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July 12, 2023

How Philly is using Threads, the new social media app from Meta

Everyone from local sports teams to street art bloggers is experimenting with the fast-growing alternative to Twitter

One week since its launch, Threads is exploding. 

The new, text-based social media app was debuted by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, on July 5th as a direct challenger to Twitter. In its first five days, Threads amassed 100 million users, unseating ChatGPT as the fastest-growing online platform ever. According to preliminary data, brands already are reporting better engagement on Threads than they are on Twitter as users flee the Elon Musk-owned social network.

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 Whether Threads has staying power or poses an enduring threat to Twitter remains to be seen, but one thing is already clear: Philly has logged on

Post by @snacktime
View on Threads

SEPTA, PECO, Comcast, WawaVisit Philly and just about every major Philadelphia sports team wasted no time setting up shop and posting content on Threads. And while he hasn't posted anything yet, soon-to-be-outgoing Mayor Jim Kenney has reserved his Threads account. Several Philly musicians, from Snacktime to the Roots, have also started using it, as have local food-and-drink establishments like Fiorella, Forin Cafe and Whipped Bakeshop

And as is typically the case, media outlets like PhillyVoice and the Philadelphia Inquirer were among the first to kick the tires on the latest social media platform. For its part, the Inquirer compared the Twitter-vs.-Threads rivalry to the one between Pat's and Geno's.

Philly's first impressions: How Threads stacks up so far 

For Philly's actively online digerati, the arrival of Threads has been met with a mix of hope and hesitation. For many, the platform feels like it could be a promising alternative to traditional social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have seen dips in popularity and engagement in recent years. This hunger for a new online community is especially urgent for longtime users of Twitter, who have been fleeing the platform in large numbers in response to dramatic, functionality-altering changes instituted after Musk bought it last October.

"I like it!" said Conrad Benner, who runs the street art-focused social media brand Streets Dept. "For whatever concerns I have about (Mark) Zuckerberg, Elon's destroying of Twitter has pushed me to be interested in a platform like Threads. And so far I've been impressed."

Threads may offer respite for Twitter refugees, but with some glaring limitations for longtime users. Common social media platform functions like hashtags, desktop access and direct messages are missing from Threads, at least for now. In 2023, these features may seem like table stakes for a social media product, and their exclusion from Threads is puzzling considering they're built into both Instagram, the sister app of Threads, and Twitter, its chief rival.

The fact that the service is related to an existing and massive social media platform — you need an Instagram account to use Threads — presents both advantages and downsides for users.

"It's been very easy to start," said Benner, a longtime user of Instagram with 150,000 followers. "I like how it rolls over followers from Instagram, and most importantly, a lot of the people I like were there as soon as I joined."

'Is this thing on?' The promise and peril of a fast-growing platform

While piggybacking off of an existing social media giant helps Threads and its individual user accounts grow quickly, it also raises questions about the nature of the communities and discourse that will emerge over time. Indeed, questions about the purpose of Threads and how best to utilize it have been a prevalent theme during its first week of existence.

"Honestly not sure how to use this platform yet," Fishtown-based artist Lauren Rinaldi wrote in a recent post on Threads. "Is it Facebook in a Twitter disguise? Do I want my IG friends to see my true, unhinged Twitter form? Do I share my work here? What is going on?" ​​

This uncertain sentiment — and the "is-this-thing-on?" virtual mic-tapping gesture that accompanies it — is somewhat inevitable for any new platform. On Threads, many users are showing up to the party feeling unsure of what to do.

"A few days into Threads, and I still feel like something is off about the platform," Rinaldi told PhillyVoice. "And, for me as an artist, it feels like work. Probably because it's an extension of Instagram, which is the only social media I use almost exclusively for work. So I'm being a little more careful about what I share there, which I do not like."

Post by @laurinaldi
View on Threads

For many, the default scale and influence of Threads makes it feel like something they need to utilize whether they want to or not. 

"I'll use Threads because now I feel like I have to," Rinaldi said. "But I won't use it like Twitter. I'll likely share my work and art-related thoughts and musings, at least for now." 

For Benner and his popular Philly street art coverage, Threads is proving to be a worthwhile potential alternative to Twitter, which he said feels "more and more like a closing mall" thanks to decreasing levels of user activity and engagement. Whether Threads succeeds in its goal of sustainably soaking up Twitter's users, engagement metrics and clout as a social media platform is something that only time — certainly more than one mere week — will tell. For now, both apps are trucking along and duking it out for prominence.

"I've been on Twitter since 2008, so I won't be throwing in the towel anytime soon," Benner said. "But if the last week is any indication, I'll be on Threads more." 

Are you giving Threads a try? So are we. You can follow PhillyVoice on Threads here