Meet Threads — Instagram’s New Way To Connect
In an effort to engage with the younger generation, Facebook introduced its own camera-first, direct messaging app called Threads in October of this year. The standalone app is designed to allow users to share photos, videos, messages, Stories, and more with a personally curated and controlled list of close friends. While similar functionality does exist within the Instagram app for Stories, Threads expands the offering and encourages one-on-one and small-group messaging compared to the feed-centric nature of its parent app, and with a continued emphasis on user privacy, Threads is intended to help users reach their “smaller circle of friends.”
Essentially, if this were the ACT: Messenger is to Facebook as Threads is to Instagram.
Threads app by Facebook’s Instagram App… or something like that.
Sound familiar? Snapchat, a long-term competitor to Facebook, has encouraged this type of digital experience since launch, with users only being able to view a direct message once before it disappears entirely. This approach, now known as ephemeral messaging, gained phenomenal success and has allowed Snapchat to capitalize on the younger demographic, with over half of the platform’s US userbase under the age of 25.
In addition to the ability to quickly and easily share content (and to diversify Threads from its competitors), users can also keep those close friends up-to-date on their status. For the 90s kid, “AIM” and “away message” might best describe this experience. But for those who grew up after the era of dial-up, Threads allows users to set a status message to let friends know what they are up to at any given moment. There are suggested statuses (📚 Studying) or custom creations (😅 Procrastinating) to choose from.
In line with Snapchat’s Snap Map, which allows users to share their location with friends, Threads offers Auto Status, which automatically shares updates based on where you are (but without giving away the exact location). Highlighted statuses include “On the move,” “In the wild,” or “At the gym,” and the feature is an opt-in for those who prefer not to partake.
Auto Status in Instagram’s Threads
As a standalone app that’s separate from Instagram, Threads faces the same threat that caused Instagram to cease work on Direct after beta users expressed frustration about having to switch between apps when they wanted to send a message. However, the overlap between the apps does exist. While you can view friends’ Stories from Threads, attempting to view their full profile will redirect you to the Instagram app. This feature, along with in-app features that are similar to Instagram Stories and direct messaging, begs the question as to why Threads exists separately from Instagram in the first place. And when you consider the fact that conversations originating in Threads also appear in your Instagram direct messages, its purpose as a standalone app becomes even more unclear.
Additionally, given Facebook’s recent troubles with data privacy, the Auto Status feature will undoubtedly draw skepticism as users will need to continuously provide the app with their phone’s precise location, movement, battery level, and network connection (although most probably already do this with the existing family of Facebook apps).
From a paid media perspective, while Threads does not yet currently offer any ad-based opportunities, it is likely advertisers will see Threads borrow from placements on similar platforms such as Messenger and Snapchat. In its current form, the app could easily support Story formats and Messenger-based ads, which are already offered within other Facebook apps. However, with the value proposition of Threads being that it will bring you closer to your friends, it poses a challenge for brands to bring value to those conversations in a way that feels native and non-intrusive to the user experience. As a new app with a more limited user base, inventory issues will likely also exist, limiting the potential scale for advertisers.
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While Threads shows promise in its appeal to younger audiences and integration with other Facebook platforms, the app is not yet a fully-fledged competitor to Snapchat, which has a loyal user base, well-developed features, and brand relationships that provide unique and engaging content that younger audiences are eager to consume. We will certainly keep an eye on Threads as it evolves, but the value-add of Threads versus established players—and concerns as a standalone app—makes the platform a question mark for the time being.
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