By now we’ve all seen, gawped at, shared and been fearful of, the astonishing uptake enjoyed by Threads, following its launch on Thursday, July 5.
As the hours ticked by the milestones grew ever more eye-watering, whether it was hitting one million inside two hours – for context, Netflix took three and a half years, Instagram took two and a half months, and ChatGPT took five days to reach the same number – or 100 million users by the end of the first weekend.
But one metric was conspicuous by its absence; how many new Instagram users were recorded in the same time period?
It is only in that number that we can only really know how much of Twitter Killer this like-for-like by Mark Zuckerberg and Meta can really be.
Because while ‘shiny-new-toy syndrome’ is all well and good, for as long as Threads requires an IG log-in to activate, we’re really just stealing from Peter to feed Paul when it comes to audience connection.
As a side note, hats off to Zuckerberg as his army of former Twitter employees and their trade secrets (so says the legal note) for the tactic in the first place.
What at first appeared to be a point of concern for Instagram fans keen to protect their sacred feeds, the ease with which the two platforms were integrated meant even the most averse were cajoled into signing up “just in case”
Of course, this isn’t a box office movie where an opening weekend can make or break a product.
Though Threads’ narrative arc in the first 24 hours does feel borrowed from an action film of the 90s – stunning opening sequence to wow the audience, character building as we get to understand the real star in Act Two, revenge of the baddie in the form of a legal threat by Elon Musk in Act Three, and a happy ending when Threads trended on Twitter).
It’s certainly true expectations have been exceeded at Meta HQ but the real fight for relevance will be a long one. My personal feeling is the differential just isn’t there.
Throughout history in the tech space, imitation has always needed a dash of evolution weaved into the product, and early signs for Threads show that they haven’t gone far enough and seem to be banking on Musk’s madcap handling of his $44 bn plaything to do the heavy lifting for them.
Brands jumping onto the threads-wagon
Meanwhile, what say the brands who were quick to jump on board the Good Ship Zuck? Not a lot, truth be told.
What I found curious was the lack of bravery shown by the corporate behemoths in trying something genuinely bold to draw attention to their presence on the platform at a time when eyeballs were at their most invested.
Three-quarters of the marketing funnel was done for them courtesy of the global clamour to pass comment, review and engage with the platform, and excitement and intrigue were at their highest; driving conversion or even standing out from the crowd was an open goal, not a single brand I noticed was able to take.
Instead, all we saw was the tweaking of a pre-existing content strategy alongside a slight adaptation of language or visual identity, leaving us with feeds that within a few hours became a race for tiny but inauthentic and largely non-committal emotional reactions.
Pivoting your comms approach to the same audience from a glorified and polished, visually-led platform to one that is trying to capture an audience known to swill around in a cesspool of hard news, opinion and the emotion which often comes hand in hand with those topics, anger, is a tricky ask, which is why boldness would have won the day.
So what’s next?
Sure, the numbers look good – a surface-level trawl through some key accounts and their engagement sees likes, shares and comments on Threads absolutely obliterate those on Twitter posted around the same time – but recency bias needs to be considered before drawing too many conclusions.
As with everything in the ever-evolving world of social media, he who nails his colours to any particular mast is likely to get left behind pretty swiftly. An attitude of watch, learn, test and pivot is needed.
Make no mistake, this was definitely a shot across Musk’s bow, but we’re a long way away yet from it being the knockout blow as the immediate reaction appeared to suggest.
That being said, spare a thought for the Twitter competitors such as BlueSky and Mastodon (and their six or seven-figure user numbers amassed over months), whose various stages of development, rollout and growth have likely been completely derailed.
Something Musk might just see as a handy little favour from his old adversary, if he can get his own house in order.
Matt Fortune is the Strategy & Insights Director at Create Group.