Is Instagram Threads Hype Or Help For Your Social Media Strategy?

On July 5, 2023, Meta introduced a new social media platform Threads. Threads is an app from Instagram where users post threads of short pieces of text, photos, videos, and links, reply, and follow other users they’re interested in. Like other social networks users have profiles, but what’s unique about Threads is that it’s quick and easy to create a new account by importing your Instagram account and profile.

Meta Introduced Instagram Threads on July 5th, 2023 as a new app for short text conversations.

Because Threads limits posts to 500 characters, photos, links, and videos under 5 minutes, I consider it a microblog. It is designed more for sharing text updates to participate in real-time public conversations comparable to Twitter (X) versus its parent photo-focused sharing app Instagram.

The Threads feed includes threads posted by people you follow and recommended content from creators you haven’t discovered yet – an AI algorithm like TikTok’s For You. After requests from early users, Threads recently introduced a new Following feed tab to see chronological posts from people you follow similar to Twitter’s (X’s) For You and Following tabs.

The First Week of Signups Were Impressive.

Brands, celebrities, and influencers found the Instagram connection especially appealing in being able to bring their Instagram followers with them. It’s less of a barrier than building everything up from scratch like other new social platforms. This could be part of the reason for the platform’s early success of reaching 100 million users in less than a week (Twitter(X) has 368 million). This surpassed ChatGPT for the fastest adoption of any online service.

Early celebrity and influencer adopters included Oprah, Shakira, Kim Kardashian, and Mr. Beast. Early brand adopters were Rare Beauty, William Sonoma, Netflix, and Gymshark. Early publishers to join included Vogue, Vice, and Rolling Stone. While advertising is sure to come, the early days on the platform are like the early days of social media where everyone was vying for followers via organic posts and reach. Brands like Anthropologie used promotions such as giving away gift cards to grow followers and engagement.

Instagram Threads features:

  • Profiles are connected to Instagram accounts and can be public or private.
  • Post limits are 500 characters with links, photos, videos under 5 minutes.
  • Users see threads and replies of people they follow in the feed.
  • Main For You feed is an AI algorithm based on creator discovery.
  • A second Following feed has been added with a chronological feed.
  • Users reply to posts or like, share, quote, or repost, but no direct messages.
  • Designed to be less negative news and politics oriented with no hashtags.

Is Threads The “Twitter Killer?”

It’s hard not to talk about Threads without mentioning Twitter or what is now called X. Many of the features of Threads are very similar to the platform formally known as Twitter with its focus on short content “threads” not unlike short content “tweets” or what may now be called “X’s.” There’s been a public feud between Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk which may be driving this battle between the two social platforms. In fact, Musk’s X Corp. has threatened to sue Meta over these similarities.

Meta is open about pitching Threads as a “friendlier” Twitter (X) that’s not a place for news and politics. Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said, “The goal is to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter and for communities on Twitter (and other platforms) that are interested in a less angry place for conversations, but not all of Twitter.”

Will Threads Be Less Negative?

Some of the features to “tune out the noise” include hidden words to not see posts that contain them and filtering out replies to threads with certain words. You can also unfollow, block, restrict, and report profiles. Many have felt that Twitter has increasingly become a more negative place. In fact, academic studies have found negative tweets increase the probability of retweeting and viral spread.

Musk has also indicated he is taking Twitter into a freer speech direction with less content moderation. Meta is contrasting this with messages that Threads will strive to make a friendly and more positive platform with content moderation. The first indicators did seem to indicate a drop in Twitter traffic (5%) in the first days of the launch of Threads.

Early Signups Don’t Guarantee Long Term Success.

Of course, quick adoption by large numbers of users doesn’t automatically translate into high engagement or long-term use. The social media platform Google+ had high user numbers. Everyone who created a Google account (Gmail, Drive, YouTube, Blogger) was automatically signed up for Google+. But that didn’t translate into everyday use. Google+ shut down in 2019 due to low engagement.

In deciding to make Threads a part of your social media strategy be sure to check current activity levels before investing significant resources. It will take time to get a feel for how Threads will make itself unique from Twitter’s real-time dialogue and driving the news characteristics. If it does grow an audience ads will soon follow. When advertising does become available Threads ads should be integrated easily into Meta Ad Manager.

Threads vs Twitter Stats
Here’s a  comparison of Threads vs. Twitter Statistics about a month after the Threads launch.

It will take time to see if early user numbers turn into active daily and weekly users. We’re already seeing indicators that engagement and users might not last. Since the July 7th peak Threads’ daily active users are down nearly 70% to 13 million from 44. The average daily time spent on Threads is just 4 minutes. This is in contrast to Twitter (X) which has roughly 200 million daily active users who spend an average of 30 minutes on the platform daily.

Total users are down as well. Just three weeks after a record high of 100 million users, Mark Zuckerberg reports that over half of Threads users have already stopped using it. Zuckerberg and Instagram CEO Adam Moseri do say they are working on new features to hook users and entice them to come back.

The new Twitter name and logo.
The new Twitter name and logo X.
Threads logo
The new Threads logo from Instagram.

 

The sudden name change from Twitter to X may motivate more users to join Threads. Initial reactions by many X users have been negative and branding experts indicate it may be a mistake. Insiders report it’s part of Musk’s plan to create an “everything app” that will become a moneyless marketplace, public square, and video content factory all in one. It’s also unsure if the X name will stay as Meta, Microsoft, and other companies own trademarks on X.

What’s The Bottom Line on Threads?

When investing your time and money in a social media strategy try to look past the hype. Even the largest companies have limited budgets and resources. In evaluating any new social platform or current platform it comes back to basic strategic thinking. When deciding to add a social media platform or leave a current one consider these questions:

  • Who is my target audience? (current users, potential users)
  • How active are they on Threads/X? (daily active use, time spent)
  • What objectives am I measured by? (engagement, sales, leads)
  • Can I achieve those objectives on Threads/X? (more than another platform)
  • Do I have time/budget for experimentation? (not dependent on results)

What has been your experience with Threads? What do you think the future of the platform will be for social media strategy?

If the Medium is the Message, What Message Is Social Media Sending?

Book about technology's impact on society.

I typically focus on the positive use of social media to help organizations achieve objectives. I’ve also discussed how social media professionals must act ethically to build trust in brands and their professions. I haven’t talked about the negative aspects of social media itself.

Yet, evidence of the negative effects of social media on mental health and society is increasing. Is there something unique about social media as a technology and a form of communication that may be causing negative, unintended consequences?

Book about technology's impact on society.
I’ve been reading and revisiting some books recently on technology and society.

The Medium Is The Message.

In 1964 Marshall McLuhan first expressed the idea “The medium is the message” in Understanding Media. He said, “The ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” The idea is that a message comes with any new technology or way to communicate beyond the content. The characteristics of the medium influence how the message is perceived.

In 1984 Neil Postman furthered the idea in Amusing Ourselves To Death. Postman said, “The medium is the metaphor.” He observed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture where the medium influences “the culture’s intellectual and social preoccupations.” He was concerned TV and visual entertainment, consumed in smaller bits of time, would turn journalism, education, and religion into forms of show business.

Is Social Media The Message?

A key to a successful social media strategy is understanding each social media platform has unique characteristics in the form of content (video, image, text standards, and limits) and in the algorithm that determines what posts are seen by who.

These characteristics and metrics create incentives that motivate behavior. In social media that can be engagement (likes, comments, shares, views), sales (products, services), and advertising revenue (audience size, time). The distinct characteristics and incentives encourage the creation of certain types of content and messages over others.

The message of the medium becomes what the platform and its users say is important – what increases response metrics. It could be “a curated, filtered, perfect life”; “an authentic, 100% transparent sharing of personal struggles”; or “criticisms of out-groups to signal tribe membership.”

As an exercise fill in the Table below.

Consider each social platform and the content that gets results. Are there noticeable patterns or themes? From your observations describe what you believe is the overall message the platform is sending.

Spend an hour on each social media platform and see where the algorithm takes you.

Could social media also send its own message by guiding the type of content that gets posted and disseminated? Consider the types of content that get posted and disseminated on social media versus other forms of traditional media and personal communication. What message does it send and what are the fruits of that message?

There are plenty of positives of social media. It enables us to connect with family/friends, find new communities of similar interests, promote important causes, get emotional support, and learn new information, plus it provides an outlet for self-expression and creativity.

A study found that social media can play a positive role in influencing healthy eating (like fruit and vegetable intake) when shared by peers. Yet, the same study also found that fast food advertising targeting adolescents on social media can have a negative influence on unhealthy weight and disease risks.

Negative Effects of Social Media Research.

Below is a highlight of recent studies. All research has its critics and many point out that social media isn’t the exclusive cause of all negative consequences. Social media also has a lot of positive effects on individuals, businesses, organizations, and society. But we should consider its negative effects – something more people are noticing, studying, and feeling.

People Feel Social Media Isn’t Good.

A 2022 Pew Research survey in the U.S. found:

  • 64% feel social media is a bad thing for democracy.
  • 65% believe social media has made us more divided in our political opinions.
  • 70% believe the spread of false information online is a major threat.

Political Out-Group Posts Spread More.

Research on Facebook/Twitter in Psychological And Cognitive Sciences  found:

  • Political out-group posts get shared 50% more than posts about in-groups.
  • Out-group language is shared 6.7 times more than moral-emotional language.
  • Out-group language is a very strong predictor of “angry” reactions.

False Posts Spread Faster Than The Truth.

Research in Science of verified true/false Twitter news stories found:

  • Falsehoods are 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth.
  • It took truth posts 6 times longer to reach 1,500 people.
  • Top 1% false posts reach 1,000-10,000 people (Truth posts rarely reach 1,000).

Algorithms Incentivize Moral Outrage.

A Twitter study in Science Advances found:

  • Algorithms influence moral behavior when newsfeed algorithms determine how much social feedback posts receive.
  • Users express outrage when in ideologically extreme networks where outrage is more widespread.
  • Algorithms encourage moderate users to become less moderate with peers expressing outrage.

Social Media Affects Youth Mental Health.

A 2023 U.S. Surgeon General advisory warned social media can pose a risk to the mental health of children and adolescents. Now 95% of 13–17-year-olds use social media an average of 3.5 hours a day. While acknowleding social media benefits, the advisory warned it may also perpetuate body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, social comparison, and low self-esteem.

Adults  are especially concerned about social media’s effect on teens and children.

The advisory warns of relationships between youth social media with sleep difficulties and depression. Other highlights include:

  • Adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media double their risk of depression and anxiety.
  • 64% of adolescents are “often” or “sometimes” exposed to hate-based content through social media.
  • 46% of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies – just 14% said it makes them feel better.

A 2023 survey of U.S. teen girls reveals 49% feel “addicted” to YouTube, 45% to TikTok, 34% to Snapchat, and 34% to Instagram. Yet another survey of teens found they believe social media provides more positives (32% mostly positive) versus negatives (9% mostly negative). They feel it’s a place for socializing and connecting with friends, expressing creativity, and feeling supported.

Bubbles, Chambers, and Bias.

Why are we seeing both positive and negative results? Social media’s unique environment can be very supportive, keeping you connected and helping you express yourself. It can also encourage you to improve your life like peers getting you to eat healthier and improve society by making people aware of important causes.

The same social media environment has also created filter bubbles and echo chambers. Technology can knowingly or unknowingly exploit human vulnerabilities that may accentuate confirmation bias and negativity bias.

  • A filter bubble is an algorithmic bias that skews or limits information someone sees on the internet or on social media.
  • An echo chamber is ideas, beliefs, or data reinforced through repetition in a closed system such as social media that doesn’t allow the free flow of alternative ideas.
  • Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs.
  • Negativity bias is the tendency for humans to focus more on the negative versus the positive.

Social media algorithms make it easier to produce filter bubbles that create echo chambers. Over time social media chambers lead to confirmation bias loops of negativity incentivized by engagement metrics.

A detailed article from the MIT Technology Review seems to indicate the problem is it’s difficult for AI machine learning algorithms to minimize negative human consequences when growth is the top priority. Much of what is bad for us and society seems to be what keeps us scrolling the most.

Reducing harm may go against growth objectives and current incentive structures for tech companies to produce mega revenue increases. Social media companies like Facebook, now Meta, continue to say they are doing everything they can to reduce harm despite layoffs.

Social Media Fills Our Spare Time.

While the most popular reason for using social media is to keep in touch with family and friends (57%), the second is to fill spare time (40%). What do we fill our spare time with? With a high percentage of social media revenue depending on advertising (96% of Facebook’s and 89% of Twitter’s) newsfeeds fill with what grows engagement to serve more ads to increase revenue.

That seems to be sensationalized content that stokes fears. Shocking content hacks attention playing into our negativity bias. Perhaps Postman’s prediction of everything becoming show business is true. We’re all chasing TV ratings in the form of likes, comments, and shares.

Recently Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg challenged each other to an MMA fight. What greater spectacle than two billionaire owners of competing social media platforms fighting each other in a PPV UFC cage match? Italy’s culture minister even said that it could happen in the Roman Colosseum. I wonder what Neil Postman would say if he were alive?

Journalism Isn’t Immune To Engagement.

As news moves online organizations chase clicks and subscribers through social media. With so many options, news subscribers increasingly seek sources based on confirmation bias. Andrey Mir in Discourse describes a shift to divisive content, “because the best way to boost subscriber rolls and produce results is to target the extremes on either end of the spectrum.”

With 50% of adults getting news from social media sites often or sometimes their stories no longer compete with just other news sites. Stories compete for clicks with the latest viral TikTok and YouTube influencers’ hot takes. A study in Nature found news headlines with negative words improved reading the article. Each negative word added increased the click-through rate by 2.3%.

Are There Legal Limits Coming?

The U.S. Supreme Court sent a case back to lower courts that would have addressed whether social media companies can be held accountable for others’ social media posts. A 1996 law known as Section 230 shields internet companies from what users post online. Lawsuits have been filed alleging that social media algorithms can lead to the radicalization of people leading to atrocities such as terrorist attacks and mass shootings.

The Supreme Court ruled there was little evidence tying Google, the parent company of YouTube, to the terrorist attack in Paris. The lower court ruled that claims were barred by the internet immunity law. Many internet companies warned that undoing or limiting Section 230 would break a lot of the internet tools we have come to depend upon.

While no legislation has passed there seems to be bipartisan support for new social media legislation this year like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). KOSA would require social media companies to shield minors from dangerous content, safeguard personal information, and restrict addictive product features like endless scrolling and autoplay. Critics say KOSA would increase online surveillance and censorship.

Can Algorithms Change People’s Feelings?

A Psychological And Cognitive Sciences study found when the Facebook News Feed team tweaked the algorithm to show fewer positive posts, people’s posts became less positive. When negative posts were reduced people posted more positive posts.

Postman said we default to thinking technology is a friend. We trust it to make life better and it does. But he also warned there is a potential dark side to this friend. To avoid Postman’s fears, perhaps we need to return to McLuhan who said an artist is anyone in a professional field who grasps the implications of their actions and of new knowledge in their own time.
What do you think?

What research is there for or against the negative effects of social media on mental health and society? Should anything be done to combat the negative consequences? What can be done and who should do it?