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X vs Threads: Will Threads Last, and What Does it Mean for Your Digital Marketing Strategy?

Amidst speculation that tech giants Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are gearing up for a cage fight, they instead took their rivalry to the virtual arena. Instead of duking it out in the octagon, Zuckerberg launched Meta’s latest answer to Twitter (now ‘X’, begrudgingly), Threads. This move came as a counterpunch to Musk’s controversial takeover of X and the subsequent controversial changes he implemented at X. At the beginning of July, Meta sensed blood in the water due to the unpopularity of Musk’s takeover and went for the jugular. After securing a historic 100 million sign-ups in two days, it looked as though the result would be a foregone conclusion – a first-round knockout for Zuckerberg. 

Yet, as the initial frenzy settles, the outcome appears less cut and dried. With daily user rates falling, it looks as though the Threads bubble may burst. To steady the sinking ship, Threads have recently introduced features that could spike these rates, and whilst the increasing unrest among X users increases, it’s certainly a close fight. This battle could well go down to a points decision, and we’re the judges. In this three-round bout, it’s time to consider whether Threads will last, and after all the fun, a bit of marketing stuff to send you to sleep!

Round 1: A whole lot of dissatisfaction creates an opportunity for Threads

Threads’ initial surge in popularity, and in fact its entire existence, isn’t because of its cutting-edge features, or anything to do with the app itself, really. Essentially, X’s once-loyal customer base is fed up and has been fed up for a long time – which created the perfect storm for Zuckerberg to step in and capitalise.

So, ironically, the key factor in whether Threads will last isn’t the genius of Zuckerberg (although we’re sure he’d like to think so). It’s the incompetence and sheer unpopularity of X and his arch-nemesis, Musk. But just how bad has it got for X, and will this downward trend continue? Let’s talk about it. 

Since his takeover of X in October 2022, Musk has introduced various, incredibly unpopular, changes to the site that have alienated its once-loyal user base. A month into his tenure as CEO, he relaunched Twitter Blue, an idea originally introduced by his predecessors in 2021. A paid subscription service, the features you received once subscribed were originally rather minimal – such as being able to edit Tweets after you’ve sent them – and therefore were uncontroversial. Once Musk acquired Twitter, in the hope of more subscriptions, he added a lot more features, at the expense of non-paying users. You guessed it – this time, Twitter Blue was anything but uncontroversial.

Unfortunately, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ isn’t a phrase in the world of Elon Musk.

The initial controversy was centred around verification. To become a verified account and to secure that iconic blue tick wasn’t down to merit anymore, but whether you wanted to pay or not. This undermined the very point of being verified and led to widespread misinformation being spread across X, as well as hundreds of high-profile impersonation attempts, including one account acting as Pepsi crowning its rival, Coca-Cola, as the best in the soft drinks game. X, once a source of reputable news for millions of users, had lost all credibility overnight. 

Fast forward a few months, and the tipping point for X that made Zuckerberg act was the rate limit fiasco. Musk’s new genius idea was to limit the number of Tweets that users could view per day – 6,000 for Twitter Blue subscribers and a measly 600 for the non-Twitter Blue peasantry. If you’re not familiar with X, then you just need to know that that is not a lot of Tweets!

So, we’re at a point where you don’t know who’s who, and you can’t even really use the app. It can’t go any further downhill from here, right? How about rebranding Twitter, one of the most iconic brands in the world, to X? 17 years of brand recognition flushed down the drain, with the little bluebird having wings so strong that the brand value of Twitter increased by 85% in 2022. A ‘Tweet’ is now a ‘post’, which encapsulates how Musk has let what made Twitter so unique slip.

Looking forward, the outlook isn’t any rosier. X Premium (formerly Twitter Blue) users can now receive ad revenue payments from X, which is based on the number of interactions and views their ‘posts’ get. This may seem a good idea – every other social media network does it, and it recognises the value that individuals bring to the platform – but it could have significant long-term impacts on the identity of X and what has made it so popular. 

Turning X users into content creators forgets the fact that authenticity and unfiltered expression were at the heart of X’s allure. The ability to share thoughts, opinions, and life’s fleeting moments in real-time created a unique platform where users could feel genuinely connected, often unburdened by the concerns of monetary gain. The absence of financial incentives fostered an environment where conversations were driven by passion, not profits.

As users tweet – or should we say, post – their thoughts, there’s an added layer of consideration for how their content will perform in terms of engagement and potential revenue. 

So it looks as though X has lost every USP it’s had. Authenticity, check. A popular and strong brand, check. Credibility, check. That’s all well and good, but what do the numbers say? Is there a market for Threads to swoop in and capitalise on the disillusionment? 

Well, certainly. According to Cloudflare, X traffic is at an all-time low, as is their domain server ranking. The average number of Tweets per month per user has declined by around 25% since Musk’s acquisition, and perhaps the most damning statistic of them all is that a quarter of current or recent X users said it is highly unlikely that they will still be using X in a years’ time. This all makes for a very large proportion of the X user base that Threads has offered a cosy new microblogging home to. 


Round 2: The network effect creates difficulty for Threads

In the realm of social media platforms, the network effect operates as a potent force, shaping the success and trajectory of each contender. Essentially, the network effect is the phenomenon wherein the value of a service or product increases as more people use it. It’s the same thing in real-life social occasions – we tend to want to go where everyone else is going, right? This means that the more users a platform has, the more appealing and valuable it becomes to others, creating a self-reinforcing loop of growth.

Now, let’s apply this concept to the scenario of X and Threads. Threads, with its launch, experienced a striking influx of 49 million daily active users in a matter of days. This initial surge might seem like a positive indicator of success, and in some ways, it is. However, the subsequent sharp decline in its user base, from 49 million to a meagre 8 million daily active users, signals a classic case of the network effect working against Meta’s new baby.

You see, the network effect works in both directions. While attracting users can certainly lead to rapid initial growth, retaining them and continually offering value is equally crucial. Here’s where X has shown its strength. X, backed by the extensive user network built through 17 years of hard work by Twitter, possesses an inherent advantage. Its pre-existing base of over 200 million daily active users establishes a robust foundation that is difficult to replicate. Each active user on X creates value for others by engaging in discussions, sharing content, and interacting with the platform.

In the context of the network effect, the drop in Threads’ user base is concerning because it suggests that the value proposition of the platform didn’t align with users’ expectations or needs over the long term. It’s not just about attracting users initially; it’s about creating an environment where users find consistent value and reasons to stay engaged.

As a result, this round appears to lean in favour of X. While Threads showcased an impressive initial surge, X’s ability to retain a substantial portion of its daily active users indicates a deeper integration within the social media ecosystem. The network effect, in this case, serves as a silent ally for X, providing a steady stream of value that keeps users invested and engaged.

It’s less of a case of the best fighter winning at the moment, and more of the least bad fighter prevailing…


Round 3: Did Threads shoot itself in the foot?

The social media landscape is a complex tapestry of motivations and behaviours, where each platform weaves a unique role in the lives of its users. Instagram and X, while seemingly similar, cater to distinct psychological needs, shaping how individuals express themselves, connect with others, and consume content.

For many, Instagram has become the virtual equivalent of flipping through a magazine. It’s a visual showcase where users meticulously craft their feeds, sharing carefully selected snapshots of their lives. The platform thrives on portraying an idealised version of reality, emphasising aesthetics, and offering a curated glimpse into the highlights of life. The core psychological drive behind Instagram usage often revolves around creating and consuming visually appealing content, projecting an aspirational image, and staying in touch with friends and acquaintances.

Contrastingly, X is like an ongoing conversation at a bustling cafe. It encourages users to unleash their thoughts in real-time, unfiltered by the constraints of appearance or perfection. X provides a space for immediate reactions, witty remarks, and passionate discussions. The platform’s appeal lies in its ability to facilitate authentic expression, connect users with like-minded individuals, and engage in conversations about shared interests. People often turn to X as a space to voice their opinions, engage in intellectual debates, and connect with a diverse array of personalities.

The decision to link Threads with Instagram accounts might have been a double-edged sword, especially considering the distinct psychological needs that each platform fulfils.

On one hand, the initial integration brought about a huge surge in users. The connection with Instagram could have provided a bridge for users who appreciate the visual storytelling of Instagram but sought a more open and real-time exchange of thoughts and ideas similar to X, which looks like a quick win for Threads.

However, the long-term implications of this move don’t look as positive. Instagram’s emphasis on curated appearances could potentially clash with the unfiltered, spontaneous nature of X-style interactions on Threads. Users who seek the authenticity of Twitter might find themselves caught between projecting an ideal image on Instagram and expressing raw thoughts to their followers on Threads. These two styles are complete opposites, and users have different social media platforms for a reason – trying to fuse the two is unlikely to work.

While the initial integration might have attracted a burst of attention, the sustainability of Threads’ success will depend on how effectively it navigates the delicate balance between these two psychological dimensions. Threads would need to find ways to ensure that the unfiltered self-expression that Twitter users cherish remains intact, even within the context of integrated Instagram accounts. This could involve promoting conversations that transcend the visual facade, encouraging users to engage in meaningful discussions that go beyond image-driven content.

In the evolving world of social media, finding the equilibrium between different psychological motivations is essential for fostering user engagement and long-term loyalty. It’s far easier said than done, and we’re not entirely sure that Threads is going to strike that balance.

With all this being said, the official Beyond Co. prediction is that, as it stands, Threads will not last. We don’t think it’s going to completely go bust, but we expect the user rates to continue to peter off. This is as it stands, though – potential improvements to Threads to aid authenticity, as well as Musk’s unpredictability, mean that we’re not going to put any money on it.

Sorry, Zuckerberg – maybe you need to go for that cage fight after all!


What does this mean for your digital marketing strategy? 

As a digital marketing agency, we should probably come through with our two cents on what we can learn from this battle, and some advice on what it means for your digital marketing strategy. 

Threads’ decline is linked to its integration with Instagram, and the impact of monetising content on X points towards the age-old tale in digital marketing – the craving for authenticity. 

As we shape our digital marketing strategies, it’s important to lean into this quality. In a world where users yearn for genuine connections, our focus should be on creating content that fosters real interactions and candid conversations. By tapping into the spirit of authenticity, we can create campaigns that resonate deeply and create lasting engagement.

The power of the network effect, as seen in X’s endurance and Twitter’s steady user base, reveals an invaluable truth. Building and maintaining a robust user community is a key pillar of success. Our digital marketing strategies should prioritise initiatives that cultivate engagement and interaction, creating an environment where users find value in connecting with each other. By nurturing the network effect, we can amplify the impact of our campaigns and elevate brand loyalty.

The rebranding saga of Twitter to X and the additional changes introduced by Musk shed light on the delicate balance between innovation and user familiarity. As we develop our digital marketing strategies, we recommend adopting a strategic approach to innovation. We can introduce new elements that enhance user experiences while remaining mindful of the core aspects that drew users in the first place. This thoughtful integration of innovation and familiarity can set the stage for enduring success. Don’t be like Musk – like we said earlier, sometimes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! 

Threads’ sharp decline in user rates reminds us that sustained success requires a long-term perspective. Your digital marketing strategies should reflect this foresight, focusing on plans that create consistent engagement and lasting value. By crafting campaigns that stand the test of time and align with evolving user preferences, we position ourselves to weather the ever-changing tides of the digital landscape.

As the digital arena continues to evolve, we’re equipped with insights garnered from the clashes of these platforms. By embracing authenticity, harnessing the network effect, navigating innovation wisely, and prioritising longevity, we pave the way for a new era of digital marketing. With each campaign, think about this battle between Musk and Zuckerberg and where they’ve both gone wrong, creating strategies that resonate, engage, and build enduring connections in a challenging landscape that is incredibly fluid.

There is another option, though… let us step into the ring for you. Beyond Co. stands ready to be your partner in navigating the ever-evolving world of digital marketing. With our experience, insights, and proven track record, we’re dedicated to crafting strategies that not only capture attention but also drive meaningful engagement. Contact us today, and let us take you Beyond with digital marketing strategies that make a lasting impact.

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