Threads Isn’t Twitter. It Has the Potential to Be Better.

Over the weekend, a substantive debate percolated on Threads, Twitter’s biggest competitor. The latest complaint: Several large accounts (with 100,000+ followers) claim their growth has stalled or stopped in the past few weeks.

Photo by Martin Martz

Aaron Rupar of Public Notice fame posted a Thread claiming his follower count has completely stopped despite having a highly engaged audience. For the uninitiated: Aaron built a massive following on Twitter (over 900,000) by covering the national political landscape in a way most national outlets don’t, specifically coverage of Trump and his rallies and speeches.

He’s been attempting to match his Twitter success on Threads. And I think I’m being generous here when I say he’s not thrilled.

Many other large accounts — you’ll see them in the thread itself — echoed his experience and frustration. Meta should care about this because Rupar is the kind of super user who makes platforms like it a lot of money. Still, the issue isn’t simple.

Other Threads users hopped and rightly pointed out that most large accounts complaining about growth engage very little with their followers. Meanwhile, writer and MSNBC contributor Molly Jong-Fast engages with her audience daily, including her followers’ posts. (She has one of the larger Threads presence with 275k followers).

So what’s really going on here, and what can we do about it?

No, Threads Isn’t Twitter

In essence, both sides are making good points. Clearly, Threads is throttling political content. There’s no other plausible explanation for flat follower numbers once you get over 100,000, especially when your audience regularly engages with your posts (as with Rupar’s).

It’s virtually impossible to stop growing completely, especially in light of Threads’ rapid and accelerated growth. Recent reports show the platform now has 150M active users, up a staggering 20M since February. So, the suggestion that they’ve run out of new users at least feels like a flimsy excuse.

However, many large creators also use Threads like they did “old” Twitter, which was essentially a megaphone. High-profile political and news personalities could drive massive growth on Twitter without a ton of deep engagement with their followers.

The Threads community rightly expects more. It’s a different world than when Twitter launched almost 20 years ago. Social media is increasingly (as I think it should be) about actual conversation and interaction, especially from accounts that post critical information like politics and news. The days of media and political elites broadcasting their thoughts without engagement are over.

The social space has matured. People don’t want to just read what’s happening on these platforms; they want high-quality interaction. Honestly, they’re right to demand it.

Social media is not meant to be a one-way street. Followers know they can eventually help you get big publishing or brand partnerships. Many big platforms have lucrative deals for accounts with tons of followers (Threads doesn’t yet, but let’s assume it will eventually). If you have massive follower counts, those people are making you money, and they know it. They deserve the recognition.

Daily engagement is a huge behavioral shift if you miss the “good old” Twitter days. It’s next to impossible to engage with every single comment if you have hundreds or tens of thousands of followers. It’s also hard to find time to exercise, but it’s still something we have to do every day.

Commenting and responding requires a lot more work. But, when you manage your time wisely (don’t argue with trolls, etc.), you’ll get bigger rewards. You can drive more sign-ups for your content (blog, YouTube, Patreon, web traffic, whatever you use to generate income) and retain far greater loyalty and enthusiasm when you treat your followers with the respect they deserve.

A New, Better Path Ahead For Social Media

For far too long, political and media elites had a stranglehold on the political narrative, and social media shifted that to allow more voices (especially voices from marginalized groups), and I am here for it.

Here’s an uncontroversial observation: Social media leveled the playing field. Writers with a ton of subject matter expertise can build a following that rivals any talking head on CNN (look at what Mike Goodnough, AKA The Hoarse Whisperer, built). That power structure threatened some people, and while it’s been a long time coming, I still think it was long overdue.

But Twitter eventually became part of the problem.

Old Twitter allowed those elites to hold onto power. It was one giant DC and Silicon Valley clique. How many times have we heard “Twitter isn’t real life?” It always held more sway than it should have. Facebook, for example, famously helped Donald Trump win in 2016 (both as a legal organizing tool for the right and also illegally by the Russian Government). Twitter never held that much sway with the general public, let alone coveted swing voters.

I sympathize with how Twitter became an object of fascination and engagement with certain verticals: journalism, politics, and sports. However, it’s important to remember that, as a business, it never measured up to the other platforms in terms of all the metrics that matter, especially traffic and revenue (and what else matters?). In fact, I advise my clients NEVER to put any ad money into Twitter. It has consistently been the worst-performing social media platform on which to advertise (even before Elon took over). Audience numbers globally are not now, or ever, been close.

Threads and other so-called Twitter “replacements” have flattened the social media curve (expect even more dynamics with more Fediverse adoption). That said, Threads has issues. Once solved, those improvements could help accelerate an overall improvement of Twitter’s halcyon days.

How can we all fix this, and who can fix it? Some of these improvements are up to Meta, and some of us are up to, well, us.

Common Sense Threads Improvements

Meta needs to provide more transparency about its algorithms.

Even though they’ve been asked countless times by national reporters like CNN’s Oliver Darcy, Meta has consistently refused to share publicly how it defined news. Meta is notoriously secretive about all of its internal data. Without knowing how the platform tags and defines “news” or “politics, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for political and news creators to thrive on Threads.

Fine, Meta has rules. We deserve to know them.

People need to stop treating Threads like a Twitter clone.

Threads of today is populated with millions of users who bolted Twitter in utter disgust. They don’t want that world again. They want one that’s more focused on community and less on broadcasting. You want to grow on Threads? You need to engage with your audience.

Yes, it’s harder to grow on Threads than Twitter. Let’s be honest. Do you really miss the tens of thousands of bot accounts and trolls? I know I don’t. Threads, and maybe rightly so, forces you to earn those followers. Treat them kindly. Humanize them. Respect their time and their thoughts. (They’re smart! They’re fun! What do you have to lose by having a little back-and-forth with them?) Good examples include Platformer’s Casey NewtonAndy Kaczynsky (CNN), and the fantastic journalist Sherrilyn Ifill.

Hey, Mr. Mosseri? We need Lists and DMs.

These features would make it easy for all creators (political and otherwise) to play by your rules (as ill-defined as they are). Let us create lists. Also, I miss Twitter DMs. I’d love to communicate directly with a new follower if I want to.

“Following” should be the default setting.

On most social networks, the main feed is filled with accounts you follow, but not on Threads. No, we don’t want the extra step of selecting the “Following” filter. Yes, we want you to change this so we get a feed filled with accounts we opted to follow. This would be an easy step and a mega-win for the early days of Threads. So, do it already.

In the end, everyone over the weekend was correct. Large accounts are being throttled. People need to stop using a recent platform launched in the 2020s like they did when it was 2005.

More transparency from Meta and engagement by popular, Rupar-like accounts will make Threads a much better platform for everyone to enjoy.

Thank you for reading. You can follow me on Threads here.