So, Threads the much-trailed Meta Twitter clone is finally here. It brings with it a load of questions. But there's also a once-in-a-lifetime chance for journalism organisations to pause, touch and re-engage with social media.
It's officially here! Threads. Meta's Twitter clone has gone live on the apps stores ready for its launch this Thursday. Depending on the direction you read the book, it's another chapter in the slow implosion of Elon Musks Twitter or the point at which Zuckerberg surrendered to the bleeding obvious.
So, and I know I'm at risk of tripping the hot take alarm, what does it mean for journalism?
The short answer is, that I think this is a chance to properly and fundamentally rethink and reinvent content strategy.
There haven't been many chances for journalism and journalists to try something new for so much return. The industry has always been much more interested in a strategy of 'beat it till it fits'. Taking the edges of square pegs until they fit into their established round holes. We've been doing that since the mid-nineties and there's a scrapyard of failed, just too late to market, initiatives sitting on companies' ledgers to prove it.
It's been repeated most recently with platforms like TikTok and ironically Instagram. Its the latest new thing. And attracted by the audience, publishing orgs dive in. But it's been interesting to see how many have been visibly shaken by first contact with newer platforms. The form and function were seemingly so far away from the established norm, that some orgs actually made a point of saying they wouldn't engage.
As with many of the disruptive technologies in the last 20 years, it takes others to show the bare bones of a way of working that maps onto their established ways of thinking and doing. Journalists investing time in the platform to knock some of those corners off. But even with those pathfinders, the industry seems reticent to properly commit.
And along comes Threads.
The Facebook problem
Of course, Meta/Facebook is deeply problematic for journalism orgs big and small. At the industrial end of media, its the parasitic wasp infecting and then controlling content and audience. For smaller, purposeful journalism orgs, there's perhaps more concern over the moral and ethical shadow its casts as you approach it.
But the one that keeps it in the conversation is the audience.
The audience is something that is undeniably a problem for Twitter. The consensus seems to be that even if it's not actually overrun by arseholes, the algorithm seems to favour them. Scale and the breadth, access to a diverse cross-section of the body politic, once Twitter's unique selling point, are gone. Nobody needs that many arseholes.
And the audience challenge is worse for the current crop of Twitter understudies; Masterdon with too high a technical barrier to entry is self-limiting. The distributed elements are too visible to give the impression of coherent communities. Bluesky seems to have got the tone right. But it's not 2006. Word of mouth and creating a buzzy groundswell to attract and build a community isn't a strategy. It's certainly not enough of a strategy to build enough of an audience for the average user (or journalists looking for that broad church) to move.
And that is of course the trump card for Zuckerberg. Threads already have an audience - Instagram and Facebook. It's the broad, (relatively) diverse cross-section of people that would make it worth a journalist's time.
The new opportunity
There's no denying, that social media is hard. Long gone are the days of bloggers vs Journalists. The overlap in content and approach between social media content creators and journalism is now marginal at best. Threads is not going to solve that problem overnight. But the size of the audience and the speed with which it will grow should be a reason to try. The key is it's the opportunity to wean the industry off the engage and move them to our platform approach that publishers favour.
The strength of Twitter has always been its ability to narrate the moment - the canary in the mine. That's what scale and reach created. It's no secret that Twitter was never great at delivering an audience to news sites (and the advertising that plagues them). So there's no point in looking at that model- the comfortable round peg.
The opportunity to really understand value. The value of the audience and the value of engagement. To find and make content in different ways. To measure, collect and move the audience emotionally as well as economically. And the real bonus here is that you get to do that in a space that's already familiar. Uncomfortable? Yes. Problematic? Definitely. But familiar.
So Threads, for all the baggage it brings with it, is the safest space the industry has had for years to experiment with new ways of engaging with the audience.