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Brand Strategy Meta Threads

Threads’ engagement has tanked 79%. What can it do to rebound?


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

August 15, 2023 | 11 min read

Despite a dramatic dip in user engagement, many experts remain optimistic about the platform’s future.

Threads app screen

Threads has seen a nearly 80% decline in engagement since its launch in early July / Adobe Stock

After a red-hot start, Threads, Meta’s Instagram-integrated Twitter rival, appears to be fizzling just as quickly as it took off. The social platform has seen engagement plummet by 79%, down from a peak of 2.3 million daily active users in early July, according to new data from analytics firm Similarweb. As of August 7, Threads is now operating with around 576,000 daily active users. Average time spent on the app is also down by three minutes.

But it’s not just users who’ve grown bored of the app. Brands, too, appear to be dialing back their engagement. Reports indicate that the frequency at which brands such as Wendy’s, popular cosmetics brand Rare Beauty and retailer Anthropologie post on the platform has dropped significantly.

What will the future of Threads look like? Will the app be able to turn its fortunes around and re-engage users and brands? Are brands going to continue using the platform, despite its lack of paid ad offerings?

The Drum turned to social media experts and ad agency leaders to find out. Here’s what they said:

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Carolyn Rooke, group connections director, social at VMLY&R: “In the scheme of platform maturity, we are so early in the game for what Threads could be. If there’s one thing we know about Meta, it’s that they’ve mastered siphoning users off competitive platforms by making strategic updates to their platform functions. I expect those types of functional changes are very much on the roadmap for Threads in the near- and mid-term future.

Meanwhile, we’ve not seen a marked increase in [the] stability of X, which is good news for Meta’s runway to continue pulling users over into the Thread-verse.”

Christine Cotter, head of social, North America at Ogilvy: “After the launch of Threads, a dip in users was expected. Most new platforms and apps don’t see a rapid and sustained growth like Facebook and TikTok had. As the future of X remains in question, our point of view is there’s no harm in continuing to post on Threads and engage the community that has been cultivated to date if it aligns to your brand’s strategy and audience.

Our current approach for clients continues to be to use the platform as a place for test-and-learn – different topics, tones, creative and more, with a focus on custom content versus repurposed content from other platforms. With a smaller audience, these tests are brand-safe and can inform larger content plays and work streams on other channels.

However, if the now-existing audience on Threads no longer aligns with your brand audience or strategy, there’s no need to continue to post. As Threads continues to update their platform features, brands that paused can always come back if it makes sense in the future.”

Permele Doyle, president and founder at Billion Dollar Boy: “It’s really too early to tell. Top brands we are working with are not ready to invest in the platform because it is early days and the numbers have been dropping. To tell you the truth, brands aren’t even mentioning Threads! We are the ones suggesting trialing it – and there is an initial interest. Brands want to learn and consider but are wary of putting time on resources towards it.

“I also feel marketing and social media professionals are currently overwhelmed with the idea of yet another platform, when they are still trying to master how to show up and see results on Instagram and TikTok – and just starting to dip into YouTube more – for their brand. That is why brands are allowing their 23-year-old social media managers to just do their thing on Threads and embrace humor, which isn’t necessarily the wrong approach.

“But [a recent report from influencer-marketing platform Izea finds] that 54% of creators have posted sponsored content on Threads – which means some brands are investing in it! There is an exciting challenge for brands focused on Instagram to consider how to win with text-based content on Threads as another storytelling and brand building device. For Threads to survive, the platform has to win at supporting creators – and brands should take this unique opportunity to work hand-in-hand with creators now that the platform is ad-free. I would advise brands to start light touch-testing – the early adopters will win.”

Autumn Colon, associate director of social strategy at Chemistry: “People oftentimes find it hard to deviate from what they already know and like on social media. Early adopters hopped on the trend because it felt fresh and new, but the reality is that Threads is not different enough from X and people need more to be compelled to stay with something long-term.

“On the other hand, a platform like TikTok’s rise to prominence can be attributed to its unique approach to content and algorithms – something that isn’t found on any other social channel. To ensure the longevity of Threads, it has to differentiate. Offering similar features as other platforms won’t retain users. Until Threads adds more unique features that feel different from X, we’ll continue seeing the ups and downs of this highly anticipated social media platform.”

Matt Navarra, a leading social media consultant and industry analyst: “Threads is challenged at the moment, for lots of reasons. It lacks some key features like desktop publishing – which is coming soon – and improved trending content and discovery features. It will at some point also want and need a targeted advertising layer on top, a monetization layer for creators and other features as well. Those are all things that will come in time but will inhibit its potential for the time being.

“The bigger issue is that people don’t really know what it is, what they should use it for or where it fits in within the current social media ecosystem. It’s not X, but it’s a bit like X. And it’s not Instagram, but it’s tied into Instagram, and has a lot of Instagram audience stuff pulled in. And it’s got mostly text as a leading format, but it also has images and videos. But you’d go to YouTube for certain content, or go to TikTok and Reels for short-form video. So what is the thing that you would go to Threads for?

“I can’t put my finger on what purpose it serves or what gap or hole it fills. The hope was that it would be filling the void of an X … but [Threads has] sort of resisted bringing in news and politics, or incentivizing that. It doesn’t have the same vibe [as X] at all. So brands and creators are a bit confused as to what Threads is or what Meta wants Threads to be, and therefore, what content to produce and publish and things to engage with. Plus, because it’s got a mixture of people’s X audience – who have moved themselves across from X … and lots of people from your Instagram following – it means that your audience on Threads is a bit of a muddle. It also doesn’t make it easy to figure out what would be the right sort of vibe and topics and content styles to have here. All of those things make it tricky.

“Threads certainly doesn’t do anything new, or innovative or different that people can’t get elsewhere. It doesn’t have a unique selling point of any substance or worth. If people have given up to some degree or have pulled back, it’s because they’re still not sure how best to incorporate it into their social media marketing mix. That will continue to be a problem for [Threads] until they make it clear to users where it fits in [and develop] a bit more of a brand identity, a bit more personality, a bit more of a character to the brand – and add some of the missing features.”

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Matt Higgins, vice-president of strategy at Blue Hour Studios: “In general, it’s way too early to claim whether Threads is a success or not. This type of drop-off is common for any new platform or program after a big public launch. The app launched a month ago, and we’re still seeing the MVP version with limited features and a simplified UX. We have to remind ourselves how long it took X to grow to its current size. And even Meta’s – perhaps too early – launch of Threads is already expected to cut $140m in 2024 revenue from X.

“As they launch sticky features copied from X – search, trending topics, etc – and hopefully invent entirely new features, they’ll likely see an uptick in adoption. On top of new features, ensuring creators and personalities are incentivized to build in Threads will encourage growth within their communities.

“The best social-first brands focus on building audiences in places where there are more, passionate people and where they have less competition from other brands. They’ll continue to play in new-ish spaces like Threads and YouTube Shorts because they provide the best opportunity for exponential organic engagement and real community-building. And for organic social, Threads – before it’s monetized with ads – will continue to represent an opportunity for outsized impact.

“Threads, with new features to come, represents an opportunity for users to shift their social graph, avoid divisive and harmful talk, discover new voices. Some brands may be dropping their posting cadence for now, but they’re certainly not leaving just yet.”

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