Threads vs X

Threads took the world by storm when it launched in July, but recent dips in user numbers have spread doubts about the platform’s longevity. So, what’s in store for Threads — and X — next?

Meta’s newest social media platform Threads took the social media landscape by storm when it launched on July 5th, reaching 100 million sign-ups within five days of its launch - making it the fastest growing platform ever, beating OG Facebook, Tiktok and even ChatGPT. However, after a promising start, Threads’ active users suddenly started to drop quickly, prompting many to walk back their initial praise and cast doubt on the platform’s longevity.

Now, as the dust begins to settle and Elon Musk muses putting X behind a paywall, we’re here to ask a question. Is Threads just a flash in the pan, or is a comeback inevitable for an app that is backed by Meta?

9 minute read

8th December 2023

First off, what is Threads?

At its core, Threads is a micro-blogging platform that unashamedly positions itself as a competitor to X/Twitter. After you create an account, you’ll be able to thread (“tweet”), repost, and quote others in a giant online conversation. It is familiar territory for X users and stands out as particularly cheeky in a world where social media companies often ‘adopt’ features that are inspired from their competitor’s apps. Using Threads, it feels less about hopping on the latest user behaviour trend and more like Zuckerberg is trying to eat X alive. 

Setting their obvious similarities aside, the main distinction between X and Threads lies in the content that’s shared on these platforms.

Over the last months and years, X has carved its niche as a reliable virtual battleground for political discourse, social commentary and breaking news. The ever-increasing animosity of its conversations — and the outspokenness of its figurehead Elon Musk — has turned it into a revolving door of controversy since its acquisition in April 2022.

Conversely, Threads has positioned itself as a more inclusive and brand-friendly environment, a space for communication that is focused on stimulating civil conversations and connections. If Elon’s futuristic vision for X is a do-everything app where anything goes, Zuckerberg’s goal is grounded firmly in the present. This is a text-based online space he wants to make safe for advertisers today.

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Right on time?

It is no secret that a large portion of X’s users have been growing increasingly discontent since Elon Musk’s takeover. From charging $8 for verification badges and limiting the number of tweets users can see to flip flopping on drastic, platform-changing policies — it is obvious that there is little coherent strategy behind X’s actions. This means a significant portion of X’s user base are potentially up for grabs to the right competitor service.

Compounding X’s potential vulnerability are its ongoing issues with brand safety. Since he dramatically culled ~80% of his staff early into his takeover, Musk has been on a mission to reduce the platform’s content restrictions — something which has jarred employees and outsiders alike. High profile internal losses include most of the brand safety team, two successive Heads of Trust and Safety and their Head of Brand Safety & Ad Quality.

Whilst this move has been applauded by some, its reception by the advertising industry and businesses at large has been frosty. Talking to our Head Of Social, Ant, the sentiment was clear.

Post-takeover, our clients have gone off advertising on X — something we agree with. As an agency, a platform that provides shaky performance, limited target audience opportunities and carries a high risk to reputation is no longer a logical choice for most business cases.

The ongoing internal free for all at X has led to a mass exodus of advertisers on the platform, fleeing what they view to be an unsafe brand environment. This problem is an ongoing one: two high-profile companies recently suspended advertising on the site after their ads appeared on and alongside white supremacist and Neo-Nazi accounts.

Zuckerberg has aimed to capitalise on this growing corporate and consumer hunger for alternative platforms by launching Threads. A previous version of Threads was originally launched back in 2019, but it didn’t resonate with users as anticipated. The relaunch under the current climate of dissatisfaction among X users has resulted in a significantly different response, initially propelling Threads to the forefront of the social media landscape.

Threads’ Booming Popularity

When Threads launched, X’s traffic initially suffered a significant blow. Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, somewhat ironically tweeted a screenshot showing Twitter’s traffic “tanking” — a clear indicator that Threads was biting their user base. 

The huge interest spike was beyond Meta’s wildest dreams. Threads secured 5 million registrations in a matter of hours, before breezing past the competition to secure 100 million users in just five days. It was glorious, unprecedented and almost instantaneously became the most rapidly downloaded app in history.  Sure, it wasn’t live in the EU yet due to privacy law concerns, but with this kind of adoption it didn’t seem to matter.

A gigantic stumble

What many failed to predict was a sudden, terminal decline in active users on Threads following its launch. The app went from 2.3 million active users to 576,000 in the space of a month, a 79% drop in engagement. Considering its astronomical rise in popularity, a serious drop in traffic was almost guaranteed — but this was significant and sustained. Engagement was way, way down.

Meta’s woes were accelerated by a media and content creator feeding frenzy as word of the drop began to spread. The incredible success of Threads’ launch had made for excellent headlines, but the prospect of an even more public failure was simply irresistible schadenfreude. The new narrative was out: Threads was dead on arrival, it was the new Google Plus, the latest in an ever-growing line of Meta missteps.  

So, is Threads unravelling?

Despite the slightly dire situation Meta finds themselves in, we don’t think it’s time to count out Threads just yet. Why you might ask?

  1. Ease of adoption

    Firstly, Threads is a direct extension of Meta’s Instagram, transferring your pre-existing Instagram account handle, bio and follower base to the new platform when you sign up. The feature is a shrewd move from Meta, aimed at minimising one of the biggest friction points for users of new social media platforms — having to build a new audience from scratch. Active users might be low right now, but if a second wave of adoption comes it’ll be easier than ever to join the conversation.

    The app also intuitively connects you to other 'Threaders' you would be interested in, granting you immediate access to a wealth of content. This unique integration is powered by the data generated through your Instagram account and offers a level of immediate personalisation so far unseen in other apps in the market. Having such a large data pool to build recommendations on is a big leg up for a new social media platform, especially when holding user attention is a zero sum game. If they’re not on your platform, they’re on your competitors. The integration serves two of the most fundamental draws of social media: you’ll easily find content you like, and you’ll be able to join conversations that interest you.
  2. Ongoing volatility at X

    Secondly, the situation at X is still extremely volatile. Whilst they might currently be beating Threads in engaged users, there is no guarantee that a controversial future decision by X will not drive further users from the platform. If this happens, Threads is still front of mind as the go-to X alternative. If they keep building the platform — adding popular user requests and keeping their promises — we think it is entirely possible they could rise from the ashes.

    Elon Musk’s recent public musings about turning X into a paid-for service are a perfect example of this. Introducing a paywall at this stage in the platform’s lifecycle is a monumental decision that would significantly impact the way the platform is both viewed and used by people. Musk has claimed this would be a powerful way to tackle the rampant bot problem that’s long plagued the platform, but I’m not so convinced. It seems more probable that Musk is trying to fast-track the payments processing features he wants to see on his ‘everything app’, a la WeChat.

    Change is no bad thing to keep an app alive, but introducing features which radically change the user experience which drew so many people to the platform in the first place is a good way to drive your user base away.

    Which brings us to the final point: a potential split in the apps’ user bases along political lines.
  3. A political rift along user bases
    Whilst it would have seemed improbable just a couple of years ago, recent controversies have shown that businesses are increasingly being drawn into today’s highly partisan political sphere. Whilst this phenomenon has been slow to take off and largely constrained to certain, high-profile cases (think Bud Light) the narrative is changing quickly.

    Recently, an app called ‘Veebs’ made headlines with a unique selling point — use it to scan a product’s barcode and you’ll receive information about the businesses’ political leanings. Their promise? You tell us your political beliefs, we will tell you which products align with them. These kinds of innovations speak to a growing shift in consumer behaviour — an understanding that you can speak with your wallet.

    With Musk continuing to eagerly court the approval of the ever-growing right wing populist movement, X is increasingly becoming the de-facto platform of choice for deplatformed and extremist figures. Led by the promise of ‘censorship-free’ discussion with like-minded people, it is possible that more rightwingers will continue to support and adopt the platform, whilst left wing folk move towards Threads for their interactions — which promises more stringent moderation.

    A move to make X paid-for and payments-processing centric could only accelerate this move. The previously fringe idea that businesses are using financial services to price out right wing figures is rapidly becoming a central talking point amongst conservative pundits. In this wider context, X stepping in as a payments processor — led by a vocal proponent of unrestricted speech — suddenly makes a lot more sense. Could it be that Elon’s plan is not to compete with Threads as ‘the world’s town hall’ at all, but to instead corner a market that Threads actively wants no part of?

    Considering these rapidly changing conditions, Threads and X could well grow to be the first example of mainstream social media platforms that attract their user bases through political affiliation, instead of feature sets. Stay tuned.


Whilst we all enjoy gazing into our crystal ball from time to time, right now X is still walking tall as the text-based social platform of choice. Threads’ huge boom in popularity, followed by its equally catastrophic implosion, baffled pundits and analysts alike. The long distance race many predicted had turned into a 100 metre sprint — with a clear and surprising winner. However, when we look closer, a different story could well be emerging. Does the rapidly changing and increasingly partisan nature of X’s future aspirations mean we got it all wrong? Perhaps these are two companies competing in completely different disciplines. Only time will tell.