Combined with messaging, gaming and in-app shopping, Threads is another step by Meta on its journey to constructing a pseudo-metaverse, writes Mitesh Lakhani.

Threads isn’t just the main contender to Twitter’s (now X’s) throne. It’s true that Threads’ near-identical features give it the air of a “just-in-case” platform: ready to take over when Elon Musk’s apparent self-destruct mission is finally complete. But what’s more interesting for brands, and the wider digital media landscape, is the position it holds in Meta’s expanding universe. 

Although Mark Zuckerberg’s aims to lead metaverse development haven’t exactly gone to plan, Threads could soon become part of the next best thing. Along with Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, the platform seems set to create an enclosed one-stop-shop not unlike WeChat, where users can perform multiple daily tasks without having to leave the system. 

For brands, Meta’s latest evolution is packed with potential at multiple levels. This not only includes a high probability of in-platform advertising for Threads, but also the possibility of broader engagement opportunities across its mega walled garden. If, that is, the technology giant can overcome key challenges to retaining user interest and navigating data use issues.

The metaverse could be materialising – but not as expected

Last year’s red-hot metaverse hype has fizzled down to a simmer. Despite Gartner’s optimistic estimates of broad daily use by 2026 and major buzz around imminent gaming activations, all-inclusive virtual worlds are far from materialising, with some commentators declaring the whole concept dead. But while it is clear that we won’t be seeing a fully “embodied internet” any time soon (if at all), this doesn’t mean the dream is entirely over.

Stripped back to its bare essentials, the metaverse vision is about an online space that houses many interconnected tools and services. As realists such as Randi Zuckerberg (sister to Meta’s CEO) have pointed out, developing this type of metaverse-esque environment is not only achievable, but also already happening – in the form of individual walled gardens.

All of which brings us to Meta.

Following in the footsteps of WeChat, Meta has been adding to its social technology suite piece-by-piece over the past decade. Threads is therefore both a smart move to capitalise on rising user frustration with the freshly rebranded X and extend its ever-evolving walled garden. Combined with text- and image-based messaging, gaming options, and in-app shopping via Instagram, its new microblogging arm brings Meta another step closer to covering every digital need. Or, in short, cultivating a pseudo-metaverse.

What are the possible positives for brands?

Key among prospective brand benefits is considerable advertising reach across an integrated ecosystem. As increasingly diverse features and functions win more users – and keep them in one place – Meta will be able to offer greater scale than ever, as well as enhanced ad trading simplicity. On the media buying front, for instance, that might include the obvious advantage of streamlined deal management, in addition to better pricing for bulk purchases.

With varied owned touchpoints, of course, also comes valuable data access. Meta’s visibility of (almost) end-to-end user journeys will give it the capacity to collate comprehensive insights about interactions, interests and preferences – with control over data handling allowing for efficient syncing, harmonisation and activation of unified data stores, alongside refined user segmentation. In theory, that could present potent multi-platform targeting opportunities; giving brands the ability to deliver seamless campaigns that foster deep audience connections through precise insight-powered relevance and consistently engaging experiences.

Moreover, with key platforms such as Facebook and Instagram seeing greater numbers of low-activity and dormant users – and subsequently falling short on reach for multiple audience pools – there is room (and incentive) for Meta to tap insights about opted-in and active Threads users to improve targeting on its legacy platforms. This would be a win in itself for the company, and music to advertiser ears.

Realisation of this potential, however, will depend on tackling privacy hurdles. After the latest judgement on Meta’s bid to use legitimate interest for ad-centric data processing under GDPR rules, consent will likely be a core aspect of future efforts. In fact, challenges delaying Threads’ implementation in Europe – including concerns about how sensitive user data is collated and protected – could help provide some positive momentum for swifter changes.

Stitch-by-stitch: the current Threads picture

With grander walled garden possibilities still some way off, focus will primarily stay fixed on Threads, and the picture is unsurprisingly mixed. Meta’s launch tactics of facilitating easy setup using Instagram details, and mimicking familiar X elements, successfully fuelled record-fast adoption, hitting 100 million users in five days. Moreover, enabling users to port across Instagram networks has also equipped brands with a convenient ready-made follower base.

The biggest question right now is when advertising options will land. Meta has confirmed it will be applying the tried-and-tested tack of nurturing user confidence (and numbers), before exploring business models that won’t compromise experience quality – AKA finding non-disruptive ways to inject ads. Given the company’s well-established favourability towards ad-supported monetisation, it’s very probable brands won’t have to wait long.

In the meantime, many firms have begun experimenting with a blend of soft promotion and light-hearted interaction. At the overt end, that includes free giveaways aimed at bolstering followers by the likes of Anthropologie and sponsored influencer partnerships from streaming players such as Hulu. Taking a subtler route, quirky brands and media outlets such as Ladbible are striving to foster authentic relationships via humorous posts and memes.

Weaving a sustainable path forward

Figuring out how to stimulate and sustain user interest will remain a top priority, especially with recent analysis showing sizeable drop off in active Threads engagement. This decline isn’t necessarily unexpected after the platform’s massive initial boom, but improvements in stickiness are needed to curb the risk of brands eventually shouting to no one.

Part of that may entail mirroring further useful X features, such as hashtags, chronological feeds and search tools. Again, however, developing secure methods of harnessing user data is likely to have the greatest lasting impact, helping Meta go beyond highlighting Threads posts on its other properties (such as Instagram), and start leveraging insights to provide more tailored on-platform content suggestions and meaningful experiences.

A feeling of uncertainty makes sense at this early stage. Brands heading into what is still an unknown environment haven’t yet determined the best strategy for capturing attention and driving strong returns; and nor, arguably, has Meta. At the least, what Threads will provide is a relatively active user base for Meta to harness, mostly likely through advertising. 

Wise businesses, however, will be looking past short-term opportunities alone to consider where this new venture could fit in the technology behemoth’s rich tapestry of platforms. More than the likely successor to Musk’s beleaguered X, Threads is the latest play in a very high-stakes game – where the prize is ultimate online dominance.

My final piece of advice for brands contemplating what steps to take next is embracing this trend, including cultivating their presence across the Meta board to ensure they are firmly inside its growing walled garden.