OpenAI’s ChatGPT became the fastest growing consumer application in history in January when it reached 100 million users two months after its launch. This month, Meta’s Threads crushed that mark, doing it in less than a week. Fatigued from Twitter drama and eager for a new option, media and advertisers sat up and took notice.
Intended as a less confrontational and less aggressive alternative for short form discourse, Threads’ launch represents a direct challenge to Twitter, and its launch even coincided with news of a potential mixed martial arts cage match between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Threads tanked Twitter traffic and Zuck took some early victory laps around the ring after Round One.
Brands set up their tent poles quickly, and joining Threads was easy for users – they just used their Instagram credentials, and zap, they had joined the new, better place to talk about the things that matter. It was all very exciting news for the middle of July. Maybe too exciting – anticlimactic, even.
Threads feels strange from the start for those of us ready to engage in business conversations, because to launch a new account, it uses Instagram credentials and contacts as a primary option. Because Instagram accounts tend to be focused more on personal networks and interests, this may create a mismatch for some users from the start. The issue is compounded by an inability to sign into the app with multiple accounts on the same device, or to use a web version of the app, making creating both a “work” and “personal” account problematic. And if you want to start over, you can’t –there’s not yet a way to delete your Threads account without deleting your Instagram account. It also doesn’t work in every market, due to regulatory compliance hurdles.
In a way, Threads feels a bit like a large loft apartment in an up and coming area. It’s got all new floors and paint, lots of windows, it’s airy, big and open, and it’s on a clean, quiet and not yet overcrowded block. It clearly has tons of potential, but you don’t yet have much furniture, there aren’t a lot of local restaurants and shops, and it’s a long way from the office and happy hour bars. Everyone comes by and visits you when you first move in, but it may be a bit before there’s enough of a scene in your neighborhood that you get regular drop-ins. It’s not that surprising then, that Threads’ daily active user count is now down 70% from its July 7 housewarming peak. But Zuck isn’t worried.
Journalists and politicians, for the most part, have jumped in and created accounts, even if Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri did say from the start that Threads isn’t for news and politics. Most are opening accounts as a matter of responsibility, many are crossposting identical content to that in their Twitter accounts, and others are taking a wait-and-see attitude. In an article from Poynter, Justin Baragona of The Daily Beast called Threads “simultaneously chaotic and boring” and Axios’ Sara Fischer said that competition with Twitter will stiffen “once prominent voices start to break news on Threads.” Jessica Lessin of The Information anticipates an impact and even called its algorithm-driven post selection “bad for the news business.”
Perhaps to address falling engagement, Mosseri has promised users the range of capabilities that Twitter users immediately saw as noticeably missing from the Threads app. Threads will roll out features that matter to journalists and PR pros alike: post search, a following feed, hashtags, an edit button, an ability to use multiple accounts, a web app, and language translations. Some have suggested the missing features are among the only forces holding back Threads.
But the delay in these features seems telling, validating that Meta is not seeking to replicate Twitter, a place where people flocked to get instant access to breaking news and the world’s reaction to it, but to create something more carefully curated. The current experience has been described by journalists as much more “corporate,” even as “a new wing of [Meta’s] multiplatform mall” that results in a more sanitized space than Twitter.
Journalists usually don’t like sanitized spaces very much. They prefer unfiltered stories, instant reactions, and the most raw opinions – and Twitter makes them searchable. And while entertainment, sports, and some lifestyle reporters maintain business dialogues on Instagram, it remains mostly the domain of influencers and brands. If Meta’s intention is similar with its positioning of Threads, it may not matter much for quite some time as a platform for journalism and PR pros may be mostly watching social media managers do their thing.
On the other hand, before long, Zuck may have his new app installed on the majority of the world’s consumer devices and decide he’s worked Musk’s body enough to go for the knockout punch. It seems prudent for PR pros to hedge their bets. If Threads then takes over from Twitter as the world’s new digital town square, you’ll want to have secured your username long before. In the meantime, we can all just argue about what to call the posts.
Ian Lipner is a senior communications leader with deep experience in B2B and B2G tech. A SVP at Firebrand, Ian is focused on strategy, messaging and positioning, and media and content strategy.