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Friday, July 12, 2024

Threads Is the New Cool Hangout—for Brands

When prebiotic soda brand Olipop joined Threads, it didn’t post about the flavors it comes in or its claimed nutritional benefits. “Can u guys pls engage with this thread so my boss tells me he’s proud of me,” Olipop wrote in an early post. “I’m proud of you Oli,” TGI Fridays posted back. “Thanks dad <3,” Olipop said.

This is the “casual, conversational, and unfiltered” approach Olipop’s social media team is using on Threads, says Sara Crane, a content strategist at Olipop. The soda company is testing Meta’s new platform by posting about “relevant cultural moments” rather than directly advertising. In doing so, it’s trying to strike a chord with the millions of people who have joined Threads since it launched on July 5. And Crane believes it’s working: Olipop now has 20,000 followers on Threads. Like with other social network debuts, “every social media manager is scrambling,” Crane says. “As time goes on, brands that are going to see long-term success are going to read the room, and speak the Threads language.”

And on Threads, the language is friendly, trendy internet slang—with a side of self-promotion and brand-on-brand chatter. It’s a tone that clashes with the snark and cynicism that made Twitter fun—but it’s also a relief from some of the toxicity and hate speech on the bird app that left people, and advertisers, jaded.

One of the weirdest things about Threads is that it’s being built backward. Most social networks grow organically; people find them and build communities, then the brands arrive. But Threads launched with many brands and influencers at the ready. That’s given Threads a strange vibe. When people signed up, they were greeted by a feed populated by Netflix, Spotify, and other big names. The brands have gotten off to a good start—Website Planet, a web development company, looked at 30 brand accounts on Threads and Twitter and found most were getting more engagement on Threads, even though they had fewer followers there.

The procession of brands on Threads isn’t being driven by an eagerness to find a solid Twitter alternative, but rather a rush to follow consumer eyeballs. “I don’t see it so much as brands are looking for a microblogging platform, but if their audience is, they want to be there too,” says Jen Jones, chief marketing officer for Commercetools, a digital commerce platform.

Threads’ early days included a lot of brands, celebrities, and influencers doing mic checks. And as brands experiment, there have been some odd interactions. Pizza Hut posted and deleted a Thread that contained a confusing and sexual meme about pizza crust. Pizza Hut did not respond to a request for comment.

Brands have tested the service with quippy jokes and memes. But there are tired posts, like “i am a cinnamon roll,” from Cinnabon. Crumbl Cookies, which has 263,000 followers, posted, simply, “hey,” followed by hundreds of cookie emojis. Wendy’s tried out memes and poked fun at Twitter, racking up 265,000 followers. All of this may be good and well for brands (Pizza Hut faux pas aside), but it’s not the kind of content that will keep people coming back to the app.

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Among the deluge of brands, people are still trying to find their place and tone on Threads. But without a sophisticated search tool, hashtags, or chronological feed, it’s hard for Threads to fulfill its goal and become a place for “real-time updates and public conversations,” although updates are expected.

Threads doesn’t have ads just yet, but it could in time become an appealing place for advertising dollars. Instagram has a friendlier reputation for brands than Twitter, which has lost 50 percent of its ad revenue, according to Twitter owner Elon Musk. With advertisers and regular people fed up with hate speech and tech glitches on Twitter, Threads is in a strong position to gain both. But while its choice to not push politics and news could appeal to brands, it may lose the interest of people. And without people, a brand-friendly Threads won’t appeal to advertisers.

For influencers, Threads is another place to engage with followers—but like brands, they’re testing out the best ways to do so. YouTube star Mr. Beast already has 5 million followers on Threads, and said he would give away a Tesla to a random follower. Many have seen a portion of their audience already port over to Threads from Instagram. “Now it’s a matter of figuring out how to engage with them so that they keep coming back,” says Krishna Subramanian, cofounder and CEO of influencer marketing platform Captiv8. Threads may rely less on visual content, which could shift how influencers post or who becomes a top followed account there. “We’ll just have to see the type of content that gets created out here.”

But some of the initial hype has already dissipated. According to SimilarWeb, an analytics firm, Threads’ traffic peaked on July 7 on Androids, and has slowed since. The average time spent on the app has also declined, SimilarWeb found. A week after the app’s debut, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said “growth, retention, and engagement are all way ahead of where I expected us to be at this point,” and that the focus was “not engagement, which has been amazing, but getting past the initial peak.” Threads still holds the top spot for social networks on the Apple App Store, and is second place for social on Google Play.

As the dust around its launch settles, Threads faces a difficult few months. If too much attention coalesces around brands, influencers, and celebrities, it risks becoming a big broadcast channel instead of a conversational space, like Discord or Mastodon. Part of the appeal of connecting Threads to Instagram was for people to easily find their friends and family there. But for now, brands and influencers are basking in early success. If their voices continue to be the loudest, they may also help define what Threads becomes.

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