-house creative team dedicated to the real-time social strategy of a single celebrity. Now it’s quite common—Guy Fieri’s social team is deft, nimble, and stays true in strategy to the essence of Fieri; the late James Caan distilled his trademark cool into a sharp, repeatable execution; Ryan Reynolds basically hired a personal creative director to flirt with Hugh Jackman on his behalf. Of course, one of the sweet ironies here, among many, is that the richest man on Earth can’t buy a fucking bucket on Twitter. It’s rare for a famous person to possess the faculties required to be a true Poster, to be fair. It happens sometimes, but more often than not the conditions of their primary vocation and weird hothouse lives erases the possibility. It always comes out uncanny.
And so they hire someone to do it for them. Often to marginal success! But it seems pretty obvious that Elon has toggled back and forth between trying to do it himself and utilizing a creative team. Judging by the results, that team must be the most depressing, MCU-obsessed, bizarro world National Lampoon-but-cool-with-apartheid group of Funko Pop writers ever assembled.
What we have here is just classic ad writers' room stuff, like it was probably a fourth or fifth idea thrown out, the first three being too spicy, and maybe had legs to begin with, but then it went through seven channels and came out like this. It’s like when Chevy Chase hires a sketch comedy team to write his jokes for off-the-cuff movie riffing in Community, and it’s easy to spot relative to, say, the Facebook-grade meme posts that otherwise fill out Elon's feed lately. So wack that they could only have come from the man himself.
None of those overworked posts have been more obvious than one from the day Musk finally entered the Twitter offices, which he did while grimacing and carrying a porcelain sink in his arms. It was a lot of work, physically, to close the circuit on a hackneyed piece of shit “let that sink in” joke. There was strain in every element of it, but also there is absolutely no way Musk came up with that gag on his own. I know this because it’s convoluted in a way that reeks of someone trying to shoehorn an organic use of a meme into a non-organic self-promoting moment. I know that’s what it is because we already have a name for just that type of thing, which is brand social.
What makes it even worse, and demonstrates how and why he doesn’t have the sauce for shitposting, is the extent to which Musk can’t even fucking commit to the bit in the video. At the last moment he breaks, embarrassed, turns from camera like, tee hee, was that enough? You gotta follow through, my man. You gotta get in there and really fuck it up. That’s another thing that every poster knows.
It began with an in-house recruiter contacting me. They never disclosed why, but I can assume it was because they had heard I was behind one of the first Weird Twitter Brand Accounts. I’ve built a career on this, but what’s funny is how many people think something like the Denny’s Twitter was some strategic initiative of seven creative directors in Allbirds and not just a dunce like me—in this case, literally me—who had been given the keys to a legacy brand’s Twitter account while whacked out on drugs, and who was simply trying to have some fun at work and see what he could get away with.
After a while it did turn into capital-letter Brand Twitter and a collaboration with other talented goofs at my agency, with strategic initiatives and a board of directors watching over us—I was once this close to getting the ax after using the term “bun in the oven” when Beyonce got pregnant; the board claimed I was inferring she may eat her child. The point is, most of that stuff started in a Wild West era of zero approvals or oversight. Once people started paying attention it all got clogged up with upper management and turned into a whole other thing, brands saying "bae," et al.
Anyway my relationship with Elon Musk and his quest for approval online starts like this, with an email from a Recruiting Coordinator at Tesla:
Reaching out to extend a 'hello' from our VP of Communications, and her stellar Social Team.
I'm confidentially searching with our Comms VP for a creative who can partner with the Team to develop content for our social channels (namely Twitter)
To be safe, I quickly scrub a meme I made about the face Musk might make when coming from my posts, and then reply. Thus began a months-long process of telephone. Nobody in the company was seemingly capable of handling any task themselves, everything always passed off, on behalf of, and so on. It was cumbersome and involved several rounds of email chains, phone interviews, and a writing test, of course—rewriting already existing Tesla tweets to sound hipper and more fresh, finding non-Tesla tweets that Tesla could wittily respond to, yadda yadda. Things get a bit more interesting once I suspect this may be an audition for something else, or that they’re at least tapping me for insights that might be used elsewhere. That happens when I get this directive from the recruiter:
Ah yes, let’s Pickle Rick this bitch! I just have to revel in this rich irony once again, delivered here in double. There is the fact that one of Musk’s bastions of comedy is a show heralded as genius that lost all its cred thanks to the behavior of its most toxic fanboys, and that he finally got to be a part of it once it had already gone downhill. And then there’s his admiration for The Onion, which is one of the few outlets that’s just hammering his dork ass on the daily. Just as with Twitter, those Musk most wants to emulate just absolutely fucking hate the guy. You gotta love it.
But a job is a job, and so I attempt to write some tweets. Polish up their simplistic, production-line offerings. How do you Rick and Morty-fy a brand whose current strategy is more about sustainable energy than cars that want to kill you? Also, isn’t there a Rick and Morty episode about a car that kills people? (Calm down, no, I know the one, with Summer, whatever.) The thing is, and I’ve experienced this many times over, brands will say when hiring me all the goddamn time that they want edgy or subversive or ~game-changing~ content. And then you get there and start pitching, and 12 people in another building start filing down your ideas until they’re about as sharp as a basketball. It’s something like the opposite of “the creative process.”
More than that, how do you get in the mind of Elon Musk? Or, more specifically, the mind he wishes to inhabit? Do I Method Act as a billionaire who lives amid a deafening chorus of Yes Men and has successfully sucked out and assimilated the soul of a 20-year-old SomethingAwful top poster? Do I create a mood board that’s just like … Private Jet x Reddit? Every brand strategy is clearer than this mission, I think, at least in my career, and as a result it’s making me try. Hard. And trying hard is the opposite of this goal, the diametric opponent to the Poster’s Way.
But I write some schlock, straddle the line of quirk and quaint, obscene and obscure, funny and “funny.” At this point things seem to be progressing well, so they fly me out to San Jose to interview in person. This was during a time I was pretty heavily addicted to heroin, or to a wonderful amalgam that was at the time called China White—and not the China White you may be thinking of from the 1980s. This was a super-fine powder of mostly synthetic Chinese opiates and a version of fentanyl unlike the one currently in American circulation. It was fire, bro, as my dealer at the Echo Park 7-Eleven in his mother’s Mercedes with the handicap parking pass told me. I’ve been mostly clean for almost four years now, save some pandemic pressure relapses, but I don’t mind being honest about this time in my life because stigma is a Satan and also 80 percent of people who look down on opiate users are usually the same type of trendsetter to be shoveling coke up their nose in some gentrified bar.
Mostly I mention this because I think it’s important you’re aware of both my mindset and coping mechanism throughout this ordeal. As with any writer who considers themselves an artist, especially those afflicted with the need to write poetry like myself, for Christ’s sake, I am often sick to my stomach while working in advertising and debasing myself for brand tweets. On the other hand, and this was an argument that was especially compelling to me at the time, it sure does pay the fucking bills. If I can take money from Tesla’s pockets and put it in mine, I’m down to clown. This gets me to the headquarters.
After leveling out in the bathroom a bit and waiting for my handler to retrieve me, I try to discern any signs of drug use in my lanyard photo-ID visitor pass. I didn’t see anything, although to be fair I was also high. In this personal era of opiates, particularly with this version’s ability to dole out precision doses, I was pretty good at keeping an even keel, using it to my advantage and often to no one’s knowledge. Once they come and get me, we rise a few more floors and enter a conference room. As with many tech or start-up companies at this time, the conference rooms all have “fun” names, usually of a theme. This one happens to be named after The Doobie Brothers. Yes, right. Ridiculous. Insert image of Elon blazing with Joe Rogan.
I joke that the Allman Brothers room must have been booked. It goes over like a self-driving car creating grease stains out of pedestrians. It’s the crystallization of everything up to and after this point—these people, this man, are begging to be let in on a joke they don’t get. Over the course of the interview, this joke reveals itself as the only one I have the capacity or care to tell.
The point is, Elon Musk has been angling to become a beloved poster for a minimum of five years now. Since my brush with this want of his, the man had to buy the entire goddamn website just to win status as a poster of note, only to instantly become one for all the wrong reasons. He bought the spotlight, pointed it at himself, and almost immediately became the consensus pick for the worst user in the site’s history. It had to sting, and now everyone has seen how well he’s handling that experience:
Unbanning Ye then banning Ye. Destroying the basic functionality of the site. Firing most of the staff and brutalizing what remained. Crashing Tesla stock and their board members' patience. Twitter Blue. His self-own polls. Hyping the Twitter Files and then getting cucked by Bari Weiss, of all people. Having his literal mommy step in to defend him like a private school kid who got a well-deserved sock to the nose on the playground. It’s everything, and everything else, and everything that’ll happen tomorrow.
I don’t imagine that I need to tell you I didn't get the job. But I don't think it was because I had just ripped fent off a square of foil in the Tesla offices. In fact that probably helped me not roll my eyes from their sockets or simply walk out of the terrible interview. I never really wanted it anyway. It was a free trip into the nascent land of the demented, and I curiously came and went.
But, like most everyone else on Twitter, I’m still there. There’s something kind of magical in getting to see the seed of this, at Tesla HQ—wrecked on a great bag, flown in on their dime—even if I didn’t get the job (literally who cares). And now I get to watch it die, sitting here on the site he’s wrecking, watching him somehow fail to rise in posting status some $44 billion later, using worse and worser memes by the methamphetamine minute, promising to step down as CEO and then looking for ways to renege while basically getting BOFA’d left and right every single day, committing LIGMA Violations openly. He got what he wanted, or at least what he paid for.
He may still get to curl up with his money at the end of the day. But a poor shitposter like myself can revel in his embarrassment. And I fucking will. My only lament before this fiscal quarter was not getting in on the ground floor of tanking Tesla’s stock. But in a way, now, aren’t we all?
That’s the end, no moral.
Alan Hanson is a writer from California. He writes creative nonfiction, essays, and poetry. He’s worked in advertising for over a decade because he likes to eat. Follow him at @iluvbutts247 unless of course he gets suspiciously suspended.