Competing with Twitter ( and Instagram: Tying the Threads together

It came out of nowhere.

It looked like Twitter. It behaved like Twitter. It promised to be friendlier than Twitter.

It was Threads, Meta’s abruptly unveiled competitor to Twitter, linked with Meta’s Instagram and designed to win the hearts, minds and engagement of Twitter users dismayed by Elon Musk’s disruption of the long-establised town square of the Internet. (The disruption hasn’t stopped, of course — Twitter isn’t known as Twitter any more).

Threads raced to 100 million members — a statistic made less remarkable by the ease with which existing Instagram members (and there are over two billion of them) could join. Recent reports, however, have said that the number of active users and time spent on the app has sharply declined.

So what does Threads mean for marketers? As yet, it’s not open for advertising, although given Meta’s ad capabilities it surely will be before long. Brands and influencers did, however, rush to stake a claim in the new social territory. From Netflix, Wendy’s and Nike to Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez, the big names started appearing.

Brands get early engagement on Threads

But are they getting engagement? Some reporting suggests that brands, at least, are having a better experience on Threads than on Twitter. In July, Website Planet ran a comparison of 30 top brands on Twitter and Threads, looking at interactions like followers, likes and replies.

87% of the brands analyzed generated more likes on Threads than on Twitter (an average of 8x as many). Most of the comparisons related to identical posts. Posts on Threads also generated more replies with only five of the brands getting more comments on Twitter than Threads.

It’s an open question, though, whether this early success will survive the decline in active use seen since the report was compiled.

Picking up the Threads

How should brands and organizations not yet using Threads think about approaching the new platform? We spoke to two executives already facing those kinds of questions from their clients — Krishna Subramanian, co-founder of Captiv8, a social intelligence platform, and Bob Lynch, founder and CEO of SponsorUnited, a tech platform for the sponsorship industry.

“I think brands need to build content that works specifically for Threads,” said Subramanian. “I don’t think you can just take what you post on Instagram and move it over to Threads. You can’t even take from Twitter and move it over because the audience that exists on this platform is slightly different and they expect different things.”

Brands can find an audience almost instantly on Threads because their existing Instagram audience is easily ported across. Most social media launches start from scratch and that can make it hard to get traction (consider Google Plus). “Why wouldn’t a platform go out and launch a competitor — maybe YouTube goes out and launches its own version of Twitter or Threads and transfers their users over,” mused Subramanian. “Maybe they don’t get 50% market share; maybe it’s 10% and that’s still enough to create impact and engagment.”

Dig deeper: Why we care about social media marketing

With a higher permitted character count than Twitter (500 rather than 280), Subramanian sees opportunities for brands and influencers to “micro-blog” on the new platform. “Some of the things that perform really well on Twitter are threads — Twitter threads where you have multiple tweets lined up back-to-back that may have inspirational or educational content or tell a short form story. I think we will see that here as well.”

Brands, said Subramanian have been very active on Threads from day one. “That’s because their audience is already there and that’s half the battle. Here’s your audience — now figure out how to entertain them.”

Sponsors spend, of course, on influencers, celebrities, teams, events, and so on. “Really across any rights-holder or media entity,” said SponsorUnited’s Lynch. “Instagram is obviously extremely visual,” he said. “There is less of a wall of text that you’re wading through for thought and ideas rather than endorsements. In the sports and entertainment space, videos and images work really well. It’s also a more authentic ways for brands to be included rather than just plain text — whether via a car that an athlete is sitting in or apparel Rihanna is wearing on her tour, say.”

So far, Lynch looks at Threads as a lighter version of Twitter. “A little more entertaining, a little fresher, more engaging. I see it impacting some of Instagram’s engagement, honestly, as much as Twitter’s.” There’s a danger for Meta, as Subramanian put it, of “eating its own audience.”

The Instagram/Threads disconnect

The close relationship between Instagram and Threads may have helped the latter to launch like a rocket. It quickly became clear to many users, however, that the platforms offer very different experiences. While it’s possible to write posts on Instagram (much longer posts, in fact, than permitted on what was Twitter), the platform offers primarily a visual experience — images or brief videos. And although it’s possible to post images and videos on Threads, the experience is text-based.

One of the consequences is that, although it’s easy for a user to import accounts they follow on Instagram to Threads, there is often not a good reason for doing so. Who wants a text-based experience with an account you followed for their images of holiday destinations or their snapshots of last night’s dinner? The accounts you might want to follow on Threads are those you followed on Twitter for their news analysis or commentary on current affairs — they’re harder to find.

For Lynch, the content he’s seeing on Threads is somewhat hybrid. “It feels like Twitter and Instagram had a baby. There’s a lot of video, there is more text involved, but it’s not exactly what the Twitter environment to me represents. From a marketer’s standpoint, what I think will be really interesting to follow is whether this will be a better platform for advertising purposes.”

While Threads is not yet delivering advertising, there’s value for brands in entities promoting their brand partnerships. “The WNBA had an all-star game and they are already including their brand partners in their posts. A real big part of the economy is these individual entities — be it a team or an influencer — monetizing their own ability to include brands in their posts. Of course, there’s no value in that to Threads at this point. I’m sure they’ll figure that out.”

Dig deeper: Marketing on Threads: What you need to know

Brands need to experiment

The last word comes from Jamie Gilpin, CMO at social media management platform Sprout Social. Consumers, he told us, are looking for a blend of content when it comes to their social platforms. “We’ve seen this in both Threads’ impressive early numbers and in TikTok’s recent announcement of text posts.”

The popularity of short-form video remains undeniable. But, said Gilpin, “it’s clear that consumers still crave text-based content across platforms.”

It’s too early to know how much of a blend of content Threads will offer. To this user, at least, it’s almost indistinguishable from Twitter, or least Twitter as reimagined by a bunch of Instagram accounts. But brands need to get their feet wet. “To build a well-rounded and effective strategy,” said Gilipin, “brands should experiment on these new platforms and features, differentiate their content types and analyze what is resonating most with their individual audiences.”

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