Zuck vs. Musk: The Battle for Social Media Supremacy Just Got Interesting

Social media | 11th Jul

It’s fair to say that when it comes to Zuck vs. Musk, the gloves are well and truly off. And we’re not talking about the mooted bare-knuckle cage fight between the two tech titans!

Now, as interesting as the rumours of a pugilistic showpiece between Zuck and Musk are (and let’s not forget that neither has given any indication of backing down), the real contest is underway, and Zuck has already taken aim at Musk’s jugular.

We’re, of course, talking about the recent launch of Meta’s Threads. But what exactly is Threads, and what ramifications could the platform have on our commercial and cultural ecosystem?

Threads Explained

On first glance, Threads looks an awful lot like Twitter, a microblogging website, complete with a user feed of largely text-based posts. Users will be able to post photos and videos and have real-time conversations with other users. Like Twitter, posts can be replied to, liked, or shared.

Meta has said that thread posts will have a 500-character limit, giving users greater ability to engage in public discourse. But that’s not all. The app will mirror Instagram’s existing aesthetic and navigation, offering users an immersive, cross-platform experience with Threads posts able to be shared directly to Instagram Stories.

Users can set their accounts to be public or private. Verified Instagram accounts will automatically be verified on Threads. Threads will also be accessible in more than 100 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Japan.

Oh, and did we mention that, according to Search Engine Journal, Threads has recorded 100 million sign-ups in under a week?

Why has Meta Launched Threads?

On face value, it’s hard to argue that Threads wasn’t meant to be a ‘Twitter killer.’ Despite reigning supreme as the undisputed microblogging champion, cracks have appeared in the once rock-solid social media platform.

Under Musk’s stewardship of Twitter, and before that, when Jack Dorsey was at the helm, Twitter found itself embroiled in more than its fair share of controversies.

From the proliferation of bots inflating its user base and shaping public opinions with tweets that lean towards one agenda or another (a 2020 estimate noted that Twitter bots make up 15% of all Twitter users, or 48 million accounts*), to the vastly unpopular $19.99 blue checkmark fiasco, it’s fair to say that Musk and Dorsey didn’t get it right every time.

Then there’s the continual right-vs.-left culture war. Left-leaning users, even celebrities, left Twitter in the wake of Musk’s ownership, fearing that the platform was on the cusp of being usurped to push a right-wing agenda, something that’s a contentious issue to this day.

It’s hard to argue that Zuckerberg isn’t being opportunistic in his decision to launch Threads. He knows that Twitter’s ability to shape public opinion is not as solid as it once was. It seems like now is the time for a true competitor, like Threads, to emerge.

Will Businesses Flock to Threads?

Meta has endured a torrid few, well, five-plus years. With a declining user base, a fledgling metaverse pummelling in the court of public opinion, and round after round of mass layoffs in the face of the tech industry slowdown stimulated by COVID and global economic uncertainty, Meta has found itself on the ropes in recent years.

In November 2022, Meta laid off 11,000 employees. In April, 4,000 employees were culled. The business is on track to cut its global workforce by 21,000 while implementing a hiring freeze for most new roles.

Given the turmoil in the tech industry, with other behemoths like Amazon and Google implementing their own hiring freezes and the collusion between momentous pandemic-fuelled hiring sprees and an uncertain economic outlook, the launch Meta’s Threads couldn’t have come at a better time.

Will businesses flock to Threads? Only time will tell. Its Instagram interface is surely attractive, as is the convenience of having Instagram, Facebook, and Threads ‘in one place,’ but Meta and Zuckerberg still have to take market share from one of the most established microblogging sites in the world.

If Threads is to win over businesses, it must do each of these four things, as far as we can see.

Make advertising easy

To be successful, Threads will need to leverage the connections Meta has across different platforms, creating a reciprocal advertising strategy. We see this with Threads’ Instagram integration. This allows users to find people’s connections on both platforms, creating a user-interaction loop.

If advertisers are able to follow this model, they put themselves in a strong position to scale their businesses. In essence, Meta could emerge as a one-stop-shop for advertising, with businesses able to tailor content to their audiences based on user activities on Facebook and Instagram.

Think of it this way: users see a summer dress worn by a prominent influencer on Instagram. The brand is running a sale on the item, which it advertises on Threads. The user buys the dress and then showcases a picture of their purchase on their own Facebook account. Boom! Meta’s platforms influence every stage of the buyer’s journey.

Promote better public discourse

Elon Musk’s commitment to free speech hasn’t exactly seen Twitter become the bastion of all that is objective and fair. In fact, the opposite has happened, and you could argue that under Musk’s tenure, Twitter has become more controversial and divisive than ever.

This problem has only been compounded by the glaring under regulation of content moderation, which has seen millions of users bombarded with insults and even abuse—hardly an attractive environment for any businesses considering using Twitter to build their brand.

Threads can learn from and capitalise on this. Adopting a hardline approach to abuse and mirroring LinkedIn’s approach to content moderation.

Leading experts in the digital sphere have suggested that Meta could assign “top voices” or handpicked user accounts to promote based on the value and credibility of the content they share.

LinkedIn is also receptive to feedback, something else that Meta could adopt. Recently, the platform received user feedback that its homepage feed was often irrelevant and non-professional. What did LinkedIn do? Change its algorithm to prioritise thought leadership posts and content from key relationships.

Make it worthwhile for brands

Musk’s blue checkmark should serve as a cautionary tale for Threads. It did work, making it difficult for users to impersonate people with more clout—celebs, industry titans, and celebs, for example—but users were loud and clear when they said that they didn’t want to pay to be “verified.”

Benefits that checkmark offered, like prioritised rankings in search conversations and bookmark folders, are all good and well, but when all’s said and done, the people spoke. They did not want to pay $19.99 per month to subscribe to Twitter.

When all’s said and done, people—and brands—don’t want to pay for a service that, historically, has been free.

If Zuckerberg’s Threads is to be successful, it needs to make it worthwhile for brands.

Having a robust verification process will be paramount to assuring brands that their identity and integrity will be safeguarded on the platform. And so far, Threads is doing just that. Site verification is similar to Instagram. Users verified on Instagram are automatically verified on Threads. Users who are not can apply to be verified.

Increase influence

The last way Threads can appeal to businesses is in the one way that they’ve excelled quite astonishingly in a short space of time: to have a vast influence.

100 million sign-ups in under a week tells you everything you need to know. For context, TikTok reached 100 million users in nine months. ChatGPT in two months.

Now, as impressive as this sounds, the key to Threads’ success will be if they get users to stick around long-term.

To do this, Threads will need to figure out a way to filter and categorise content useful to users. Something like Twitter’s hashtag, allowing users to group related posts into a single feed and promote trending topics and related content recommendations, would also go a long way towards engaging users in the long term.

What is the result of this? Brands see Threads as a great way to amplify their message and increase visibility.

The Battle for Social Media Supremacy Is On!

It’s hard to predict how Threads will change the social media landscape in the long term. What we do know is that Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t have asked for a better launch for his new venture. Now it’s Elon Musk’s turn to respond.

Will businesses flock to Threads? Well, the answer to that is obvious. Will brands continue to leverage Threads over Twitter? Only time will tell. It all depends on whether Zuckerberg and Meta can translate this phenomenal platform launch into something that convinces people and brands to stick around in the long term.




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