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Meta’s Twitter rival Threads has launched — here’s what you need to know

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Meta seems poised to capitalize on Twitter’s current struggles by introducing its much-anticipated rival, Threads.

Its arrival comes in the wake of Twitter’s recent controversy, where owner Elon Musk limited the viability of users’ tweets, hampering advertisers’ reach. Threads has emerged as a potential sanctuary for both social media users and marketers.

Here’s the rundown on what Threads is, what it means for social media, and more. 

What is Threads? 

Threads is a straightforward text-based conversation app that lets people compose and share those messages in real-time. It has often been compared to Twitter due to its similarities. In both apps, users can engage with the posts they see by liking, replying, sharing posts and sending direct messages. However, one notable distinction is that Threads operates within Meta’s larger ecosystem. As a result users of the app can keep the same username and follow the same accounts as they do on Instagram, making it easier for the two billion users of the photo-sharing platform to transition away from Twitter.

Jack Moore, head of social at Hatch Group, acknowledges this strategic move as a smart decision by Meta. He explains that if Threads completely abandoned the model pioneered by Twitter, it would face significant challenges in convincing users, creators and brands to join the platform. By making Threads familiar and easy to use, Meta has created a seamless experience for users, even though it closely resembles Twitter in many ways. 

Ok, Threads seem intriguing. Tell me more? 

It’s believed that users can post text updates up to 500 characters to a centralized feed, again like Twitter. Sure, it’s not quite the length of an Instagram caption (2,200 characters), but it does bring back nostalgia for those who remember Twitter’s early 140 character-limit posts, which were increased to 280 in 2017. Plus, users can interact with each other via the typical likes, replies and reposts, and include links, photos and videos up to five minutes long.

When does the app launch?

Threads was planned to launch on July 6, but it’s highly anticipated debut was brought forward to July 5 on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, generating considerable excitement as one of the most hyped launches this year. The reason behind this anticipation is the curiosity surrounding whether Meta can challenge Twitter on its own turf. Should Threads prove successful it has the potential to make Twitter irrelevant for the vast number of social media users. Moreover, the timing of the launch, amid mounting frustration with Twitter as well as the upcoming 2024 election period, only adds to the likelihood of this outcome. 

Threads sound familiar

That’s probably because the idea has been in the works since October 2019, when (then) Facebook launched “Threads from Instagram” — a companion app for Instagram users who wanted to keep in touch with their closest friends on the social network. Back then, this first iteration of Threads was less of a Twitter rival and more of an alternative to Snapchat, given both were trying to own the concept of a photo-focused mobile messenger service. But it never gained enough traction and was subsequently rolled into the Instagram app and turned into what is now known as the “Close Friends” feature on Instagram today.

Fast forward to May 2023, it seems like the original Threads code was rejigged to become Meta’s Twitter-alternative text-based app. This would explain why Meta has been able to get this app up and running pretty quickly — its engineers weren’t starting from scratch. 

Why should marketers care?

While there hasn’t been any mention of monetization or ads on the platform just yet, this is Meta after all. Chances are there will be ads on Threads soon. 

As Ana Milicevic, founder of consultancy Sparrow Advisers pointed out, this is a no brainer. The platform will be a far easier one to move ad budgets to because Meta / Instagram is likely a platform where brands already have commercial advertising relationships. 

“The paperwork is there, the payment pipes are there – and I’d imagine you’ll [brands will] be getting a good pitch this week from the Meta/Instagram team on why they should convert their Twitter budget into a Threads test budget in Q3,” said Milicevic.

Further, it doesn’t sound like it will require too much effort, either. Threads will probably end up being an additional tick box in Meta’s ad manager, as a new placement, in the same way Instagram expanded into the Explore page, said Jonathan D’Souza Rauto, biddable product lead at Kepler. “That never had any advertising in it, and now it does. Now, it is one of Instagram’s biggest areas.”

So Meta is launching its Twitter rival with no ads?

Yes, it is. This is how Meta tends to work. Make sure the audience is there first and then introduce ads. In fact, D’Souza Rauto, confirmed that while some questions came up at Meta’s Performance Summit in London last week, they neither confirmed nor denied anything about the app.

Despite the lack of communication leading up to the launch, advertisers are, at the very least, cautiously optimistic there will be ads on Threads sometime soon. Tamara Littleton, CEO of The Social Element, for example, has already said her team will be working with clients to experiment with Threads and potentially build an organic experience until paid opportunities arrive. 

“One thing that eases the transition process is the direct link to Instagram,” said Littleton. “This will make moving brand comms across much easier.” 

It’s a similar case with Annie-Mai Hodge, director and founder of Girl Power Marketing, who said her clients will be signing up mostly because of the ease and familiarity. The trust is somewhat already there, given this is Meta. “They’re already on Instagram, they can keep their usernames and they can follow people they already follow on Instagram – it’s an easy transition that makes complete sense.”

Will Threads also track user data?

In short: yes, and it’s raised concerns. Meta already has a colorful history of using aggressive tracking tactics, so much so it’s been wrangled by regulators and chastised by users. However,  Threads is attempting to address some of those issues by being a decentralized app. Decentralized platforms generally prioritize privacy and security because user data isn’t stored on centralized servers. Instead, the data is distributed across a network of computers, meaning its far more difficult for anyone to access it. 

But for now, it’s still not enough to convince the EU. While the app has been rolled out in the U.S. and the U.K., Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) has stated that Threads won’t be available in the EU for the foreseeable future, due to its stricter GDPR rules.

https://digiday.com/?p=509761

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