The new, text-based social media app was unveiled on July 5 by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, as a direct competitor to Twitter. In the first five days, Threads attracted 100 million users, overtaking ChatGPT as the fastest growing online platform of all time. According to preliminary data, brands are already reporting better engagement on Threads than on Twitter as users leave Elon Musk’s social network.
Whether Threads has staying power or poses an ongoing threat to Twitter remains to be seen, but one thing is already clear: Philly has signed on.
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SEPTA, PECO, Comcast, Wawa, Visit Philly, and just about every major Philadelphia sports team wasted no time setting up a store and posting content on threads. And while he hasn’t posted anything yet, soon-outgoing Mayor Jim Kenney has reserved his Threads account. Several Philly musicians from Snacktime to the Roots have also started using it, as have local foodservice establishments like Fiorella, Forin Cafe and Whipped Bakeshop.
And as is often the case, media companies like PhillyVoice and the Philadelphia Inquirer were among the first to take to the streets on the latest social media platform. For its part, the Inquirer compared the rivalry between Twitter and Threads to that between Pat and Geno.
Philly’s First Impressions: How Threads Are Performing So Far
For Philly’s active online digerati, the introduction of threads was met with a mixture of hope and hesitation. For many, the platform appears to be a promising alternative to traditional social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, whose popularity and engagement have declined in recent years. This hunger for a new online community is particularly urgent for longtime Twitter users, who have left the platform in large numbers in response to dramatic, feature-altering changes introduced after Musk’s purchase last October.
“I like this!” said Conrad Benner, who runs social media brand Streets Dept, which specializes in street art. “Whatever concerns I have about (Mark) Zuckerberg, Elon’s destruction of Twitter is what got me interested in a platform like Threads. And so far I’ve been, “I’ve been impressed.”
Threads can offer a respite for Twitter refugees, but come with some glaring limitations for long-time users. Common social media platform features like hashtags, desktop access, and direct messages are absent from Threads, at least for now. In 2023, these features seem like staples of a social media product, and their exclusion from Threads is puzzling considering they’re commonplace on both Instagram, Threads’ sister app, and Twitter, its main competitor , are integrated.
The fact that the service is linked to an existing and massive social media platform – you need an Instagram account to use Threads – brings both pros and cons for users.
“It was very easy to get started,” said Benner, a longtime Instagram user with 150,000 followers. “I like how it appeals to Instagram’s followers, and most importantly, a lot of the people I like were there the moment I joined.”
‘Is that thing on?’ The promise and danger of a rapidly growing platform
While the acquisition of an existing social media giant helps Threads and its individual user accounts grow rapidly, it also raises questions about the nature of the communities and the discourse that will emerge over time. In fact, questions about the purpose of threads and how best to use them were a dominant theme for the first week of their existence.
“I’m honestly not sure how to use this platform yet,” Fishtown-based artist Lauren Rinaldi wrote in a recent Threads post. “Is it Facebook in a Twitter disguise? Do I want my IG friends to see my true Twitter form gone haywire? Should I share my work here? What’s up?”
That unsafe feeling — and the “Is that thing going?” and virtual mic gesture that comes with it is inevitable for any new platform. In threads, many users come to the party and don’t know what to do.
“Threads are a few days old and I still feel like there’s something wrong with the platform,” Rinaldi told PhillyVoice. “And for me as an artist, it feels like work. Probably because it’s an extension of Instagram, the only social medium I use almost exclusively for work. So I’m a little more careful about what I share there, which I don’t like.
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For many, the standard scope and impact of threads makes it feel like something they need to use, whether they like it or not.
“I’m going to use threads because now I feel like I have to,” Rinaldi said. “But I’m not going to use it like Twitter. I will probably share my thoughts and reflections on the subject of work and art, at least for now.”
For Benner and his popular Philly street art coverage, Threads is proving to be a viable potential alternative to Twitter, which he says is “feeling more and more like a closing mall” due to declining user activity and engagement. Whether Threads will achieve its goal of sustainably conquering Twitter users, engagement metrics and clout as a social media platform will only be seen over time – certainly more than just a week. At the moment, both apps are on the rise and fighting for notoriety.
“I’ve been on Twitter since 2008, so I’m not going to throw in the towel anytime soon,” Benner said. “But if last week is any indication, I’ll be more into threads.”
Are you trying threads? We also. You can follow PhillyVoice in threads here.