Welcome to the Threads Era
It’s fair to say that Meta’s Threads launch has been a success. The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, Threaded that the network had already crossed 100 million users on Sunday, just 5 days after its launch.
That makes Threads the fastest growing app in history, by a lot.
For context, it took Twitter 5 years to hit that same number. Although that’s a bit of a cheap shot because Twitter launched in a very different time and had to literally teach people how to post a social media update.
How long did it take others to hit the 100 million mark?
- ChatGPT: 2 months
- TikTok: 9 months
- Instagram: 2.5 years
The genius in the launch of threads, and their unfair advantage, has been how easy it is to move your account, and your network, over from Instagram. One of the most difficult points of friction when convincing people to try a new social network is the cold start problem: Your feed is empty, and you feel ridiculous posting to nobody.
Meta solved that problem with the Follow All button. When you sign up for Threads, it links to your Instagram account and gives you the option to instantly follow everyone you had been following on IG. A lot of people have been clicking that button, which means that pretty much all of us have a solid group of people to talk to just hours after we sign up.
So, what is Threads? Is it just a clone of Twitter?
Despite (or because of) its unexpected mega-launch, Threads has entered into its awkward growth phase where it hasn’t really figured out what it is yet. If we’re being honest, most of the conversations on Threads right now are about the app itself, or about how relieved people are to be free of Twitter.
Mosseri says that Threads isn’t the same as Twitter because they’re not actively trying to create spaces for news and politics. Instead, the way he’s described it sounds more like Reddit, where people can connect on topics that they care about.
The reality is that none of the big social networks ended up being used in the way that their founders had originally intended. Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest examples:
- Twitch was a live video stream of people’s daily lives — it’s now the world’s largest streaming platform for the gaming community
- TikTok was a lip-syncing channel where people could make their own music videos — now it includes everything from #BookTok to the Grimace Challenge
- Instagram was a location check-in app — now it’s where people share their photos, videos, and stories
Despite the fact that we don’t really know what Threads is going to be in the future, we do know how it’s different from Twitter today.
Here are a few notable ways that Threads is different from Twitter:
- No DMs
- No GIF integration
- No paid tier (ie. Twitter Blue)
- No Explore feed
- No Spaces (live audio)
- No edit button
- No ability to see the Threads that an account has Liked
- No full access via a web browser
- No hashtags
What does Threads have right now that makes it better, or interesting?
- High quality, high resolution photos on all devices
- Faster loading feeds
- Beautiful looking carousels
- Much better support for images of all ratios
- Smart, simple user experience touches, ie. click an account’s profile pic to follow
Another fun little feature is that when you sign up, your IG account will get a new field below your profile pic with your account number. That number shows where you were in the order of sign ups. FYI: Zuck is #1, Mosseri is #2.
There’s another major point of differentiation that may not seem like a big deal right now, but may become the thing that makes it stick: The Fediverse. (If that already sounds too nerdy for you, feel free to scroll to the next section).
What is the Fediverse, and why should you care?
It’s a poorly named and inadequately understood technology, but the essence is that our online presence shouldn’t be stuck to any one company’s servers. Instead, an organization called ActivityPub has made it possible for users to transport their data in and out of any participating social network.
An easy (if imperfect) way to think of the Fediverse is like email: we can choose to use Outlook or SuperHuman or Gmail as our interface, but the actual messages exist in a central server that will live on even if we choose to switch to a different service.
The problem they’re trying to solve is that, right now, individual companies have way too much power. They lock us into their platforms, then serve us ads that we may not like, add features we didn’t ask for, and are forced to make moderation decisions that we may not agree with. In a world where users could flow seamlessly from one service to the next without losing our connections or history, we’d be free to choose the platform that best aligned with what we were looking for.
As of today, Threads doesn’t support ActivityPub’s Fediverse model, but according to Meta’s announcements, it’s a central part of how they’re thinking about the future of the app.
The only remaining question is the big question that everyone is asking themselves right now:
Should my brand be on Threads right now?
Maybe. I know that’s not the neat and tidy answer that you want to hear, but we’ll try to make the quickest, most compelling case in both directions, and then you make the call for yourself:
Case for Yes:
There is an absolute rush happening right now where there are 100 million+ people on there looking for anything interesting to engage with, and there is not even close to enough content to satisfy them. Very soon, if Threads becomes a mainstream app, it will be packed full of amazing content (ie. Instagram) and it will be nearly impossible to break through and get noticed. If there was ever a time to seize an opportunity to grow an audience, this is it. All of the biggest social media success stories happened in the early days: RedBull on YouTube, Glossier on Instagram, Duolingo on TikTok. These opportunities don’t come around very often, and we’re right at the beginning of the next one.
Case for No:
First: TikTok exists. And Second, it took Twitter 10 years to get to where it is, and even then it is extremely difficult to justify Tweeting as a productive use of your time and energy. Given all of the other opportunities that exist, it makes no sense to gamble your scarce time on an app that may not even be around in a few months.
The decision should come down to what your brand is best at, how you can best connect with your community, and where your level of risk tolerance lies.
How are Things Going 1 Week Post-Launch?
Not so great, but that’s to be expected.
It turns out that plugging 100M users into a copycat product isn’t a slam dunk.
One week after launch, DAUs on the ~other app~ are down 40% and average daily time per user dropped 4x.
Why isn’t it working? ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/rMO4IBHDHf
— Olivia Moore (@omooretweets) July 17, 2023
After the initial wild run up, usage has fallen on by over 50%. Our take is that it’s not exactly clear what Threads is going to be used for, so once people post their initial Threads of relief to be free from Twitter, then they dunk on Elon a few times, they’re left without clear next steps.
At the same time a whole lot of non-Twitter users migrated over from Instagram, so this text-based social posting is all new to them.
All of the great social channels started with a core use case that people became obsessed with, and then usage grew from there – Twitter with live events & breaking news, Instagram with photo filters, and Facebook for being the first major social channel where you could connect with all of your friends online.
In order to gain real adoption, Threads is going to need to figure out what that killer use case is, and then most likely take a cue from TikTik where even after they gained a base line of user adoption poured over $1 Billion into creators to convince them to post on TikTok, and keep building an audience there.
It’s still entirely unclear if this massive experiment from Meta will go down as the greatest product launch of all time, or the greatest flop, but I think that it’s fair to assume that the Meta team, who is responsible for the most powerful social apps on the planet, have more than a few tricks left up their sleeve.