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How Threads can overtake Elon Musk's Twitter

Mark Zuckerberg fired his largest salvo in his war with rival Elon Musk on Wednesday with the launch of his Twitter fighter, Threads. The app quickly garnered millions of users as well as Musk’s wrath. The billionaire Twitter owner threatened legal action against Meta (META) for allegedly hiring former Twitter employees to work on the app.

But Threads’ early eye-popping numbers don’t guarantee it will be a Twitter killer.

The app’s millions of users can be largely attributed to its connection to Instagram, which makes signing up and populating your feed with people you already follow on the social media platform incredibly easy.

In order for Threads to become a true Twitter alternative, and not an also-ran like Mastodon, it will need to keep users engaged, listen to the complaints and suggestions those users have, and develop the right kinds of tools to satisfy the app’s future power users.

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If it can do all of that, Twitter could become nothing more than a niche social media app — a modern-day MySpace.

Threads needs to keep people tapping

If Meta’s Threads is going to stand a chance against Twitter, it needs to ensure that it brings over the kind of people that make Musk’s platform hum. It needs the thought leaders, politicians, celebrities, journalists, and other influential users that make the social network worth visiting. Twitter isn’t a great app by any means, but it does get people talking, and that’s what makes its users come back for more.

“What makes Twitter durable is in fact that there's very specific communities of people that are very aggressively using Twitter. So academics, politicians, venture capitalists, experts in artificial intelligence, and I think most prominently journalists,” explained Harvard Business School professor Andy Wu.

Meta Threads app logo and Elon Musk Twitter account are seen in this illustration taken, July 7, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Meta's Threads is a major threat to Twitter. (Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration) (Dado Ruvic / reuters)

He added: “If Threads wanted to compete against that, they would need to accumulate users very rapidly in order to overcome the massive switching costs of getting that whole network of people over to Threads.”

Power users who regularly use Twitter, myself included, also need the right kind of desktop tools to make the platform worthwhile for business purposes. Platforms like TweetDeck make it easy to follow multiple customized streams of users ensuring you see what you want as it’s posted. Threads doesn’t have a desktop application.

You’re also unable to create a chronological feed of only the people you follow. Instead, Threads sprinkles in content from other users its recommendation algorithm suggests.

“I think the next few weeks and months are important,” explained University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor Pradeep Chintagunta. “It also depends upon how quickly Threads can make sure that any of the feedback that they're getting, they're actually able to internalize that well and then perhaps improve the features, etc. they offer.”

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Twitter’s future is unclear

Let’s say Threads does manage to get all of the users it needs, keeps them engaged, and rolls out the right tools power users need. Where does that leave Twitter? That’s tough to say. It’s hard to vote against Musk given his track record at Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX, but his time behind the wheel at Twitter has been anything but smooth.

He has slashed the company’s workforce, alienated users and advertisers, and made unpopular changes to the platform including charging users for verification check marks. With Threads, Twitter is staring down a potential disaster.

“Twitter won’t be among the Mount Rushmore of social networking platforms,” said University of Michigan Ross School of Business professor Marcus Collins. “They'll probably be competing with the Truth Socials of the world. I feel like that's going to be the new competition…those fringe kind of communities because that's what it's become in a lot of ways, a toxic fringe community.”

It’s not as though Threads parent Meta hasn’t had its own share of scandals, though. And with Twitter’s new CEO Linda Yaccarino at the helm, the company could end up reversing some of Musk’s more unpopular moves.

Either way, aren’t we all just waiting for that cage match?

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He's been covering the tech industry since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielHowley.

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