Threads vs. Twitter: 3 Lessons on Change and Disruption

If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve probably heard about the clash between Twitter and its new rival, Threads. This is a new app launched by Meta, the parent company of Instagram, which operates similarly to Twitter and has quickly gained immense popularity. Within a mere fve days of its launch, Threads amassed an astonishing user base of 100 million. For context, ChatGPT took 2 months to reach the same number of users, while Twitter itself took over a decade to build out a base of approximately 400 million users.

However, the significance of this story extends beyond mere media coverage. The Threads vs. Twitter Saga carries profound lessons on change and disruption for leaders. Here, we explore three crucial takeaways from this ongoing battle:

1. Industries are constantly being disrupted and not even the giants are "safe."

Industries are constantly being disrupted, and even the giants are not immune to these changes. If you had predicted five years ago that troves of users would abandon Twitter for a new social network, nobody would have believed you. But today, you’d be proven right.

We often mistakenly assume that most industries undergo minimal change and that established giants are insulated from disruption. Yet, in reality, change is the only constant in the business world, and it’s happening faster than ever. No company, regardless of its size, is insulated. The overnight success of Threads serves as a prime example, but it’s not the only one. A few months ago, even Google was scrambling to launch its own AI search co-pilot, Bard, in order to compete with Microsoft's OpenAI-powered Bing Chat.

In a talk at Latticeworks in December 2022, Christopher Tsai, President and Chief Investment Officer of Tsai Capital, argued that "investors continuously underestimate the speed at which disruption transforms business and society.”

He referenced McKinsey research, which revealed a significant decline in the average lifespan of listed companies in the S&P 500, decreasing from 58 years in 1958 to approximately 18 years today.

This is a staggering statistic! And given the rapid pace of change, this average lifespan is likely to decrease even more rapidly in the coming years.

The lesson:

Whether you’re a major player or an up-and-coming star in your industry, your organization isn’t insulated from change. To thrive amidst disruption, organizations must proactively cultivate change readiness and the ability to pivot swiftly. This means each employee must hone their change skills, while the organization as a whole must establish the internal structures, processes, and infrastructure that allow for agility and adaptability. By being prepared for change, you can not only withstand disruptions but also capitalize on the opportunities they bring and rise to the top.

2. To disrupt at the right moment, you have to start early.

Threads wasn’t an overnight creation, but the result of years of vigilance and effort. As early as 2013, Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his belief that Twitter wasn’t taking full advantage of its potential, famously stating:

Twitter is such a mess — it's as if they drove a clown car into a gold mine and fell in.

Despite failed attempts to acquire Twitter, Zuckerberg closely monitored the competition. Following Elon Musk's controversial acquisition of Twitter and the mounting dissatisfaction from brands, influencers, and advertisers, Meta committed resources to develop its own text-based app.

Across the company, Meta had employees “playing” with iterations of a text-based platform, considering options as a standalone app or an integrated tab within Instagram. Meta prepared itself to seize any opportunity that arose from the “volatility” and “unpredictability” of Twitter’s operations after its acquisition.

By investing in developing its ideas, Meta was prepared to launch Threads when the right moment arrived. This opportunity presented itself when Twitter implemented a change that irked users — capping the number of tweets they could view per day. Taking advantage of this frustration, Threads was launched ahead of schedule.

The lesson:

To effectively capitalize on disruption, it’s crucial to keep a watchful eye on market dynamics and industry trends. Organizations must anticipate change, foster a culture of innovation and continuous creativity, and be ready to act decisively when the right moment arises.

3. Capitalize on your existing strengths

One of the primary reasons that Threads added 100 million users within days of its launch (with minimal paid advertising), is of course that it capitalized on Instagram’s existing user base of 2 billion people. By utilizing notifications and seamless integrations for reposting, Threads swiftly introduced itself to a vast audience.

But that’s not all it did. It strategically tapped into other strengths of Meta’s social networks. For instance, it built upon Instagram’s reputation as a vibrant community and positioned itself as a “sane”, less toxic, and more positive version of Twitter. This deliberate approach influenced product decisions, such as designing an algorithm that avoids fuelling controversy and hate speech, as hinted by Mosseri and Zuckerberg. Consequently, users have embraced the more “positive vibes” of Threads.

The lesson:

Identify your organization’s existing capabilities and strengths so you can leverage them to your advantage. These strengths may not be immediately apparent but can provide a competitive edge. For example, do you have a network of partners that can provide more services than your competition? Does your customer success team shine in your industry? By closely evaluating your strengths, you can discover hidden opportunities and determine how to best leverage them for success.

Will Threads will maintain its momentum and dethrone Twitter for good? That remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the ongoing Threads vs. Twitter saga shows us that change and disruption never stop. To thrive amidst these forces, organizations and employees must be prepared, adaptable, and capable of leveraging their existing strengths. This way, you can withstand the winds of change if they try to knock you down, or ride them to the top when the opportunity strikes.

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