Unraveling Threads: The Hot New Social Network or a Flash in the Pan?

Now that the hype has died down, many are questioning the long-term value of Threads, especially for brands and retailers.

Since its launch on July 5, Threads has taken the media world by storm. To say the reviews have been mixed would be an understatement: some have called it a “Twitter killer” while others have called it a mere copy-cat.

But folks on both sides of the aisle rushed to see what the hype was all about, and the platform gained a staggering 10 million signups in the first seven hours of launch, and 100 million users in just five days. (For context, Pivot podcast host Scott “the Dawg” Galloway predicted the app would reach 100 million users in five weeks.)

“Meta is very good at the timing of things. They should’ve waited for Europe to be ready, but they couldn’t wait for the privacy policies because they were riding the tailwinds of Twitter and the degradation of their service,” said Matt Maher, Founder of M7 Innovations in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “They did it at the right time Friday night, treated it like a slumber party and boom, they had 100 million users in five days. The timing was there, and it was definitely a Zuck power play. But now, the question is, does it have long-term staying power?

Now that the service is more than two weeks old — and we’re able to look at active user engagement compared to total number of users — industry experts are pondering the potential impact of the platform. Most of all, they’re considering the best way brand marketers can leverage the app, especially since it is still very much evolving.

The biggest headline of the week: new data from Similarweb revealed that the number of daily active users on Threads dropped from 49 million to 23.6 million over the course of a week (July 7-14). Total daily minutes of use also fell from 21 minutes to a little more than six minutes.

However, this data report is just one of many in the Threads tapestry: for example, data.ai found that Threads has already achieved one-fifth of the weekly active user base of Twitter worldwide and 86 times the weekly active user base of Truth Social, which was deemed ”the largest Twitter rival in the U.S.”

Does Threads Have Long-Term Staying Power?

Although adoption occurred at a “breakneck pace,” industry players are paying close attention to long-tail interest and engagement. “I’m still trying to figure out how strong, consistent and long-term use will continue to be,” said Melissa Minkow, Director of Retail Strategy at CI&T in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.

Currently, the Threads feed is filled with a lot of creators and influencers offering musings and behind-the-scenes content that complements their Instagram feeds. “Threads offers play-by-play, intimate details that are started on Instagram,” Minkow explained. “It’s interesting because it’s acknowledging those two platforms are interconnected, although that’s a bit fuzzy because you’re not always going to be following the same people on those platforms.”

For some users, especially more popular celebrities and media figures, Threads is the more positive alternative to Twitter. “I’ve seen several influencers with large followings migrate completely off Twitter in exchange for threads,” said freelance retail and ecommerce writer Kaleigh Moore in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “I just don’t know if it will find its footing in the long term.”

Can Threads Provide the Dopamine Hit that Hooks Users?

The key to turning initial user interest into long-term engagement is bridging the “instinctual threshold,”  establishing that special “dopamine hit” that ties to a behavior, according to Maher. And every social platform has one: for inspiration and creativity, users go to Pinterest. For snackable content that entertains them, users go to TikTok.

“Don’t get me wrong, all of the social platforms have stolen or borrowed these behavioral feature sets from one another, but the core dopamine hit, why you open the app, is what creates staying power,” Maher said. “Threads’ dopamine hit needs to be the immediacy of relevant information: both objective information to catch us up and subjective opinion-based information from people we want to hear from. When something happens, the instinctual response has to be ‘I have to check Threads.’ Threads can’t become that quickly: they must convince every relevant influencer to migrate from Twitter and spend time there; they need to build a feature set and algorithm so it’s stickier; and they need to ensure it’s a cleaner, safer place than other platforms. That’s the only way it has staying power.”

By bringing powerful features and a stellar algorithm together, Threads can (hopefully) create a space where users can be free and creative, tapping into the “unhinged” quality that made Twitter such a magnetic space for so many people, according to Minkow.

“I truly think that’s going to determine the staying power of Threads,” she said. “Can it be the same wild, unhinged and hilarious environment that Twitter was for so long for so many non-famous users? I’m trying to see where the virality is going to come from out of Threads. Once that recipe is figured out, long-term staying power will occur. The reason why TikTok has had such staying power is that the average Joe can go viral. We need to see more of that potential, so users have an incentive to stay there.”

How Should Brands Use Threads?

Some brands and retailers, especially ones that are targeting Gen Z, are embracing Threads because it offers them a free and more creative vehicle for self-expression and community engagement. With no firm rules for the platform, creators and brand marketers have more flexibility in how they communicate with their audience. While this is a breath of fresh air for some, it is very scary for others.

“It’s clear that big brands and retailers are still waiting to get the lay of the land before they make their presence known on Threads,” said Oliver Urwin, Senior Copywriter and Social Media Expert at digital agency Banc.There’s a good chance that companies simply don’t know what to do with the new social media channel.”

Before joining the fray, brands can dip their toe in by doing some social listening. “They need to see how consumers are talking about their brand, their competitors and indirect competitors on Threads so they can learn more about consumer behaviors,” Minkow said. Then, they should think critically about whether they have a good reason to become active on the platform.”

“Brands should be mindful of joining Threads’ fray simply because it’s the done thing right now,” Urwin advised. “Conversation for the sake of it, especially where brands are concerned, is easily seen for what it is: cheap talk. Once they can get more of a sense of what Threads will be used for, they can start to form a strategy around using it to their advantage.”

Potential for Political Fallout?

Urwin added that social media platforms have become incredibly politicized. Showing up in the wrong place could essentially place a target on brands’ (digital) backs.

Twitter has been considered a destination for right-leaning viewpoints, and recently, Threads “came under fire for supposedly censoring conservative content,” he said. “By signing up to Threads, brands could risk upsetting certain portions of their audience simply by having a presence on there. The move right now seems to be a biding of time to see exactly what Threads will morph into. Only then will brands seemingly have their answer.”

If brands are ready to dig in, they need to test and learn in their approach, and ensure their strategy aligns with what makes the Threads experience so powerful: authenticity.

“This cannot become another space where brands pay to advertise,” Minkow said “It needs to be as close to unbranded as possible. I know that’s not a profitable response for Threads or for brands, but the more this space becomes branded, the more averse people will become to it and start to think of it as falling prey to the missteps both Meta and Twitter have made.”

She added: “Brands need to be careful, keep their footprint minimal and make it very impactful where they can. They must be intentional and conscientious with their behaviors there.”