In-Ear Insights: What is Threads by Meta?

In this episode of In-Ear Insights, the Trust Insights podcast, Katie and Chris discuss the latest buzz in the social media marketing sphere: Threads. Threads is a Twitter clone built on the Instagram database and architecture. It has experienced rapid growth, surpassing 100 million users in just a few days. Katie shares her frustration with Threads being tied to Instagram, as she treats her Instagram account differently from her Twitter account. The conversation revolves around the reasons behind Threads’ success, including its ease of use and the ability to import Instagram networks. Chris explains the concept of proximity of power, which Threads aims to replicate by providing users with the perception of being in close contact with influential figures. The discussion delves into the similarities and differences between Threads and Twitter, highlighting the lack of features such as desktop access, APIs, analytics, and advertising on Threads. Chris advises taking a cautious approach, maintaining both company and personal profiles, and cross-promoting Threads on Twitter. They also emphasize the importance of data privacy and being aware of the data being collected by Meta. The episode concludes with a reminder to experiment, track data effectively, and prioritize platforms that you own or have more control over.

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Christopher Penn 0:00

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, let’s talk about threads.

The topic that everyone in the social media marketing sphere has been a buzz about for the last four or five days.

It is July 10.

As we were recording this, just yesterday, threads past 100 million users the fastest growth of any social media marketing app ever in history.

If you are unfamiliar, this is meta, formerly Facebook metas.

Twitter clone, if we’re perfectly honest, is a Twitter clone that is built upon the Instagram database and architecture.

So it is essentially Twitter.

But using Instagrams database and for people who have been active on Instagram, when you join threads, one of the things you’re allowed to do is immediately just copy over the people that you were following on Instagram into threads, which has given the app it’s remarkably rapid growth, it would not have achieved that level of growth otherwise.

So Katie, I saw that you have you have also joined threads? What’s your take on it? What’s your perspective on it? What are you thinking about?

Katie Robbert 1:04

Well, I mean, the first thing is I’m kind of frustrated with threads.

Because it is tied to Instagram, and I treat my Instagram, very different than I treat my Twitter account.

Instagram, for me is a private account, whereas Twitter is a more public business facing account.

And I find it frustrating that it’s, you know, you can’t also I think I saw you had posted like, you can’t delete threads without deleting Instagram, which is like, Oh, that’s really sneaky of you meta.

You know.

So I feel like obviously, it’s, you know, it’s only about five days old, as we’re recording this.

So there’s still a lot to be seen of what’s going to happen.

But, you know, my question, Chris, is why? Why threads? There have been so many other social media platforms that have been trying to take the audience away from Twitter threads seems to be the one that’s doing it, is it because it’s, you know, Mark Zuckerberg? Is it because it’s literally almost identical to Twitter and tied to Instagram for ease of use? Or is it something else like Mastodon was having a moment, blue sky, there’s a whole bunch of other ones that I’m sure I’m either forgetting or not even aware of.

But why threads,

Christopher Penn 2:25

threads is succeeding because of the graph because of the network, right? You have people’s existing networks that they can port over.

And as a result, it overcomes that initial hesitation of okay, I’ve just joined the new social network.

It’s me and my three friends.

Now what right and by having it import the Instagram network graph, it jumpstarts most people’s experience.

Now, one of the most interesting takes on this, that I saw over the weekend was by YouTuber bow of the fifth column, who is a fantastic channel, if you like conversations about tech, a lot of a lot of politics.

But he said, one of the things that is interesting about threads and the reason why Twitter has been so hard to dethrone is because of what’s called proximity of power.

The idea that on a network like Twitter, you could tweet at, you know, the President of the United States, whoever is in office at the time, and possibly even be noticed by that person, or your favorite celebrities, and so on and so forth.

And Instagram had this has this to some degree as well in the comments, but not nearly as prominently, as Twitter did, and what the magic formula that threads is chasing after is replicating that proximity to power.

It’s one of the reasons why.

Right now, in the very early version, you’ll notice there’s an awful lot of people that you don’t follow in the feed, and an awful lot of them are celebrities and pop culture notable names, that is to create that perception of proximity to power the other networks like blue sky, etc.

Do not have right, they do not have, you know, Angelina Jolie’s official Instagram account would now has a threads account, and so on and so forth.

And as with every social network, in the early days, you have the opportunity to interact with people you might not otherwise be noticed by.

Because in those early hours, when an account for showings, the person or people running those accounts was like, Oh, look, here’s somebody we haven’t seen or heard of before.

Katie Robbert 4:30

I feel like though, as a Twitter user, you know, the way that you know, so they rolled out a lot of features over the past, you know, six months or so.

And you have the for you, and then the following like the two different versions.

And I kind of feel like with threads, that’s a combination of the both because you get the people that you’re following, but then you also get the suggested accounts.

And so I do feel like Twitter does this already.

When We are you see a lot of people in there that you don’t follow.

Without the disclaimer, like Instagram has have suggested for you or because you follow this account, you might follow this account.

To your point, it just sort of shows up of like, oh, my god following this person, how did this get into my feet? Why is this here? And so, you know, for me to your question of What am I thinking about my first thought is, well, it’s part of the meta family of products.

So I don’t trust it.

You know, obviously, I can mark my account as private, I can choose not to participate.

But because I have an Instagram account, I’m guessing that my that threads already has my data, whether or not I signed up, especially since one of the ways that you could sign up was by clicking within your own Instagram profile, a numerical code that automatically brought you over.

And it’s just, I, from a business perspective, like if I were running those companies like I get it, it’s an ease of use, there’s a very low barrier to adoption, but then also as the business we can very easily collect the information we want to collect to make sort of like meaningful decisions.

But from a consumer side, from a user side, you need to be aware of what’s happening because they are 100%.

Just taking your data, whether or not you’ve given it to them or not.

And I know, I should probably have my tinfoil hat on, I’m not going to do that today.

But you know, it’s one of those things with like, it’s the same conversation we’ve had about generative AI and using publicly available models in ChatGPT.

You need to really be aware of what the terms of service are saying how they’re using your data, and what information you are willingly giving away?

Christopher Penn 6:51


One of the telling things should be that threads is not available within the EU, because it violates GDPR.

With the General Data Protection Regulation, as a result, what’s happening is that all meta apps essentially are funneling data from wherever they, you know, they’re operating back to metas data centers and whatever regions they operate in.

And that data is being used by meta.

So yeah, there’s anyone who’s doing business with the meta family of applications.

At this point, I would hope is aware that yes, 100% of your data that you interact with, with these applications is being funneled back to Mark Zuckerberg companies, right? That that’s a given.

And we see this even within the threads infrastructure itself, right, the threads infrastructure is built on Instagram.

The reason why it’s so easy to convert one account to another is because it’s using the exact same user database.

That’s why you can’t delete threads without deleting Instagram, because it’s the exact same singular database underneath.

There’s no abstraction layer.

The same is true for the algorithm, the algorithm appears to be based on my testing of it.

And my observations and reading through metas AI system cards, it appears to be Instagrams feed mixer, right? So if you are unfamiliar, it’s meta has produced these things called system cards that are high level documentation of the underlying AI for all the family products, their their legacy, instagram, facebook, whatsapp threads isn’t up there yet.

But if you look at the Instagram feed mixer card and the components of its algorithm, and then you compare it to how threads seems to behave you like okay, I’m pretty sure they just reused this, they just reuse it, which was really the smart thing to do you reuse the code base you have, then you have to reinvent the wheel.

Katie Robbert 8:44

So I think we would be remiss to not touch upon the fact that it’s a shiny new object.

And, you know, we you can see, see all of the jokes and memes going around all weekend have, you know, check on your social media managers, they’re not okay.

Or, you know, the CEOs who are asking their social media managers, okay, threads, what’s the strategy? So again, as we’re recording this threads is about five days old.

And I don’t know, even the most agile of companies can’t pivot their strategy fast enough, especially with something this new and this unknown.

So Chris, what is your reaction as you see people saying, okay, so threads, we got to be there, we got to do something with it.

Christopher Penn 9:34

You know, when you look at it functionally, it appears to be very similar to Twitter.

And there have been some memes and jokes where, you know, it’s just take your Twitter strategy, do Find Replace threads with Twitter, and that’s not entirely incorrect, right? Does a text in a text forward plot one, but, like with anything that’s new, you probably figure out what it does.

And critically, what’s different about Then then the Twitter experience that you’re used to, you know, what features are available, what features are not available? We have a long list.

So things like, you know, it’s it’s a mobile app Oh, and there’s no desktop app.

So you can’t really use it from from a browser.

There’s no API.

So you can’t plug social media management tools like Agorapulse, or Sprout Social into it.

There’s no analytics.

There’s no data whatsoever about it.

So if you’re trying to measure things on it, you can’t there’s there’s there’s no way to extract data from it.

Although again, it uses Instagrams infrastructure.

So theoretically, it would be hard for meta to make that information available.

There’s no advertising.

The Guardian reports that it’ll be ad free until end of year, Mark Zuckerberg said, they will look at monetization and advertising when they hit 1 billion users.

So whichever, I’m not sure which will come first.

But it seems to stand a decent chance.

There is no sorting of the timeline, there are no working hashtags yet.

But threads slash Instagram had Adam mosseri said those things are coming.

They just rushed version one out the door.

And my personal suspicion is that they rushed a limited feature set out the door to see how quickly the systems would crash under heavy loads, right? You release a minimum, you release your MVP out the door, and you don’t turn all the bells and whistles.

So you can just see if that your service will stand up which to Metis credit they have.

They have been no, I don’t know what the threads equivalent of the fail whale would be.

But there’s been no fail whales in five days, despite 100 million users jumping onto a system was previously tested with about 3000.

Which, you know if for those who ever have a lot of gray hair.

Remember that in 2007, when Twitter made its its debut at South by Southwest, they were 20,000 users to 80,000 users in three to five days.

And they just went belly up.

Right They there was there was a fail well, for days as they scrambled to try and build infrastructure.

Mehta came out of the gate with Instagrams data centers and servers and infrastructure.

And so they’ve been able to, to hold up.

So in terms of what you should be doing.

Yes, like, like everything, yes, jump in.


Particularly if you have a company Instagram account, the first thing you should do is go over instead of your company threads account and at least make a hey, here.

And then it’s like any new place, listen, pay attention, make notes, participate, where it’s appropriate.

Don’t do exactly what you’ve been doing in other places, figure out what the culture is, it’s like going to a party that you don’t want to be the person at the party shows up and yells, hey, the party is here.

And everyone was like, Oh, God, that jerk is here.

Katie Robbert 12:44

And yet people do that.

Christopher Penn 12:46

And yet people do that.

I’ve already got, I’ve gotten a PR pitches already about threads in my inbox.

I’m like,

Katie Robbert 12:55

which is? Which is bananas, by the way? I don’t know.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term Fail Whale.

Christopher Penn 13:04

You were not on the early days twice.

So the I will fail will was a eight that on the error message page was this giant whale being held up by birds is a drawing by Chinese artists.

And it said do something is tactically wrong was the end.

So they it was renamed it was named the fail whale very early on.

I think Twitter finally replaced it with a broken robot in like 2015 2016.

But it’s part of early Twitter culture.

Katie Robbert 13:32

Yeah, no, I can’t say that I was I’ve had my Twitter handle for a long time, but was not actually active on Twitter until we started Trust Insights.

And now of course, you know, me as the end user, when threads showed up as something that people were all getting on board with, as opposed to some of the other social platforms that are in existence, my first thought was great, one more thing that I have to be, you know, have to have anxiety around of, you know, am I keeping up to date on it? You know, do I know how it works? Where does it fit in for the company? Like those are all the natural questions you should be asking.

And, you know, as the CEO of Trust Insights and sort of the stand in CMO, I have no idea because social media in general is not a strong channel for us.

So in one, like, on one hand, I’m not that concerned about it, we have our handle.

We’ll see how it plays out.

On the other hand, is this an opportunity for us to rethink how social media works for us? You know, but it’s also still a meta property.

And for a variety of reasons.

We decided that Facebook was not the right fit for us.

You know, I I’m not convinced at this, at least today.

The threads is going to be a game changer for us, especially soon Since it’s using the Instagram database, and the audience on Instagram is very different than the audience on Twitter, at least for us.

And so if that’s the case, if that continues, I don’t see that threads is going to be a game changer for us at this time.

Christopher Penn 15:22

Yeah, I mean, it is weird and, and odd that Mark Zuckerberg has somehow become the billionaire we dislike least.

Because absolutely crazy oligarchy of billionaires in the in the tech companies.

It’s gonna depend on how the threads culture works out, honestly, is it going to be more like Twitter, if so then we might have a business reason to be there.

If it’s going to be more like Tumblr, which is a lot more personal stuff by people and very little corporate stuff, then there probably isn’t an opportunity for us there.

But it’s too soon to tell it’s too soon to rush in.

And yes, a lot of companies are jumping in and I saw Wendy’s and a bunch of other major brands to doing their usual good work on on their feeds.

But a big part also will be measurement.

And right now there is none.

The only way you can get any kind of measurement right now is if you’re sharing links on threads, and you have properly applied, you know, tracking codes to those links, if you don’t do that you have no visibility whatsoever, because we tested last week when threads came out.

And when threads when you share a link, it comes in as direct traffic, it comes in with no attribution at all.

So there’s, there’s nothing coming out of that app.

So if you are on threads, and you’re trying to see what the impact on your business is you have to tag every single link that you share.

Katie Robbert 17:01

Which is not new advice.

And I feel like, you know, like we were talking about, you know, with generative AI, new technology, same advice, same practices, same processes.

This is no different new social platform, new shiny object, new toy, same processes, same governance, same, you know, data collection methods, and you know, stringent rules around how you’re tagging things.

And so I guess that sort of the takeaway, at least for me, is great, it’s just one more thing for us to be diligent about, if we want to see if there’s any effectiveness, you know, we can run our experiments and a B tests, like we do with anything, but we still have to have that plan up front and not do the panic move and just start posting a bunch of stuff and see what sticks.


Christopher Penn 17:50

And I would say you should probably pursue the same two pronged approach that you’ve pursued with things like Instagram and with things like LinkedIn, where you have a company account and your company page, and when company and business profiles become available, because they inevitably will, it’s just the way Mehta operates, you’ll convert those those profiles over you will expect that the engagement will drop to zero on that and time because, again, that’s how metal works.

And then you will maintain the personal profiles of your employees and your team stuff.

And those will remain personal profiles.

So that, you know, there’s still some level of reach on there compared to other things.

I would say I think there is value in in terms of strategy of promoting your threads account on on Twitter, because again, 100 million people, it’s kind of hard to ignore.

Now whether that growth rate continues, we’ll see.

But it, it’s not a surprise to see it grow that quickly, partly because of the Instagram connection, I would say the majority because of the Instagram integration, but partly also because Twitter is just not a safe place to do business.

If you’re a brand, right? There is so much content there that is brand unsafe.

And your ads and your content showing up next to people who are literal Nazis is just not a place that you want to do business.

Combine that with the absolutely insane things that have happened recently, like, Oh, we’re limiting the number of tweets you can read per day, like, let’s, let’s rethink that.

I think there is there is real value in cross promoting your threads account to your existing Twitter account to move people over as much as you can.

But beyond that, just experiment.

It’s it’s a new place.

It’s so you get to decide what you want to be particularly as an individual, you get to decide what kind of experience you want on it.

Maybe you don’t want to participate in a whole bunch of conversations.

Maybe you do.

I’ve found a lot of fun and interesting conversations and some new people to chat with in the last few days.

So it’s been very interesting for me and I’ve enjoyed the experience so far.

But I am also 100% aware, this is a Marxist koeberg product, so we know the exact lifecycle this is going to take, it’s great at first, and then it will progressively get worse and worse over time, until I was

Katie Robbert 20:07

gonna, I was gonna bring that up, because I want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of why we moved away from Facebook in the first place.

It’s you know, new labels, same thing, same product, same owner, same privacy issues, same courtroom battles.

You know, just because Mark Zuckerberg is the lesser of two evils doesn’t make him any less evil, in terms of, you know, what he’s trying to do with our data and the money that he’s trying to make off of our backs.

And so I am very skeptical of threads.

Because, you know, we saw what played out with Facebook, you know, I don’t see that threads will be any better, it just has a different skin.

Christopher Penn 20:56


And it’s interesting when I look at my own app usage, so if you look at app usage on your phone, your phone does keep track of so I think threads has not cannibalize Twitter, because I was spending very little time on Twitter to begin with threads this cannibalized Instagram for me, so I spend much less time on Instagram.

Now, I spend that time on threads, but the majority of my time, I still screw it on my phone, I spend like 60% of my time on Slack, because obviously work and stuff like that.

And about 30% of my time on Discord.

And those numbers really haven’t moved.

So that’s where I’m going to continue spending the majority of my time, which by the way, if you want to spend some time with us on Slack, you can there’s a free slack group slash analytics for marketers.

Katie Robbert 21:44

Interestingly, because I do most of this stuff from my laptop, like Slack and other social, most of my time on my phone is spent playing solitaire.

Christopher Penn 21:54

You know, whatever makes you happy.

Katie Robbert 21:57

It’s not that I’m not active on Slack.

But I am definitely one of those people that struggles because I have to use proper grammar and full sentences.

It’s easier for me to do it from my laptop that it is to try to type with my thumbs on my phone.

And so I prefer the desktop experience to the mobile experience, which I know is not true for a majority of people.

No, I do not want to hook up a keyboard to my phone.

That is one thing too many.

I’m not doing that.

Christopher Penn 22:27

I will say there are many keyboards that do have multiple Bluetooth connections.

So you can connect to your tablet, you can connect to your phone, and things if you want to be able to type on a device instead of using your thumbs.

Katie Robbert 22:38

Which I appreciate, but it’s not going to happen.

It’s not happening.

Christopher Penn 22:43


The one other thing I will say that threads has going forth that that Twitter does not is that Twitter has basically just abandoned any form of one of moderation.

Like it’s just a dumpster fire threads obeys the overall meta content policy and they did not fire their entire Trust and Safety Team.

Like like Twitter did.

So So threads is inherently somewhat safer than than Twitter is that but yeah, I would say experiment.

Get to know the culture.

listen more than you talk like channels decent vice.

Still, make sure that you’re investing in platforms that are once you own or as close to own as possible.

So that things like Slack and Discord, still make sure that you’re investing your time in communications that are not interrupted by AI like email newsletters, and stuff.

And just see how just see how this all plays out.

Make sure you’re using good tracking codes.

Make sure that you’re you’re not betting the farm on a meta property that will you know, that will have a rogue bowl in eighth, you know, 1218 months.

I agree.

And so Katie, where can we find you on threads?

Katie Robbert 24:04

You can find me the same way you can find me anywhere else at katierobbert.

But don’t expect me to be super active.

I’m not super active on Twitter.

My Instagram account is private.

So you can ask to follow but chances are if I don’t know you, I’m not approving you.

And threads is public for now.

But I may also make that private because I’m not.

I’m not a social media person.

I’m not great at it.

I don’t enjoy it.

I’m very private.

Christopher Penn 24:35

You can find me at cspenn or you can find the company that at Trust Insights.

We’re not super watching that account real closely because we’re still talking about how all this works.

The best place to stay in touch with us is over in our free slack group go to trust for marketers where you have over 3000 other marketers are asking and answering each other’s questions every single day without the interference of either Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg and if you like this show when you want to get on a different channel, you can do so at trust podcast.

Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll talk to you next time.

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