Most of you are already familiar with Threads, Meta's latest foray into the world of social micro-messaging.
The new “Twitter clone” app has sparked significant chatter in tech and user communities.
Threads has already achieved impressive traction, securing a whopping 100 million users within five days of its launch. But explosive beginnings are no guarantee of sustained success—active users on the app have declined by about 75 percent. In the volatile social app marketplace, even promising contenders can quickly fade into obscurity.
Will Threads eventually soar to ubiquitous adoption, or face the challenge of declining relevance?
Today I’ll dig into some critical lessons we can glean from the new app’s initial days in the limelight.
1. How Threads thoughtfully solved the cold start problem
One of the biggest challenges any new social media app faces is the cold start problem. How can you get early users to recognize value in an app before network effects kick in?
Threads addressed this in a few key ways:
- Importing Instagram's social graph: Threads lets users easily import and follow the people they’re connected to on Instagram, so they have an easy way to bootstrap their network on the new app.
- A global algorithmic feed: The only feed in Threads (as of now) includes content from individuals that users aren't following. As a result, users will see content when they start using the product, whether or not they follow anyone. Simultaneously, this feature means users who posted early content can get views from non-followers and gain additional reach.
- Pending follows: Threads allows people to follow Instagram connections even before those users join Threads. When these individuals do join Threads, they'll already have a set of followers waiting for them.
- Pre-seeding the app with content: Meta worked with many influencers and celebrities to give them access a day or two early so they could pre-seed the network. The benefit for the earliest users is pretty straightforward: Being first on the network and getting prioritized in recommended algorithms gives them a chance to gain an outsized number of followers on the new platform.
2. Distribution is king
As I mentioned, Threads hit 100 million users today in approximately 5 days. This surpassed ChatGPT, which accomplished the same in 2 months.
While several other lessons in this post help explain why Threads had such an impressive start, the primary takeaway is simple: Distribution is king.
The most effective way to introduce an application to 100 million people in a week is to tap into the audience of an application that already has 2 billion users.
Threads capitalized on Instagram's user base through notifications and tight integration to facilitate easy reposting. This approach allows Threads to quickly increase awareness among hundreds of millions of users, effectively introducing this new application to a broad audience instantaneously.
Many people post on Threads and then conveniently reshare their content to Instagram, like the example below. This action extends the platform's visibility to Instagram followers and provides more top-of-funnel awareness.
3. Timing matters
Zuckerberg has long stated that Twitter wasn’t taking full advantage of its potential and was poorly run (and this was long before Elon):
“Twitter is such a mess — it's as if they drove a clown car into a gold mine and fell in.”
But it was only earlier this year that Meta decided to take another stab at a text-based social network, seeing growing concerns from brands, influencers and advertisers after changes from Elon Musk.
Meta CPO Chris Cox said:
“We’ve been hearing from creators and public figures who are interested in having a platform that is sanely run, that they believe that they can trust and rely upon for distribution.”
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, adds:
“I do think there’s a lot more noise around Twitter than there was. Just the volatility and the unpredictability of what seemed to be going on there seemed like it might present an opportunity. If things like stability started to become an issue or if they changed the product too drastically, those were things that might leave an opening for us in a space that otherwise looked pretty particularly difficult to compete in.”
In addition, Meta actually pulled forward the launch of Threads after some more mishaps from Twitter. The Twitter team decided to limit users on Twitter and stopped allowing people who weren’t logged in to access tweets.
Seeing these gaffes, Meta decided to strike while their opponent was weakest, as reported by the Verge:
“Meta has been planning to release Threads, its self-described ‘sanely run’ version of Twitter, for a while. The backlash to Musk’s recent limiting of how many tweets people can see per day was a catalyzing event for getting the app out the door this week, according to internal company documents I’ve seen.”
4. Small details at the outset can have a magnified impact
In the early days, Meta made some intentional product decisions that may appear minor — but could end up playing an outsized role in Threads’ success.
Many users have commented about how the vibe in Threads seems “nice,” with far fewer trolls and less toxicity, relative to Twitter. That may change over time, but it's worth considering some of the small but intentional product decisions Meta made:
- The number of people someone follows is buried one layer deep on their profile. This may encourage people to follow others more freely, as opposed to worrying about things like their follower-to-following ratio.
- Instagram supports a “hide for everyone” feature where a comment or reply can be hidden from everyone. This does have some drawbacks, but provides an additional safeguard to hide toxic and similar replies from all viewers. Twitter does not offer a similar feature — hidden replies are still visible to others if they navigate through.
- There is likely some downranking of news/politics and angry or outrageous conversations from others’ feeds, as hinted at by Adam Mosseri and Zuck.
5. How Threads leveraged their new entrant status
During the onboarding process, users were introduced to the term "Fediverse" via an informational screen. This is likely the first exposure to this term for many people.
Essentially, this statement means Threads could interoperate with open social networking standards and therefore be compatible with other Fediverse platforms. This compatibility allows users to switch platforms more seamlessly and interact with users in other places online.
“You may one day end up leaving Threads, or, hopefully not, end up de-platformed. If that ever happens, you should be able to take your audience with you to another server. Being open can enable that.”
This is a really interesting move for a few reasons:
- It aligns with the current social zeitgeist around lock-in and decentralization, and it may represent Meta's initial step in this direction (potentially earning them credibility while delaying similar actions on their larger and more profitable networks).
- It eases concerns for users around the app experience degrading or the app shutting down since they can take their followers to another network. That makes users feel more at ease about investing time and effort into the platform.
- As a newcomer to this category, Threads has less to lose than Twitter, the incumbent, which has much more at stake. If Twitter were to follow suit, it would indirectly benefit Threads (and other Fediverse platforms) because users could transfer their networks over to Threads. This decision exerts pressure on Twitter and presents a low-risk, low-cost implementation for Threads.
Whether or not the Fediverse as a concept takes off effectively is immaterial. In reality, 99% of people are unlikely to switch platforms. Nevertheless, this move placates current concerns, aligns with the prevalent zeitgeist and does not pose a significant risk (from a user attrition perspective) for Threads as a new app offering.
Unraveling the secrets of Threads
Threads is currently riding the high tide of swift adoption rates and strategic product decisions.
Yet, as with all tech marvels, only time will tell if it will have a lasting impact. But even this early on, Threads' first few weeks provide startups with a masterclass in identifying opportunities, timely execution and smart product management.
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