If you can’t beat them, copy them.
That’s generally been Mark Zuckerberg‘s go-to strategy when it comes to dealing with upstart competitors to his social media empire.
Long gone are the days when Instagram was just a feed of photos as was its original vision, with two of its now marquee features ripped straight from Snapchat (Stories) and TikTok (Reels).
Other cases of cherry-picking from the wider web haven’t gone so smoothly – you might not even have heard of Bulletin, a Substack-like service for subscription newsletters; or Sparked, an online dating service; both of which got shut down before they got close to rivalling their obvious sources of inspiration.
But with Threads, another new app from Meta, this time clearly taking after Twitter, there’s reason to believe Zuckerberg is bullish about its chances of catching on – and in a big way.
Launching on Thursday after months of rumours, it’s been billed as a text-focused platform “where communities come together to discuss everything from the topics you care about today to what’ll be trending tomorrow”.
It sounds – and certainly looks – incredibly familiar, almost shamelessly so.
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But Zuckerberg has never appeared to feel an ounce of shame about taking other companies’ ideas, and will see Twitter as a wounded animal – one which he thinks he can not just copy, but beat.
“I always thought that Twitter should have a billion people using it,” he told podcaster Lex Fridman earlier this year.
“That idea, coupled with good execution, should get there.”
Shots fired – but one key decision could give him a good chance of hitting his target.
Threads will allow users to keep the same username and follow the same accounts as they do on Instagram, which makes starting out a far easier proposition for the photo-sharing app’s two billion users.
If even a fraction of them make the move, Threads will instantly dwarf other Twitter-likes such as Bluesky and Mastodon, while potentially making rapid advances on Twitter’s estimated user base of 360-400m.
The appetite is clearly there for a Twitter alternative due to Elon Musk‘s incendiary ownership, with his latest controversial move to apply temporary reading limits for all accounts reigniting many people’s desire to leave.
Zuckerberg faces long and painful road to metaverse success
Of course, the most important ingredient for any social media platform is the people you connect with – and if your Twitter followers haven’t all picked the same new home, your Bluesky or Mastodon feed will feel a bit lonely.
Chances are, more of your favourite people on Twitter are on Instagram than anywhere else. And other than the sheer number of users Instagram has, the greatest feather in its cap is just who those users are.
Threads could feasibly draw upon Instagram’s huge line-up of celebrities, athletes, politicians, sports clubs, news outlets and brands to give it an immediate leg-up on other Twitter-likes.
There’s no doubt Meta’s new platform has been built with a mainstream audience in mind.
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It’s been quite a while since Zuckerberg enjoyed any positive buzz, given Facebook’s user privacy scandals and criticism of his metaverse strategy, while a generation of young people are growing up preferring TikTok for their social media kick. Growth at the platform that made him famous, Facebook, has long stalled, and Meta’s two other most successful platforms – Instagram and WhatsApp – were simply bought.
But if Threads works out, Zuckerberg will see it as proof that one of Silicon Valley’s original tech bros has still got it.
If it doesn’t, he’ll just have to beat Musk in the ring.