Zuck vs. Musk Round Two: Is Threads “Twitter Killer” Microblogging Platform in Danger of Losing a Social Media Battle of the Ages?

Social media | 25th Jul

What a difference a few weeks can make. It was all looking so good for Zuck. A lightning-fast adoption of Meta’s new microblogging platform, Threads, which made Chat GPT’s phenomenal growth look positively sluggish. But now, just a few weeks into its launch, the pretender to Twitter’s position as the undisputed champion of microblogging is reeling on the ropes, having punched itself out.

In truth, this is less a case of Twitter playing rope-a-dope and more a case of weathering an initial onslaught from the inexperienced pretender to the crown. It’s hard to argue that despite Threads’ bullish bravado, right now they simply don’t have the tools to topple Twitter.

How do we know this? Well, the stats don’t lie.

A 50% drop in engagement

The number of daily active users on Threads has fallen from 49 million on July 7th, 2023, to just 23 million on July 14th, according to a report by CNN. But that’s not the only pummelling Threads has taken. The app’s average usage time dropped from 21 minutes to 6 minutes. *

These stats don’t exactly make for good reading for Mark Zuckerberg.

It seems that Threads ambition of pillaging users from Twitter by building a better service that reaches a much broader audience may be a bridge too far, at least at this moment in time.

But for anyone who knows anything about social media, especially social media in its infancy, the issues plaguing Threads are quite common. These include user retention, spam, and regulatory scrutiny around content moderation.

What’s more concerning for Threads is that it’s unclear if it has the long-term viability in creating any significant long-term financial returns for the company.

Is this a “flash in the pan?

Twitter owner, Elon Musk will, no doubt, have a wry smile on his face at the news that Threads isn’t exactly holding users’ attention. However, let’s not forget that the app is in its infancy. Those with a memory long enough will, no doubt, remember that in late 2007 and early 2008, Facebook did little to diminish MySpace’s popularity with the younger generation. And look how that ended.

However, there are clear indications that Threads may just take a large bite out of Twitter’s market share. In the first full days that Twitter was available, July 7th and 8th, Twitter’s traffic dropped 5% compared to previous weeks. Also, Twitter Android use was down 4.3%.

It’s also worth remembering that Twitter’s retention is also down. New Twitter Android users’ ability to continue to engage with Twitter apps after 30 days has dropped from 19% in May 2022 to 16% in May 2023. In contrast, 40% of new Instagram users continue using the app after 30 days.

What’s behind the drop-off?

Before we get ahead of ourselves and make decisions to slam the brakes on a proposed commercial micro-blogging migration from Twitter to Threads, there is a rather large caveat to the data: this round of data is solely based on Android engagement.

Of course, you wouldn’t expect Android data to be vastly different from iOS, but it can’t be entirely discounted. However, the initial data we have isn’t the full picture, and therefore deciding on Threads’ success is foolhardy right now. What we do know is that the app benefits from a wider digital infrastructure which if leveraged well could transform any so-called fledgling fortunes.

It’s likely that the drop-off can be explained by the novelty wearing off. Post-launch, Threads was boosted by a not insignificant marketing drive and charm offensive, resulting in a spike in interest.

The Threads users got upon launch were threadbare, to say the least. There were no hashtags, a desktop interface, a usable search function, or the ability for users to experience content by users they follow rather than what the Threads algorithm thinks they might enjoy.

Then there’s the not-insignificant issue that Twitter has been established for 17 years. This means that Twitter has spent 17 years honing its platform. Listening to user feedback, optimising the experience, and giving businesses a platform to grow.

While not all users flocked from Twitter to Threads, with the app feeling especially alien to Twitter users who have little to no experience navigating other Meta’s other platforms like Instagram, many were tempted to log in with their existing Meta credentials.

What can Meta do to get people more engaged with Threads?

Like any other product or service, if you want to take market share from your competitors, you need to give your users a better experience. This is true of everything, from buying an SUV to choosing which streaming services to subscribe to. So far, Threads isn’t doing this.

Threads was launched without basic features like a direct message function or even a ‘For You’ tab so users can control what content they consume. This seems like a missed opportunity. Had Threads invested resources in optimising the user experience from the get-go, challenging or improving Twitter’s general functionality, they may have been better equipped to slug it out, toe-to-toe with Twitter.

Elon Musk’s tenure as Twitter’s head honcho has been plagued with controversy after controversy. From mining the bot accounts to the infamous blue checkmark. This is something that Threads believes it can capitalise on, creating a more user-centric micro-blogging experience.

Making Threads more inclusive for all, eradicating divisive discourse, and demonstrating to advertisers that Threads is a sound investment seems like the most logical way that it can topple Twitter. Zuck has already taken steps to do just this by making it clear that the platform will not encourage controversy through political rhetoric and news framed to stoke the fires of dissent amongst a user base with broad and conflicting political opinions.

Thinking about who users follow and why they follow them is another clear way that Threads can challenge Twitter. Those in the public eye—celebrities, politicians, thought leaders, and sports stars—have opinions that people are interested in. If Threads is able to convince users that they’ll get a more interesting, engaging experience while being able to follow the thoughts of people whose opinions matter to them, they’ll stand a good chance of reversing the downward user engagement trend, keeping users on the platform for longer, and, consequently, having more advertising opportunities.

For Threads to emerge as the new Twitter, Zuck needs to come up with a winning formula that appeals to commercial clients and Joe Public. The good news is that this is certain with their wheelhouse; Zuck has done this before with Facebook, and Threads does have significant resources at his disposal.

The contest has a long way to go

To write off Threads because of a second- and third week drop in user engagement would be like writing off a challenger’s chances of winning the WBC title after a poor second and third round. This contest still has a long way to go.

On July 18, 2023, Threads launched its first batch of updates to the iOS version of the app. These included a translation button, a tab on users’ activity feed dedicated to showing who’s following them, and an option to subscribe and receive notifications from accounts that users don’t follow. There is also a planned desktop version of the app in the works, a feed of accounts users follow, and an edit button.

Yet, there are rumblings in some digital circles that Threads additional intentions include limiting users’ ability to post or read content, something that isn’t sitting well with users. However, the veracity of these claims has yet to be confirmed. So, like pretty much every other social media platform, users will have to weigh up the benefits and drawbacks before deciding if it’s worth investing their time and effort on the platform.

In the meantime, the war of words between Threads and Twitter continues to rage on. Elon Musk has been quite vocal about his opinions of Threads, going so far as to posit that restrictions on the content users can consume propelled Threads’ early growth.

Is Threads in danger of losing the social media battle for the ages? Only time will tell. It’s true that Meta’s phenomenal early growth has stumbled, but don’t count Zuckerberg out just yet. There’s still much that Threads can do to claw back users and improve engagement, and more users means more advertising revenue and growth.





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