News publishers hesitate to commit to investing more into Threads next year despite growing engagement

This editorial series examines industry trends across the media, media buying and marketing sectors as 2023 closes and the new year begins. More from the series →

News publishers are cautious to pour more resources into Threads, the nearly six-month old X-competitor from Meta, and don’t have plans to do so in the near future as limited data available to their social and audience development teams makes it difficult to determine whether investing more into the platform is worth it.

That includes three news organizations — including The Boston Globe, CNN and The New York Times — where execs said they were seeing engagement grow on Threads since its launch. All three declined to share data to back that up, citing the difficulty of measuring aggregate data on the platform. But other news publishers like the BBC and the Guardian U.S. have stopped posting from their main accounts on the platform, and are monitoring whether it’s worth investing resources into.

For now, Threads remains a place for experimentation. News orgs are seeing what posts resonate with their audiences — judging by likes, replies and referral traffic, as no other metrics are available to them from Threads — as they look for alternative ways to connect with their audiences on text-based social platforms, especially as referral traffic and engagement on X (formerly Twitter) continues to fall. Meta does distinguish Threads traffic from its other properties, including Facebook and Instagram.

X still gets about 100 times more web traffic than Threads worldwide and has more than 11 times more monthly active users of its mobile apps in the U.S., according to David Carr, senior insights manager at data analytics company Similarweb. Estimated November desktop traffic show X had 5.9 billion visits worldwide, down 13.8% year over year and a decrease of 4% month over month, according to Carr, while Threads had 49.4 million visits was flat month over month. Based on data from Android users, X usage was down 2% from October to November, while Threads was up 12.8%, he said.

“There’s a pull to Threads — it’s a good platform, it’s a good [and] improving product. And there’s an element of being pushed away from X, where there’s only so much time you can spend on it a day now before you just want to pull your hair out,” said Matt Karolian, general manager at Boston.com. “It does feel like a confluence of factors that have really helped it grow.”

Social teams at The Boston Globe and The New York Times that primarily focus on posts for Facebook and X have added managing and programming content on Threads to their daily workflows — but those that oversee those teams are hesitant to put more time and energy into Threads beyond that, and have not assigned dedicated editors to the platform.

“Most things that we rely on to evaluate a platform and if it’s worth investing resources in we don’t know about Threads,” said Jake Grovum, director of off-platform at The New York Times. “But we wouldn’t continue being on the platform and maintaining it every day if it wasn’t something that we thought was promising for the future but also currently delivering on the audience.” The New York Times has 2.3 million followers on Threads, compared to 55.1 million followers on X.

Meta did not respond to requests for comment before publishing time.

Karolian has been analyzing Threads data that The Boston Globe does have (likes, comments and reposts) about twice a month, and is “consistently seeing higher engagement on a per-post basis on Threads than we are on X.” Currently, the Boston Globe has over 60,000 followers on Threads, compared to over 794,000 followers on X. A sports-related video post from last week received about 310 likes, compared to a similar sports video post from about two months ago that received around 140 likes.

A CNN spokesperson said the news org has also seen growth in audience and engagement on Threads, but did not share figures to support this claim. They echoed the sentiments shared by Karolian and Grovum, and said they “hope for a more robust suite of data and analytics to better understand our performance and audience.” At the time of publishing, CNN had 2.3 million Threads followers, compared to 62 million followers on X. CNN had seen “modest” referral traffic from Threads each month since joining the platform, the spokesperson added.

Some news orgs have stepped back

Some news publishers seem to have gone quiet on the platform, however. The BBC hasn’t posted on Threads in 19 weeks and the Guardian U.S. hasn’t posted in three weeks (though the Guardian’s international account posts on Threads regularly).

When asked why the BBC hasn’t added anything new to the platform in months, a company spokesperson said: “We use a range of communications channels across the BBC and we keep our social media platforms under review.” They declined to respond to further questions. The BBC currently has 730,000 followers on Threads, and 40.4 million followers on X.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve abandoned the platform,” said a media exec who asked to remain anonymous, and works at a publisher that hasn’t posted on Threads in weeks. “We weren’t that active to begin with and I’d be open to experimenting more there in the future.” They said the decision to step away from Threads for now was due to a lack of resources.

Threads as a place for news?

When Meta debuted Threads, the company made it clear that the new platform was created to be a home for fun and entertainment content and not hard news and politics. But recent big news cycles around the Israel-Hamas war and Sam Altman, CEO at generative AI company OpenAI, getting ousted (and then brought back) has made it clearer to The Boston Globe and The New York Times that there is a place for news organizations on Threads.

“As far as we can tell, we see evidence that people are interested in news and engaging with it and clicking through to read and things like that,” Grovum said. “We’ve seen sufficient return to site, engagement, growth and all those things to continue programming… We see that it has potential and is promising on the platform and is worth us spending our time maintaining day to day.”

Grovum declined to share if the Times was seeing more engagement or traffic coming from Threads than X, and noted it was difficult to measure the impact of big news events without access to aggregate data from Threads. And without features like hashtags and trending topics on Threads, it’s also difficult to follow conversations around news events, he said.

Karolian said anecdotally that he’s seeing more people interact with The Boston Globe’s news content on Threads, and engagements have picked up for the publisher on Threads in the past month or so, which he believes is due to a combination of a heftier news cycle and people leaving X.

The roles of Threads in 2024

The role of Threads in news organizations’ audience development strategies will hedge on next year’s election cycle, Grovum and Karolian said. It’ll determine whether Threads becomes a primary space for breaking news and in real-time conversation.

“There’s a lot of irons in the fire in terms of thinking through where we’re putting our limited resources and what we’re getting. I think for the time being, we have no plans to stop posting [on Threads]. Whether we’ll ramp up a bit or a bunch given a big news story that comes up, it’s too soon to say,” Grovum said.

Meta is continuing to expand the platform, too. Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported the social giant plans to expand Threads to Europe next month (Threads is already available in the UK). 

“There are very few news organizations in the industry that have infinite resources to support everything everywhere, all the time. And so it’s really important to be able to pick where you’re going to make the biggest impact. And it’s going to be critical to understand if this is a place that makes sense to do so. And I think that there are really strong early indicators that it is,” Karolian said.

https://digiday.com/?p=527599

More in Media

Meta AI rolls out several enhancements across apps and websites with its newest Llama 3

Meta AI, which first debuted in September, also got a number of updates including ways to search for real-time information through integrations with Google and Bing.

Walmart rolls out a self-serve, supplier-driven insights connector

The retail giant paired its insights unit Luminate with Walmart Connect to help suppliers optimize for customer consumption, just in time for the holidays, explained the company’s CRO Seth Dallaire.

Research Briefing: BuzzFeed pivots business to AI media and tech as publishers increase use of AI

In this week’s Digiday+ Research Briefing, we examine BuzzFeed’s plans to pivot the business to an AI-driven tech and media company, how marketers’ use of X and ad spending has dropped dramatically, and how agency executives are fed up with Meta’s ad platform bugs and overcharges, as seen in recent data from Digiday+ Research.