A major tech company with billions of users introduces a fresh social network, leveraging the popularity and scale of its existing products to ensure its success. The company aims to outshine a leading competitor’s app in the process. However, this scenario is not Instagram’s recent launch of Threads against Twitter; it actually took place in 2011 when Google unveiled Google+, positioning it as a “Facebook killer.” Google aggressively promoted the platform to its user base, surpassing 90 million users within the first year.
Nevertheless, by 2018, Google+ had faded into obscurity. Despite Google’s massive audience, its social network failed to gain traction as users continued to flock to Facebook, Instagram, and other social apps. The history of Silicon Valley reveals that while big tech companies often grow even bigger by capitalizing on their scale, size alone doesn’t guarantee success in the volatile and trendy social media market.
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta (formerly Facebook), now faces a similar challenge as he attempts to dethrone Twitter and establish Threads as the premier app for real-time, public conversations. While having a large user base is advantageous, Zuckerberg needs Threads to replicate Twitter’s serendipitous and peculiar ways of connecting friends and influencers. He must ensure the app isn’t overrun by spam and scammers, and he also needs users to be patient with forthcoming updates.
In essence, Zuckerberg needs to make Threads compelling enough to attract and retain users. Launching an app that lacks essential features or feels gimmicky could backfire, leading to user churn. The remarkable overnight success of Threads, with 10 million sign-ups within hours of its launch and 100 million by Monday, seems impressive and unprecedented, as confirmed by mobile analyst Eric Seufert.
Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, has shown signs of agitation over Threads’ rapid growth. With 100 million users, Threads is quickly approaching Twitter’s publicly disclosed user numbers. Musk has taken action, threatening to sue Meta over the new app and engaging in a Twitter spat with Zuckerberg.
While Musk lacks Twitter’s user numbers, Zuckerberg possesses a substantial advantage at Meta with over three billion users across Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. Zuckerberg has successfully directed users from one app to another within his ecosystem, such as with the introduction of Messenger as a separate app in 2014.
Threads is closely integrated with Instagram, requiring users to have an Instagram account to sign up. People can easily import their Instagram followers into Threads with a single tap, eliminating the need to find new connections on the platform.
Zuckerberg hinted at additional strategies to promote Threads‘ growth, indicating that he hadn’t fully utilized promotional tactics for the app yet. However, some users have questioned why Threads lacks basic features present in Instagram, such as a search function for browsing trending hashtags. This approach may be intentional to maintain brand safety and avoid controversy, but it raises concerns about the long-term appeal of the network.
Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, acknowledged the users’ requests for new features and assured them that the app would improve. However, the longevity of bolting on a new app to an existing company’s products can eventually wane.
Looking back at the Google+ debacle, it becomes apparent that merely mimicking a competitor without a clear vision of why users should choose the alternative can lead to failure. Despite the possibility of Zuckerberg following Bill Gates’ footsteps by leveraging Meta’s scale to dominate the market, as Gates did with Microsoft’s Windows, there are risks involved. Gates faced legal action in the late 1990s for antitrust practices, demonstrating that oppressive dominance can have legal consequences.
Ultimately, Zuckerberg and Meta need to navigate the challenging landscape of social media, ensuring that Threads remains innovative, engaging, and able to withstand competition in the long run.