The financial woes of the microblogging app Twitter under the ownership of tech mogul Elon Musk have potentially made the company vulnerable to competition from other social media platforms. Threads, the newest venture from Meta, has become Twitter’s biggest rival in less than a week. According to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, Threads registered 100 million users within five days.

“Threads has often been discussed as the app that could kill Twitter, but there are certain things that will need to fall into place if the app is to continue to be a challenger to other social media platforms in the future,” said Mike Horning, associate professor of multimedia journalism at Virginia Tech’s School of Communication. “There are three key reasons why new social media apps are successful, and Threads will have to meet all three challenges.”

“First, it has to fill some new niche for users,” Horning said. “Any new app introduced into social media faces a number of challenges, but when they take off, it’s usually because they first fill a new niche that is appealing to certain types of users or certain demographics. Instagram was about photo sharing. TikTok was about music sharing. If Threads wants to replace Twitter in particular, it will likely need to articulate how it fills a new niche or how it attracts a new demographic.  

“The second challenge new apps face is one of critical mass,” he said. “All new social media apps need to quickly establish a critical mass of adopters that make the platform a fun and interesting place to go. Threads is off to a good start with the number of people who have recently adopted it. However, it will now need to encourage interactions with those individuals. If it doesn’t, if users don't find anything interesting there, or if their friends don’t go there, then it’s likely to fail. The number of individuals adopting Threads in the last few days looks promising, but it doesn't mean that adoption rate will necessarily continue.”

“The third challenge is buy-in on the part of advertisers,” Horning said. “All social media apps rely on advertising, and if Meta can articulate to advertisers how this app provides added value to them, then they will likely invest in the app. If that isn't clear to advertisers, then the app will be short lived.”

“Threads does have some advantages in its favor,” he said. “It is part of the whole Meta environment, and so Meta can leverage that to encourage existing users across its social platforms to adopt the new app. In addition, the app is supposed to interact with other apps, which means users may be able to use Threads without leaving their other social media accounts. That may be something that makes this app unique.”

Horning added, “At the same time, although Threads has positioned itself as an alternative to Twitter, the new platform has been less specific about how it will regulate privacy and free speech concerns. Twitter, meanwhile, has described itself as more open to free speech. It will remain to be seen whether users find one approach more appealing than others.”

About Horning   
Mike Horning is an associate professor of multimedia journalism in the Virginia Tech School of Communication. His research examines how communication technologies impact social attitudes and behaviors, with a current focus on the impact of “fake news” and misinformation on our democratic processes. His expertise has been featured in The Hill, on Sinclair Broadcast Group, and in a number of other media outlets. Read more about him here. 

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