Open Threads: Inside Meta’s ‘Twitter killer’

Meta this week introduced what some have dubbed the “Twitter killer,” a direct—maybe even copycat—competitor to Elon Musk’s 17-year-old social platform, except with 100% less Elon (which will no doubt be an enticing feature for many).

Following Meta’s well-established blueprint of liberally “borrowing” features and functions from rival apps, Threads bears a strong resemblance to its micro-blogging predecessor, albeit with a 500-character limit (compared to Twitter’s 280) and tweets replaced by “threads.” It allows for links, photos, and videos up to five minutes long.

“Our vision with Threads is to take what Instagram does best and expand that to text, creating a positive and creative space to express your ideas,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post introducing the new app earlier this week.

And unlike Twitter, which many say has gotten nastier since Musk took over last year, Zuckerberg is promising that Threads will be the home of “positive, productive conversations.” (Of course he promised something similar with Facebook. Humans being humans, his vision of a social media utopia likely won’t last, but it sure sounds good in theory.)

There are some other wrinkles to be worked out, too. For example, there is no option to filter the feed to only people you follow, and there are no hashtags, edit buttons or direct messaging functionality. Also, and this feels like a potentially big stumbling block, users are currently unable to delete the Threads app without also deleting Instagram, although Meta is said to be working on a fix.

“There has been a relatively low volume of polarizing opinions regarding the app as users are still testing it out, but we feel the decentralized nature of Threads is a smart move and will appeal to creators who want to work across multiple platforms, as many today do,” said Coby Shuman, managing director of We Are Social.

Advertising on Threads currently isn’t an option, although with more than 70 million signups (and counting) since going live on Wednesday, that might come about sooner than anticipated. It has proven popular right out of the gate, with The Verge reporting on Thursday that it had already generated more than 95 million posts and over 190 million likes.

In a post on his new toy this week, Zuckerberg said that the path to monetization would resemble that of Meta’s other products: “Make the product work well first, then see if we can get it on a clear path to 1 billion people, and only then think about monetization at that point.” (Twitter seems to have peaked at about 400 million users.)

It also remains to be seen how advertisers in Canada will greet the platform, given that some are displeased with the company’s decision to block news on Facebook and Instagram in response to the passage of Bill C-18. “Since Bill C-18 is about compensating news organizations via digital news intermediaries, and those who do so leveraging Meta products, Threads would be part of the same conversation alongside Facebook and Instagram,” said Shuman.

Any platform with massive reach is always going to draw advertiser interest however, and early indications are that Threads is destined to be more Instagram than Clubhouse. By enabling new users to create an account from their existing Instagram profile (it literally took me only a minute from downloading to scrolling), it seems poised for exponential growth.

In a post on Twitter, Insider Intelligence’s principal analyst Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, said that Meta needs just one quarter of Instagram’s users to use Threads to be as big as Twitter.

“The challenge for many new social platforms is building a user base, and while people’s networks across different platforms are not always the same, Threads’ ability to draw on Instagram’s two billion-plus community does give it an advantage,” said Shuman. “The Instagram and Threads world will be interconnected, with verifications and cross posting made easy—something that will appeal to brands.”

Not surprisingly, brands have already begun flocking to the platform, with Air Miles Canada, Telus, Tim Hortons, McDonald’s Canada, Parks Canada, IKEA Canada, Via Rail and several major car companies including Audi, Mazda, Ford and Toyota all present in its early days.

“We will no doubt see Threads grow and evolve rapidly, with the community shaping its journey,” said Shuman. “It’s too early to see it replace Twitter or treat it as an alternative. We feel some are too quick to judge the long term outcome. However, we are noticing brands who have paused their Twitter strategy since Elon took over, recommit that energy by getting setup on Threads while they test and learn their tone and content model within these first 48 hours.”

We Are Social is urging brands to use their Twitter knowledge when it comes to how to behave on Threads. Shuman said that Amazon Prime Video, one of its clients, has already seen strong engagement and views. “Being a first mover and experimenting can often lead to solid results early on,” he said.

Ironically, much of Threads’ early success might not have been possible without Musk, whose meddling with Twitter since acquiring it last year—including most recently imposing limits on how many tweets can be viewed in a day—has frustrated users and driven away advertisers.

Twitter’s new CEO Linda Yaccarino appeared to take indirect aim at the upstart rival with a post praising the platform’s community. “We’re often imitated—but the Twitter community can never be duplicated,” she wrote.

We’re about to find out if that’s true.

Chris Powell