October 24, 2023
Three Reasons Why Threads Wasn’t a Runaway Success
One month after its July 5 launch, Meta reported that Threads – its microblogging app designed to compete head-to-head with Twitter, now called “X” –lost 80% of its daily active users and activity flatlined to an average of 2.4 minutes a day. Almost three months later, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri addressed the performance of the platform in his Instagram Story Q&A, saying, “…[A] lot of people use it, but they don’t use it as frequently as we would like.”
With continued uncertainty around the future of X and continued hijinks from owner Elon Musk, Meta had a clear path to success with the launch of an almost identical competitor platform. Once the initial hype died down, however, the platform has struggled to retain daily users due to a few key factors.
1. The algorithm isn’t naturally community-building.
Upon the app’s surprise launch, users quickly found the Threads algorithm was serving posts from other users whose posts were completely misaligned with their interests. The posts were ranked seemingly randomly, often prioritizing users with mass followings on Meta platforms instead of users and brands people engaged with most frequently.
While this is to be expected from a new platform, users are not given the option to filter out certain content or use algorithmic training cues such as a “not interested” button. When users aren’t given the tools to curate their personal experience and engage in communities in which they feel at home, there is little incentive to keep logging in.
2. Meta communities are built differently than X communities.
For most users claiming their handle on Threads, their first step was to automatically follow those they were already connected with on Instagram. However, many users’ first thought after the launch of the new platform was: “There is no way I’m sharing the same type of content that I do on Twitter with my Instagram followers.”
Social media users cultivate different audiences on different platforms just like brands, with research showing that users subconsciously adapt to the individual norms established on different social media platforms to fit in. Cognitive dissonance arises when a new platform presents a similar concept of one platform (X) with the built-in audience of another (Instagram), stressing out users and contributing to the feeling that the “vibes are off.”
Without the history and distinct voices of long-standing communities built on X, Threads built up a massive user base very quickly but with little development of its own personality or differentiated functionality. Initiatives to make Threads a more harmonious place by not encouraging contributions from political or news verticals, the same verticals that continue drive traffic on competitor platforms, also made for a bland user experience. The lesson? Discouraging key verticals and interest groups from participation ultimately discourages long-term contributors from engaging with your audience.
3. Staggered releases limit functionality.
Although Meta was reportedly working on a Twitter alternative for a long time (including a previous iteration called Barcelona), the initial product released did not include several key features. Lack of private messaging, robust analytics, a web version and other limitations became major detractors from an app declared “friendlier than X.” Even linking your Instagram account to your Threads profile was met with hesitation from users, as there was no way to delete a Threads profile without also deleting your Instagram profile.
Meta continues to slowly release updates, with the web version of Threads having launched in late August and a Threads-only delete option set to go live in December. Amid this slow rollout, Threads is still not available in the European Union amid an uncertain regulatory environment, which naturally limits the reach and engagement that an international user base can garner.
Is it worth engaging?
Threads may not be a place for marketers to invest significant time and strategy – not yet, that is. However, this developing platform has some benefits for brands looking to test a new voice or post structure.
Because many users elected to bulk follow the accounts they engage with on Instagram, many brands will find they have a built-in following on Threads. With an algorithm that serves verified and high-following account content to users more frequently, brands have more freedom to experiment with new concepts in a low-stakes environment.
Overall, Threads should not be completely dismissed as a platform where brands can play. Brands like NPR have seen some early success by sunsetting their X presence and going all-in on Threads. However, for many brands, it will take significant development and growth to get to a place where content can be driven by strategy and optimized over a long period of time.