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How to get 100M downloads for the newly launched social media network? You will need 2 simple things: another social network with 2.3 billion accounts and a direct competitor who pisses off their loyal users.
However, we will not research the reason for Threads’ success today. The main topic of our article is to analyze: if this social network has the potential to retain its users and what features they would need for that.
Meanwhile, I will, of course, explain how to make Threads-like app. I’ll describe 6 steps that help you build any text-based social network, like Threads and Twitter. Also, you’ll get to know what features to include in the MVP when you’re building an app like Threads and how much it will cost.
My name is Mykhailo Aleksandrov, and I do apps for a living. I’m a Product Manager with 3-year expertise in building and maintaining social networks and marketplace apps. I hope you like digging deep into the details as much as I do, as there will be plenty of them in this article.
Sooo, let’s take a ride!
Threads <> Twitter
Even assuming that Meta didn’t want to pull Twitter’s users to their platform (which Meta obviously did), the incredible similarity between these two apps makes all users unintentionally compare them.
Moreover, the Threads launch happened a couple of weeks after Musk provided the limitation of posts displayed in the feed for non-paid accounts. The long rivalry between Musk and Zuckerberg definitely brings more spice into the story.
It’s worth mentioning that Threads don’t want to just copy Twitter, which would be boring and actually totally in Meta-style. Still, here we are.
Why Will (or not)Threads Become the Next Twitter?
Privacy… A word we don’t know
Meta is a huge villain as it goes to privacy and user data, and Threads is not an exclusion. Considering the Information provided by Meta about the Threads’ privacy shows that the app collects highly sensitive information about users in order to profile their digital activity — including health and financial data, precise location, browsing history, contacts, search history, and other sensitive information.
Meta launched the app in July 2023, but it still isn’t available in the EU because of privacy violations.
So, we downloaded it so that you wouldn’t have to.
Threads took the maximum advantage of their common database with Instagram. The profile filling is really easy with a button “Import from Instagram” — that covers the avatar, bio, and links.
Another big button, “Follow all accounts” subscribes you to all your Instagram contacts (and even the ones that are not yet in Threads).
So, in case my friend joins the app after me, I will automatically follow him (and he receives a new follower instantly). This was the first time when I had just logged in and already had 10 followers, which felt weird but exciting.
So Meta made a huge work to make the onboarding as easy as possible, but there is a huge con to such flow. The Ikea effect described in 2012 by Micheal Norton says: when people add more effort to products, they also add to their valuation of those products – meaning they’ll cherish them more.
In this case, a user has no emotional bond with the app during onboarding (this feeling of filling a new chapter of your personality). The time spent to sign up was insignificant. “I didn’t invest much effort into this app, I have nothing to lose if I quit.”
You can(not) delete your Threads account
And about quitting… I really wonder how this app got even published in the App Store, violating the most strict App Store rule since June 2022.
The user should be able to delete their account along with all their data.
The reality right now (September, 2023) is that the app offers only temporary deactivation. Apple, you saw that?
Meta claims that during onboarding, they communicate this to newcomers, but in reality, they made exactly enough effort to fulfill the legal questions, leaving users totally confused. And their naming in the App Store doesn’t actually help a lot because ”Threads, an Instagram app,” make it sound more like “Avatar, from the creators of Titanic”.
Actually, it doesn’t seem that Meta wants you to read anything about your privacy. You can at least see how the ”Learn more” buttons differ on the screens below.
Threads app has a minimalistic and ‘light’ design that might attract the attention of users who didn’t like Twitter because they felt overwhelmed with the content in it.
The first thing that gets your attention is that except for the Big Three of all networks: Likes, Reposts, and Comments, there is a “Direct” button, which basically connects you with your Instagram app and… provides the tweeting option as well. Why? Nobody knows.
From the Product Manager’s perspective, this “tweet” option gives you new potential members from Twitter. They’re supposed to see the duplicated posts in their feed and log in in Threads. Some kind of piggy-backing. But in reality, I didn’t see a single person on Twitter who’s used this button.
Another thing that catches my sight is that there is no Name in the User Profile, only a Username. And it does give this feeling of a cleaner design.
Product Designers also rethought Like and Comments counters, displaying them below the logos and making them out of context, which may make you feel anxious, as it disturbs the pattern we all were used to for decades (Like button - number of likes; Comment button - number of comments). But, frankly… you get acquainted.
The “thing” of the app is the arrangement of threads in comments under the posts. Meta designers made the Threads name distinguished in a visual way (you can see this “loop” on the gray thread line).
So, the name itself sets us some big expectations on the threads feature. And my thoughts were, “Ok, if this app has a better thread option than Twitter, I can sacrifice hashtags and posts translation. Because I love delving into comments so much!”
But was I eventually able to spot the difference? Nope. Moreover, Threads didn’t even cover the existing good parts of …threads on Twitter.
Despite the terrible UX design, users are writing threads on Twitter, reading them, and even reading them more often than traditional tweets.
And the secret sauce here is actually the Character limit. This limitation means:
- The author has to be brief: no water in the text;
- There is something intriguing about the hidden content. Every time you tap "show this thread," you feel like you open the book, and the only thing you know is its name;
- The text is divided into small portions that are extremely easy to scan and understand whether you need to read into it or just skip to another paragraph;
- The Like buttons are still there, which gives a huge opportunity for people who don’t want to read the whole text to catch the insights by just watching the number of likes under each tweet.
The most important: while reading small pieces of content, you get engaged, and you usually finish the thread without knowing.
Focusing on all of these psychological insights and improving the user experience would attract some content creators, who tend to write more than 280 chars posts but still don’t write articles on Medium.
Content in social media is a pinnacle of user retention and engagement, as according to the Pew Research Center, only 25% of users generate 97% of the whole content on Twitter.
Once you gain these active part of users, you will gain the whole market.
But… Did Threads improve threads? (Sorry)
- The post can be 500 chars long, which ruins the whole limitations magic;
- No features were presented that would help arrange long Threads;
- The logic of displaying comments is weird and looks random because more liked comments appear to be hidden
So, I guess the answer is not yet.
But let’s forget about the comments section because Twitter’s users are really frustrated with Elon’s new restrictions, so they can even wait for some time without hashtags and advanced recommendation algorithms.
The community is what’s considered to be the main part of Social networks’ user retention. And Threads shouldn’t have any problems with it, as each user can follow all their Instagram connections with a single button.
The community is what’s considered to be the main part of Social networks’ user retention.
But am I able to see the posts of the accounts I follow?
Why do I see these posts? What does Elle Singapore have to do with my feed? (I’m currently based in Ukraine)
People unable to read posts from accounts they follow is the most common complaint in app reviews right now, which makes the app rating 2.8/5 stars in the App Store.
Why do Threads do this? From the Product Manager side, you can assume that they weren’t prepared for such massive user acquisition and UCG level and just set some universal algorithm that shows 5% of content to 100% of users in the feed.
But the main problem here is that among all these unknown posts, I can not see the posts from accounts I’m subscribed to.
The basic psychology pattern is that all actions in your product should lead to certain results. And based on my previous experience in social networks, when I follow the user, I see their posts in my feed.
This would have worked a decade ago when every person was thirsty for whatever content they got. I personally would be thrilled to see what Elle Singapore writes about.
But now, people are so used to personalization that these features become almost vital for social networks.
No wonder this frustrates so many users:
Clubhouse + Collapse = Clublapse?
Another thing that is vital for user retention is building user habits for your app.
Where and when will your users use your app? How often do you want them to open it throughout the day?
Answering these questions might help form key triggers that motivate people to look into your app.
You also want to reward your users or give them some kind of a treat for performing actions that you want them to do. This may not be some rewards or badges. For social networks, you can just give them high-quality content or acknowledgement from other users in the form of likes and comments. But if I can’t see my friends’ posts, neither can they.
Google selected author Nir Eyal describes it quite well in his book Hooked:
"The best retention metric is the ‘percentage of habituated users’."
This metric is specific to each app. If it’s a fitness app, a habituated user may be using it three times a week. If you’re building a social network, a habituated user probably interacts every day.
However, there does seem to be a critical cutoff where, if a product is not used within a week, it’s tough to change a consumer’s habit.
I would be such active as I could in the first days after the launch of my network. Because if I’m not using my own app, then who will? Mark Zuckerberg disappeared from the platform for the week. But who knows, he might just had a busy week.
Threads MVP scope — are all features there?
How do you select the features for MVP?
Instagram features are designed to trigger social behavior, not create it. No media is social, rather it’s human beings that are social. Instagram and Twitter aren’t social networks, they are systems that afford certain social behavior.
This is an important distinction to make when deciding which “social media” tools to use and how to use them.
An obvious comparison is that of Facebook vs. LinkedIn. Technically speaking, both platforms allow you to create a profile and interact with other people. The ones that are in your network get access to more information in your profile. So, when looking at the core functionalities of the two platforms, they may not seem all that different, yet, they are clearly framed and used differently.
So, as with all apps, we come to the JTBD framework, where we think about what specific job your user is about to do with your application.
As I have a perfect opportunity to be Threads’ Product Manager for these 10 minutes, I would focus on the comments section.
Nowadays, the goal of each MVP of the app is to suggest some distinctive experience and purpose of the app. We have Uber for taxi, we have Instagram for … well, a lot of stuff, but mainly posting photos and shopping, and we have Twitter for reading quick and verified updates from truthful sources. And there is no need to create a copy of any of these apps.
My users should know and understand that the Threads app is made for communication under posts. And this communication will be as easy and clear as in real life.
So I wouldn’t need any:
- post translation;
- edit option;
- searching by keywords.
I just want to highlight that, in my opinion, these features are not essential for the MVP of a social media app like Threads. Plus, such functionality as post translation and keyword search takes more development time to implement. And with MVP, you should move fast.
I would definitely add the following features to the MVP of a social media app like Threads:
- decrease the post and comment characters limitation;
- provide clear algorithms of comments prioritization (f.e. more liked posts appear on top);
- focus on providing some instruments for comments and posts management, like tagging, etc.
- provide a separate trending feed with posts that gain the most comments through this day/week/month to still give the ability to discover new content for accounts that haven’t followed anyone yet.
Of course, these all are hypothetical improvements that have to be carefully tested. However, the main objective is to empower your initial goal with features that help users to do their jobs.
How to Make an App Like Threads: 5 Key Steps
We are done with the analysis part. So let’s move to the practical thing and talk about how to make Threads like app.
Step 1 – Find a starting point
There are many ways of finding that BIG problem you want to work on. But the main thing here is that it must be significant. Coz the problem will later dictate the value you’ll offer to users of your social media app and the reason why they use it.
I recommend trying out a bunch of ideas and then figuring out what you like and why. Here are some pointers:
- Find a BIG problem that nobody solved yet. Early in Uptech, we worked on a platform for buying and renting homes in Dubai – Nomad. We quickly grew frustrated at how chaotic and messy the Dubai real estate market is and how challenging it is for people to search for homes. So we started to work in that way.
- People who are cautious about buying things want something different. You might be able to get someone to try a new social app, but big companies won't use a new kind of software unless it's proven to work. Replacing their current tools with new ones is harder than trying something new. It's easier to sell a product to someone who doesn't have anything similar already.
Step 2 – Validate PoC
Since you believe there's a problem, your next step is to find out if others also notice the same problem. To do this, create a PoC (proof of concept).
Think of the PoC as a basic version that shows your product idea.
What would I do if I were thinking of making a new social media app like Threads?
I’d pick a similar app that's already out there, like Twitter. Then, find people who use Twitter and show them my PoC and see what they think.
My main goal here is to find out if these Twitter users see any problems with the app they're using. I’d ask them about the things they might not like or the issues they face. This will give a clearer picture of where my idea of making a social media app like Threads makes things better.
Step 3 – Decide on Your Business Model for Long-term Success
In the end, your social media app must not just captivate users but offer a profitable future.
Investors like to see the exact numbers, so it's essential to have a plan for making money or at least an idea about it. You can definitely take some time to brainstorm, but it's crucial to come up with 1-3 main ways you'll generate revenue when you're ready to move forward.
I advise you to select a business model that fosters sustainable growth while securing revenue streams. Here are two popular models that suit social media apps:
- Freemium: Free sign-up with basic features, premium services for subscribers. LinkedIn exemplifies this, charging for premium tools.
- Advertising: Relying on ads for revenue, Facebook and Instagram thrive. It's about massive user growth and targeted ads.
Step 4 – Validate your MVP by recruiting real users
I skip the MVP development part as you can read everything about how to build MVP in Uptech’s guide: How to build MVP: step-by-step guide. Once you have something for users to try out, it's time to move to step 4. At this stage, you validate more effectively because you have an actual product people can interact with.
The main objective here is to find out if people care about what you've made. There are 2 categories of people you need at this stage:
- Early Adopters: a group of people who show a great interest in buying a product even before its market release, despite potential flaws. They're the ones who like to be the first to try something new and are drawn to novel technologies. Early adopters tend to be more open to taking risks than other buyers. Engaging with them can bring in early revenue and crucial product feedback.
- Users: This group is inclined to accept innovations, but they're a bit more cautious than early adopters. They might start using new products once a sizable number of people have already adopted them. The point of significance is when the "early majority" embraces the innovation — this suggests that it's now part of mainstream consciousness.
So, use early adopters for initial feedback, promotion, and validation, while users are crucial for transitioning your innovation into a product embraced by the wider population.
Step 5 – Content is the King
In any social media app, content takes the lead. Consider Instagram: it kicked off by letting users share photos and apply filters. Twitter began with short messages and updates. Both grew massive user bases by focusing on content that engaged and connected people.
Initially, you might consider purchasing posts or engaging content from creators. Alternatively, you could implement algorithms that swiftly propel users to fame, attracting them to your platform.
Take TikTok, for instance, where any video posted 6 years ago garnered millions of views. I admit, that many of these views were generated by bots, but it worked because people desired recognition.
Step 6 – Validate your product by retaining users
If you’ve done everything right and people show an interest in your social media app, now it's time to make them return for more.
First, determine the expected frequency of usage and check if users are roughly aligning with that. If you can consistently solve their problems, users will keep coming back.
- Make sure you've set up analytics to track user retention.
- Avoid relying solely on tactics like push notifications just to get users back into your product. If you need such efforts to retain users, your product might not be valuable to them.
- Concentrate on building features that enhance your product's usefulness or ease of use. Look at the block with the features I described above.
After you've seen some usage, gather both qualitative and quantitative feedback. Track which features are getting the most use, ask for feedback through surveys and observe users as they interact with your product.
Begin "closing the loop" with users. It's a simple way to improve your product.
Things You Need to Complete the Game
Product design expertise inside your team
The importance of product expertise in your design team might be greater than you realize. When it comes to social media app, it's essential to create a mobile-first design and apply to common design patterns.
Perfection in every pixel isn't a major concern. Translating research data into a user-friendly design is key.
At Uptech, you will find UX&UI designers who don’t attempt to achieve perfection on the first go. They are swift and iterative.
A great team of developers
When hiring app developers, non-tech founders may pay attention to many things, like years of experience, tech stack, etc. But I think there are 2 things that need more of your attention:
- Focus on full-cycle development
- Communication between developers and designers
Choose a development team that offers full-cycle development services that includes frontend, backend, and QA. You can’t imagine how much time you’ll save by hiring a full-cycle dev team.
The second thing is communication. It’s a common situation when developers don’t communicate with the designers properly. For example, some devs don’t say they cannot implement some things that designers draw. In the end, it can cause longer dev time and delayed release dates.
We at Uptech practice the triada approach. It means that we engage our Solution Architect, Designer, and Project Manager at the very beginning of the development process. And it works perfectly! We find the fastest implementation options, conduct sketching sessions with the team, and synchronize at every step.
Threats is a new kid on the block. You need time and user feedback to understand which feature your users are eager to have. And still, even the number of Threads users who never returned to their feed might be huge.
Meta did a great job with inviting and onboarding all current users. I hope that they will not go the way Clubhouse did. And I also hope that they will figure out an alternative to the ads monetization model and will not ruin this app as they did with Instagram.