While Elon Musk continues to tinker with Twitter, and push users towards paying to get full functionality in the app, Meta’s Twitter challenger Threads has seemingly stumbled from its initial launch, based on the latest third-party usage stats.
You’ve no doubt seen the numbers. Sensor Tower has reported that Threads daily active user count has dropped by around 70% since launch, data.ai reports that Threads downloads have slowed significantly, and various pundits have already predicted that Meta’s real-time news app is destined for failure, following its record-breaking ascent to 100 million members.
Some of that is based in hope, with Musk’s most prominent supporters looking to amplify the news of Threads’ demise however they can. And while it’s too early to truly gauge what its potential may be, the numbers do raise some legitimate concerns.
So is the Threads hype train already over, and as such, should you even bother building a presence in the app?
There are a couple of key considerations here. First off, Threads is still very basic, with limited functionality and options for posting. A key addition will be a ‘Following’ feed, in variance to the current, AI recommended ‘Home’ timeline, which, based on recent screengrabs from Instagram chief Adam Mosseri’s posts, is coming very soon.
As you can see in this example, there’ll soon be a ‘For you’ and ‘Following’ feed in the app, which will be a big help in enabling users to get a stream of content from only the profiles that they’ve chosen to follow, similar to Twitter.
The downside to that will be more limited post exposure, which could see per post engagement stats decline, but it does seem like a necessary step, at least until the Threads algorithm can be properly attuned to what people want from the app, in order to bring it into parity with tweets.
There’s also no desktop app, or account switching functionality, which makes it more cumbersome for social media managers to navigate. Given this, you can imagine that at least some have opted to leave it for now, leading to at least some of the drop-off in user numbers. But I suspect that once these functionalities are added, Threads will gain traction once again.
Why so optimistic? Because 117 million people have created a Threads profile, which equates to almost half of Twitter’s active user base. That reflects significant interest in a competitor platform that’s functional, easy to use, and provides a similar experience to what Twitter either does or once did.
Like him or not, Elon Musk’s polarizing approach has alienated many Twitter users, and the sheer scale of people signing up for Threads reflects this. And as Elon continues to reshape Twitter in his own image, those users are unlikely to become more affiliated with the platform once again.
Like similar surges in sign-ups to Mastodon, and other Twitter alternative apps, people want something else, but the difference with Threads is that many, many more people have signed up, and are willing to post there instead. Mastodon sign-ups peaked at 2.5 million in December last year, which equates to around 2% of the growth that Threads has already seen. As such, these are not comparable challenger apps, which is why Threads is already in its own category, even considering the fact that it’s used Instagram as a ramp to its early growth.
It’s also important to note the interest of celebrities, journalists, and other high-profile users, who, if they continue to post to Threads, are going to bring their audiences with them.
Many celebrities were annoyed at Twitter taking away their checkmark, and have voiced their opposition to Elon Musk specifically.
Journalists too have been consistently criticized by Musk, but journalists have also played a key role in Twitter’s growth story. Twitter’s overall user count is far lower than, say, Facebook, but Twitter has remained a relevant platform because it’s a key source for breaking news and information, due specifically to its popularity among news breakers and reporters.
But Musk’s repeated attacks on ‘mainstream media’ have left many looking for another outlet, and that too could see them drift to Threads, with many already posting there more often than they’re tweeting.
Add to this Musk’s coming Twitter re-brand, which will see the app become ‘X’ instead, and the opportunity remains ripe for disruption, and again, the number of people that have registered an interest in Threads absolutely bodes well for its future potential.
And there’s also another key point of note, as highlighted by TechCrunch:
“Threads is catching on in emerging mobile markets, where downloads are still growing. The US is only its third-largest market. As of July 17, India and Brazil accounted for a larger number of installs, at 60.1 million (32.6%) and 40.2 million (21.8%), respectively. The US delivered 27.8 million downloads, or 15.1%.”
If Threads gains traction in these regions, that will further add to its future potential, especially when you also consider that Twitter has never really caught on in either region.
Threads could become the key real-time app for these users, which will help to fuel expanded growth, and bring more and more users to the platform.
So while more recent numbers suggest that interest is already waning, it feels more like a lull before the next big push from Threads, either through the introduction of new features, or from the next wave of Twitter users pushed away by Musk’s changes at the app.
Which makes Musk’s re-brand strategy particularly risky at this time, but Elon’s going to do it his way, no matter what anyone else thinks.
Essentially, the opportunity to compete with Twitter remains wide open, and the early interest in Threads shows that it can compete.