Just because Instagram enables you to share your photo and video content with an infinite number of people at once doesn’t necessarily mean that you always want to. Some aspects of the Instagram user experience are much more enjoyable when they’re kept between you and your closest friends.
Recognizing this social media phenomenon, Instagram has taken steps over the past few years to create a companion social media app that provides users with a more intimate outlet for sharing their photos and videos. Instagram’s latest attempt at such a companion app has arrived in the form of Threads, an update of (and, Instagram hopes, an improvement upon) the now-defunct app Direct. Read on for everything you need to know about Threads and what it means for your business.
What Exactly is Threads?
Threads is a camera-first, ad-free social messaging app intended to let Instagram users enjoy meaningful, lightning-fast conversations with their closest friends via photos and videos. It comes equipped with all of the baseline text, photo and video messaging capabilities that Instagram users are accustomed to. However, it currently doesn’t include:
The key difference between Instagram and Threads is that the latter gives you full control over who gets to see your content. Instead of telling everyone what you’re doing by posting publicly on Instagram—and leaving yourself vulnerable to the potential scrutiny that comes with that—Threads allows you to limit your audience to the people who matter to you the most.
Threads also allows you to communicate passively throughout the day with your close friends even when you’re not having active conversations with one another, as it gives you the capacity to share personal information with them, such as your:
- Current location and status (more on this shortly)
- Battery Level
- Network Connection
What Does Threads Bring to the Table?
Threads features three major components:
- Camera – The app opens automatically to a camera page, with a list of icons at the bottom featuring the profile pictures of your 8 closest (i.e. most frequently contacted) friends from Instagram. Friends who are currently active on the app will be indicated with a green circle surrounding their photos. This gives you a quick, convenient shortcut for delivering photo and video messages to your inner circle.
- Central Feed – Messages that your friends send back to you will appear in your central feed, which functions just like Instagram’s direct message inbox. You can message people individually or in a group chat, so long as every member of the group is close friends with one another and has previously downloaded the app (obviously).
For added social convenience, anything that your Threads friends post publicly on Instagram or share with you via direct message can also be viewed on Threads.
- Status Screen – A throwback to the glory days of AOL Instant Messenger (as well as Facebook’s short-lived attempt to bring status screen nostalgia back in the late 2000s), Threads’ status screen lets your close friends know where you are and what you’re up to.
To set up your status screen, you pick an emoji and then either type a few words about your status or choose from a prearranged assortment of status lines, like “at the gym,” etc. It’s up to you how long your status screen remains visible.
You can also opt to use the app’s Auto Status function, which tracks your location and movement, then automatically updates your status accordingly.
Wait, Doesn’t the Auto Status Option Present a Safety Concern?
Aware that some users may balk at the idea of their location and movement being tracked on Threads, Instagram released a public statement addressing the potential safety concerns associated with using the app.
The main takeaways from the statement are:
- Your Exact Location Will Never be Shared – Although the Threads app will ask you to provide your precise location, this information won’t be made available for others to see. According to Instagram, the purpose of the app gathering your location is to process your current activity and put it into a basic context.
For example, if you’re at a restaurant, your friends will be alerted that you’re “grabbing a bite to eat.” Or, if you’re biking, your status will read that you are “on the move,” etc. Additionally, the app is capable of learning when you’re at home vs. when you’re at work, which adds further context to your current availability to chat on the app.
- Your Locations Will Never be Stored – Though Threads sends your location information across its server in order to look up precise locations on the map, that data isn’t stored in the server. The only place where this information does get stored is in the user’s mobile device, and only for a limited amount of time.
- Nothing Happens Without Your Permission – Before the Auto Status function is enabled, the app lets you know the exact information it’s requesting and will ask you for your permission on each specific item.
OK, but Still…is the Status Screen Something That People Want?
Instagram’s official statement may put users’ fears to rest about their exact location being made available, but it still doesn’t answer the question of why Instagram feels that users will want to share even general information with their friends about where they’re going. An app that consists of people relaying personal information to one another feels like a bold, and some may say off-brand move for Instagram.
Regardless of whether people want their friends to know their current status or not, the minds at Instagram feel that Threads is a worthwhile pursuit for two distinct reasons:
- The Warm, Fuzzy Reason – For the past few years, the line that everyone at Facebook (Instagram’s parent company)—from Mark Zuckerberg on down—keeps repeating is that they want Facebook and all of its acquired properties to be a setting in which users can engage in “positive, meaningful interactions.” In other words, they don’t want their platforms to be a venue ruled by ads and unsolicited messages.
In 2014, Facebook made a significant attempt to discourage free advertising on users’ timelines by changing its algorithm to favor content from users’ family and close friends. Earlier this year, Instagram followed suit with a mirror image algorithm shift.
Instagram reps are hopeful that Threads, status-sharing and all, will help personalize users’ interactions on the platform even further.
- The Cold-Blooded Reason – It’s no secret that Instagram has long been envious of Snapchat’s unparalleled ability to retain the loyalty of the Gen Z demographic. And many of Instagram’s recent efforts have been geared toward trying to steal Snapchat’s young audience away by cutting off their rival’s momentum at every pass.
Instagram’s first attempt to turn out Snapchat’s lights came with the introduction of the stories feature, a carbon copy of Snapchat’s signature offering. The arrival of Instagram stories proved to be a devastating blow for Snapchat in the stock market, which caused many at the time to predict that Snapchat’s days were numbered.
But somehow, through it all, it’s been Snapchat, not Instagram, that has remained the top choice of the big fish youth market.
Now, with its camera-first approach, Threads represents Instagram’s latest attempt to beat Snapchat at its own game of providing users with a platform for instant, camera-focused communication among their inner circle. Threads has even copied the Snapchat model of letting the user set the longevity of their photos and videos (i.e. how long they remain visible, how many times they can be replayed, etc.).
Plus, Threads’ status-sharing component serves as Instagram’s not-so-subtle attempt to replicate Snapchat’s popular “Snap Maps” feature, an interactive map that allows users to share their location with one another.
What Does the Emergence of Threads Mean for Advertisers?
Whether Threads or Snapchat ends up winning the camera-first war remains to be seen. Based on Facebook’s exemplary track record in finding ways to monetize their endeavors, however, businesses should brace themselves for Threads to be pervasive.
Yes, the fact that Threads is designed to limit the party to tight circles of close friends presents a major roadblock for advertisers. But before advertisers quit on the idea of carving out opportunities in the Threads landscape, they should consider the fact that people were also writing obituaries for advertisers when Facebook and Instagram’s respective algorithm shifts made organic reach nearly impossible.
In both cases, advertisers stared down the algorithm and found clever, alternative ways to promote their brands across multiple social media platforms like Facebook Messenger, Instagram Stories, IGTV and live videos. With the introduction of Threads, advertisers are going to have to put their thinking caps on once again.
Through its emphasis on status-sharing has raised eyebrows, Threads offers users the unique opportunity to keep in touch with close friends in a way that lets them enjoy their favorite aspects of Instagram without having to worry about public scrutiny. It’s the best of both worlds which should give Threads some staying power.
Now, the race is on for advertisers to figure out how to reach Threads users from outside of their inner circles.
1) “Instagram’s Latest Assault on Snapchat is a Messaging App Called ‘Threads’” by Casey Newton
2) “Instagram Ends Experiment with Standalone Direct Messaging App” by Jon Porter
3) “Instagram is Developing a Separate Messaging App Called ‘Threads’” by Andrew Hutchinson