Within hours, Threads became the fastest-growing social media platform in history.
Just five days after its launch on July 5, 2023 it had amassed over 100 million signups. For perspective, when Instagram launched in 2010— it took them a week to reach 100,000 users.
Unfortunately, that explosive momentum didn’t last. Their active user numbers began dropping fast, plummeting to just 8 million daily active users by the end of July. The very public struggles of Twitter (known currently as X) has definitely played into the extreme response to the new platform, but that’s just half the story.
In this case, it’s important to look at two things. First is that people have still largely hung on to Twitter despite its myriad of issues. And second, despite having little-to-no distinct features, Threads gained massive overnight popularity upon launch.
This clearly demonstrates that people strongly desire a short-form, of-the-minute platform that gives them direct engagement with brands and public figures. There’s something about the type of unique online interaction that only a plain-text, threaded-reply format can provide.
For marketers, this provides important lessons in understanding what audiences want and how to successfully reach out to them online.
Audiences want direct conversations and community building channels from the brands they follow
Twitter was a transformative social platform. It changed everything about how we consume content in real-time, how we connect with public figures, how politicians engage with voters, and how brands find their voice and tone. Threads as a format mimics Twitter — basic text, image support, and not much more.
Platforms like these allow users to get first-person, real-time content from their networks and the creators they follow. They also allow followers to respond directly to posts, creating opportunities for back-and-forth discussions to develop. This dynamic builds conversations, relationships, and communities in a way that isn’t really replicated anywhere else.
“The post and comment model just fundamentally does not support public discourse as well as the model that Twitter pioneered with tweets and replies,” said Adam Mossieri, head of Instagram and Threads “Treating replies as equal as opposed to subordinate somehow just allows for a very different and much more broad range of public conversations.”
These conversations have proven to be incredibly valuable for companies who want to cultivate a relationship between their brand and its audience. The contact makes customers feel heard and allows marketing teams to get direct feedback from their followers. Brands should take note of how strongly their audiences want to engage with them and find venues that let them do that.
Audiences still have nostalgia for text-based platforms
Threads’ simple format evokes some nostalgia for some of the formats of the early internet. Sites like Livejournal, Geocities, and Tumblr were minimal, text-based, and conversational. Twitter originally arose from the intersection of plain-text content with real-time sharing. Fifteen years later, Threads is playing into these very same content format elements.
Recently, marketers and businesses have focused more on video, short-form, and hyper-produced content. They put their effort into formats like TikTok and Instagram Reels to generate user engagement and capture audience attention. Adam Mosseri even admitted, “I think we were over-focused on video in 2022 and pushed ranking too far and basically showed too many videos and not enough photos,” in an Instagram AMA.
While multimedia content is clearly successful, simpler formats are still important to audiences. Twitter’s active user numbers haven’t actually dipped much, despite all of its issues. News and culture accounts, like the New York Times — with 55 million followers on Twitter and a respectable 1.9 million on Threads — still find the majority of their followers on Twitter over other social media platforms.
Reddit is another text-based social media platform that evokes the format of some of the original internet forums and its popularity has remained strong, reaching 1.6 billion monthly active users in 2023. Despite being disparaged by younger generations, Facebook is still the top social media platform on earth with 3 billion monthly active users worldwide, and it also follows a threaded text format along with image and video support. Threads’ appears to follow this recipe for success, and its nostalgia-evoking simplicity played a huge role in its quick rise.
You’ll have to use a bare-bones platform—for now
Threads is still in its infancy. It lacks a lot of the more advanced features we are used to having on social media sites. Even Mosseri stated they were “way out over our skis” in that first week. However, their team has been adding new features weekly and the app is developing quickly.
How you can’t use Threads (yet)
In the meantime, the site is extremely bare bones, so marketers are fairly limited in how they can use Threads. As of now, the app has:
- No paid ads
- No hashtags
- No trending feed or topic search
- No browser site
- No direct messaging
- No access in the EU (due to the Digital Markets Act)
It’s hard to find new followers
Some features, like the lack of hashtags and the ability to tag accounts, will make it a lot harder for marketers to reach new audiences organically or through strategies like affiliate marketing. Initially, the app didn’t even have a “following” feed, meaning your audience wasn’t guaranteed to see your posts even if they do follow you. Luckily, that feature finally was launched in mid-August.
You can’t advertise
Other missing features, like the lack of paid ads, limit how you can market on the app. Mosseri has called ads a “Champagne problem” for later development. Presumably, we can expect ads to launch if Threads continues to grow. With advertisers jumping ship from Twitter in droves and Meta’s excellent reputation for ad value, Threads could easily capture some of that marketing spending once they do launch advertisements.
Access is limited to the Threads app
The site is also only available via the app, not a browser. That makes it harder to share posts and grow a following through outside links. Thread’s lack of a desktop-available site also replicates the walled garden effect that occurred when they began requiring a logged-in account to view posts, one of the big problems with the new Twitter. If posts aren’t easily visible to all, the platform is a lot less useful as a public forum and your posts will get a lot less engagement.
How you can use Threads
With such a simple interface, there are a few specific ways that Threads can be helpful for engaging with your followers.
Cross-post and cross-promote with Instagram
Cross-posting to or from your Instagram feed is quick and easy. That could easily become one of Thread’s defining features. Cross-posting makes it easier to spark a more in-depth discussion from an Instagram post and find audiences through both platforms.
Cross-promotion is potentially fruitful as well. Cult streetwear brand Entire Studios happened to be launching their new capsule collection around the same time as the Threads launch. They hosted a giveaway, offering the full collection to three winners who followed their new Threads account and gained 12.5 K followers as a result.
Each profile on Threads has three feeds: Threads, Replies, and Reposts. Followers can easily see the posts your account replies to right on your page. This means you can increase your reach by replying to and reposting other accounts like brands, public figures, and your own customers. Threads is a platform for discussion, so start a conversation, answer followers' questions, or even simply react to their posts. And it's important to point out Meta's continued focus on product development: just yesterday, they rolled out the ability to search through posts, which is likely the first of many new features that will facilitate more engagement.
Curate your engagement
One of Thread’s biggest advantages over Twitter is that they have baked in community controls. You can custom-curate who can view, follow, reply to, or mention your page. This can help you avoid some of the conflict that runs rampant on Twitter, and it empowers you to build a more positive community around your page.
Platforms come and go, but people just want to talk
Threads may take off or peter out, Twitter may fold or continue, but it's obvious that users really want this specific format of platform. That means marketers should continue to seek out ways to talk directly to their customers on social media, wherever that happens.
In a reply on his Threads page, Zuckerburg said, “I think there should be a public conversations app with 1 billion+ people on it. Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn't nailed it. Hopefully we will.”
It’s safe to say that it will be a good move for brands to maintain a presence on Threads as things shake out. Maybe you can even start a conversation or two.