September 5, 2023 • 4 min read • By Kimeko McCoy
It’s no secret that brands want to be where consumers — and their wallets — are spending time. In July, Threads seemed to be that place, surging to over 100 million sign-ups in the first week, becoming the fastest-adopted platform, and perhaps, finally, an alternative to Twitter (now known as X.) But now, two months in, Threads has lost half of its user base, calling into question if the app has staying power or will join the digital wasteland alongside Clubhouse, Vine and BeReal.
“(Social media is) very fragmented now and you have to be really clear who your audience is, who you’re trying to talk to and where the best places to engage with them,” said Jayne O’Brien, head of marketing, product and loyalty at JetBlue. “We will test new things. But if we don’t see that it has the impact, we will shift our focus back to where we believe does have the most impact.”
It’s a test and learn approach, and marketers aren’t necessarily dedicating resources specifically to Threads. For example, at Athleta, engagement on the Meta-owned platform has dropped off and the team might back off on investing in the channel “rather than distract ourselves,” Julia Leach, Athleta’s recently appointed chief creative officer, told Digiday.
Maybelline too said that it has yet to invest in a full blown Threads strategy or create Threads-specific content. “We’ll continue to do it until we feel like it’s not the right thing. But right now, we’re still getting engagement,” said Fernando Febres, vp of marketing for Maybelline U.S., who oversees the makeup brand’s eye category, told Digiday.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly addressed Threads’ declining user base. According to Reuters, the CEO called the slump normal and announced plans for new features to draw users back in. (Meta did not respond on the record to a Digiday request for more information.)
To put marketer’s response to Threads in perspective, 69% of marketers say their brands either used or created an account on Twitter alternatives like Threads, Bluesky, Mastodon and the like, according to a recent study from technology review platform Capterra. However, 35% of marketers that had previously paused spending on X in light of Elon Musks’ takeover have already returned to previous levels, per the study.
When Threads, Meta’s response to X’s descent, launched back in July, marketers flocked to the app with hopes it would become the most viable X replacement. The era of text-based social media seemed invigorated and so-called unhinged content strategies reigned supreme. But that hope for an easy alternative with a massive user-base quickly faded.
With its declining user base and perhaps cultural relevance, agency executives say clients are either unsure what to make of Threads at this point. And that’s if they’re still interested in the platform. Although Threads has yet to roll out advertising opportunities, the bulk of client ad spend and interest resides in Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, execs say.
“We told our clients to expect the unexpected with this new platform and as engagement dropped we kept an eye on it,” Tyler Moore, chief strategy officer at The Escape Pod ad agency, said in an email. “We haven’t abandoned the platform as we know it’s still being defined by users and Facebook.”
That’s not to say marketers have abandoned the platform. Many brands, including JetBlue, Maybelline and Athleta, have been steadily posting for engagement, asking followers generic questions or posting memes. Pepsi’s CMO Todd Kaplan said, ”As long as the consumers are there and they’re wanting to engage in the right authentic way on those platforms, we’ll be there.”
That is to say, however, that a waning user base, lacking user functionalities and non-existent ad tools has left marketers on the fence on whether or not to invest more resources or manpower into the Meta-owned platform–especially in today’s fragmented social media landscape. (Read Digiday’s deepdive into the ramifications of a fragmented social marketplace here.)
“Today, it’s Threads. Tomorrow, it’s Thimbles, and the next day, it’s Quills. This will always continue,” said Ned Brown, chief creative officer at Bader Rutter, ad agency, referring to the multitude of emerging social media platforms. “Threads, they’ll come and go, but what we’re looking at is more of those enduring factor.”