‘Elon Musk also threatened to buy my company. Here’s how we handled it’
When the billionaire asked how much it would cost to acquire ‘New Scientist’ in 2019, it sent digital editor Conrad Quilty-Harper and other managers scrambling
Elon Musk’s unsolicited bid to buy Twitter Inc. is a triggering event for me and my former colleagues. In 2019, I was working as the digital editor of the London-based New Scientist, the weekly science magazine, when Musk tweeted idly about how much it would cost to buy it.
Barbarians at the gate? Try billionaire in the DMs.
Occasional interactions with @ElonMusk weren’t new to me or my team. One co-worker used to direct-message him every few months asking for an interview – and to sneakily promote my colleague’s book. Sometimes Musk even responded, claiming “New Scientist is my favorite periodical.” Little did we know this flirtation would lead to a takeover offer, on Twitter, for our science magazine one spring day in 2019.
After complaining about our publication’s paywall, Musk asked how much it would cost to just buy New Scientist outright. Ultimately, a deal didn’t happen – though the company was later sold to the Daily Mail Group for about 70 million pounds ($92 million). But Musk’s offer sent management scrambling over how to respond.
Here’s what my team learned from the experience:
1. Do an audit of your Twitter following
The early warning sign of an impending buyout offer from Musk is that he’s following your account. Is he @-ing you with cryptic tweets? Does he DM you? These are the key indicators of a Musk hostile takeover that you and your social media managers should be looking for.
2. If Musk tweets that he wants to buy your company, don’t panic
Good advice in any circumstance. Particularly one where the fate of your company rests on the whims of the world’s richest man – with a Twitter following of 81.7 million – who seems to enjoy chaos.
3. Trust your social media manager
That underpaid and frustrated person who sits in a corner of your office all day thinking of the best GIFs to send on Slack? They are now the most important person in your entire corporation.
4. Get your emoji game plan together
Musk is known as a “memelord,” a person who creates and distributes memes (ask your marketing team about them later). Replying with an emoji is a great way to strike the right balance between making a serious reply to his offer and having it be casual enough that you won’t be embarrassed if it does indeed turn out to be a joke.
5. Be concise
Your board and executives should probably know that you’re about to negotiate the ownership of the company using a medium that has a character limit of 280 characters. Every letter counts.
After Musk asked “How much is it?” in reference to the company, New Scientist Chief Executive Officer Nina Wright drafted a tweet that kept it light (winking emoji) and promised to fix the paywall problem.
6. Send the tweet
You are on Twitter, aren’t you?
7. Don’t take it too seriously
Musk never bought New Scientist, and as he acknowledged Thursday, he may never buy Twitter. So it’s best to respond carefully, while taking any offer with a large grain of salt.