As Threads passes 30 million sign ups since its launch on Thursday, brands are facing a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly which is to follow the crowd or determine Threads as either irrelevant or unnecessary to their brand and marketing efforts.
Users are flocking to the new Twitter competitor following last week’s latest meltdown, during which Twitter Blue subscribers were limited to viewing 6,000 posts per day and non-paid for accounts were limited to viewing just 600 tweets per day before being hit with the ‘rate limit exceeded’ warning.
While this is just the latest in Twitter’s controversial updates following its acquisition by Elon Musk in October 2022, the mood of the app felt different this time compared to April 2023. During this time, many flocked to Mastodon, however its stickiness was challenged when Twitter’s servers bounced back after a few days. That’s not to say that brands remained totally loyal to Twitter. In fact, since Musk’s acquisition in the latter part of 2022, 50 of the top 100 advertisers have cut their spending and left the app altogether.
Due to the fluctuating nature of Musk’s leadership and platform connectivity, the safest bet has been complete withdrawal of media spend with a pivot towards community building and organic content publishing. However, the impact of organic activity never yields results quite as quickly and can be extremely costly to brands.
This has left Twitter to feel mostly community-first, with the exception of ads which no longer feel personalised or relevant in any way. Some ex-Twitter employees have outrightly argued the app is only alive as it is able to dine out on its 17-year reputation as a source of on the ground news and live journalism, and not because of any transformational changes put into place in the last year.
So why was now the right time for Meta to launch Threads?
Mark Zuckerberg only announced Threads as a concept 3-months ago. While it seems unfathomable that an app of this scale could be built, launched and optimised in such a short space of time, Meta has quickly and efficiently leveraged its internal data to create excitement and a seamless experience for Instagram users, who are able to move over to Threads at the click of a button.
While it is a direct competitor to Twitter, there are a few slight differences which make it appealing to users and brands alike and could pose a serious threat to Musk’s Twitter. The posts will have a character limit of 500, versus Twitter’s 280. Users can migrate from Instagram to Twitter with a click of a button and can opt for their profile to be private or public. If a user is verified on Instagram, they are immediately verified on Twitter, which is hugely advantageous for influencers and brands, who are otherwise being asked to spend $8 per month for their checkmark (unless obtained prior to Musk’s acquisition).
“The vision for Threads is to create an option and friendly public space for conversation,” said Zuckerberg, in a Threads post following the launch. “We hope to take what Instagram does best and create a new experience around text, ideas, and discussing what’s on your mind.”
While Meta has data and sheer market size on its side, I am still dubious about the long-term impact Threads can make while Twitter is still up and running. While that’s not to say another server meltdown couldn’t be around the corner, it’s important to think about other challengers such as Lemon8 and Clubhouse, both of whom made a significant splash on launch but did not stand the test of time.
When it was launched in April 2020, Clubhouse tapped quickly into the zeitgeist and reigned supreme due to its cultural significance. People were stuck at home and it made sense to jump into a room to talk (out loud!) and have, what genuinely felt like, impactful conversations. However its tools were easily replicable and Twitter’s Spaces was launched not long after, rendering Clubhouse irrelevant.
Clubhouse’s impact and legacy was also challenged as it was never clear to brands how best to monetize their content or how they should go about advertising on the platform. This is unlikely to be an issue with Threads, however many are already calling out the performative nature of huge brands, who are already jumping on the platform, with others saying they’re already “blocking brands on sight” (source).
With slight differences from Twitter, Threads presents a compelling alternative which has the potential to stand the test of time. Zuckerberg envisions Threads as a friendly public space for conversation, building on what Instagram does best while emphasising text-based interactions and the exchange of ideas.
However, as promising as Threads may seem, the long-term impact it can make in the presence of an operational Twitter remains uncertain. Previous challengers have not been able to create enough cut through to remain relevant in the eyes of both consumers and brands. Although Threads may not face the same monetization hurdles as its infrastructure for brand advertising is best-in-class, there are already concerns from users about the app moving quickly from community-first to being overrun by brands.
While this feels like an inevitable challenge every new social media platform must face, the true measure of success will be in the brands who organically integrate themselves into the conversation in a modern way that respects advertising and its audiences alike.