LONG READ: What the public sector needs to know about the new Meta app Threads

“You’re joking,” Brenda from Bristol may remark at the launch of new Meta app Threads. “Another one?”

Yes, another one. Welcome to the permanent change of technology as it evolves and races away from us all. We will look back and laugh at how we monumental we thought this was.

As Robert Philips said in ‘Trust Me PR is dead’ ‘Embrace chaos.’

So, Threads. I thought I’d get my head round it to update my training slides and blog something too. 

It is a freestanding platform but what gives it a leg-up is that people can plug into their Instagram account to follow their Instagram chums over on Threads. This immediately puts the turbo chargers onto your follower numbers. It also makes Threads pull ahead from competitors of the race to replace Twitter.  

It’s a Meta product which raises ethical concerns for some people and it’s not being introduced in the EU because of unresolved privacy issues.

Here’s what it looks like…

The operational basics

Threads is owned by Meta and is designed to go after Twitter’s space in the landscape. But it is not Twitter.

Posts can be 500 characters long.

Instagram blue verified tickets are passported across to Threads. 

You can follow people and people can follow you. 

An update is known as a ‘thread’.

You can quote a thread and retweet, sorry, repost it. 

It is designed to be more text driven but there is the ability to post five minute long video as well as images. You can also post links.

In some ways it feels like an old school messageboard. You post a thread. You can add to the thread with more posts. Or people can add their own thread, too. But the different is it is more open.

You can repost a thread in the same way that you can retweet something.

There is an offensive words filter on as default. You can create your own custom words and phrases that you don’t want to see.

At the moment the feed is ‘lightly curated’ but the option will be introduced for a chronological feed like old school Twitter was.

The rules of engagement are Instagram’s rules of engagement. 

One big difference to Twitter 

On Threads hashtags don’t work and when you search you can only search for names. This means that it is less about big wide spaces and more about narrow niches. 

For example, on Twitter search for ‘Brexit’ and you’ll find a chunk of the conversations with the word in. You’ll also find hashtags with the word in. You’ll find Twitter accounts. This leads you to some quite vocal back and forth.  

Search the same word on Threads and you’ll find accounts with that word in and that’s it. Sure, you can go and follow them and the people they’re friends with. But its more of an effort where with Twitter it was easy. 

The hashtag functionality has been highlighted as something that may follow. 

And yes, unlike Twitter you can read more than 600 tweets in a day. 

The platform is designed to allow you to take your followers with you lock stock and barrel if you fancy flouncing. 

There will be no ads until a billion users join Threads, Meta say. 

What will be rewarded

Instagram head Anton Mosseri has been active in the first few days of Threads by explaining the platform and spelling out how they’d like to see it used. 

The things you need to know, in his words, are: 

  • “Threads is designed for public conversations.”
  • “It’s less about text versus photos and videos and more about what public conversations you want to have. Do you want to engage in more of a back and forth Threads makes sense. If not, great probably more Instagram.”
  • “We’re hoping this can be an open and friendly platform for conversations. The best thing you can do if you want that too is to be kind.”

What the public sector need to know 

This is not Twitter. It’s a tank on Elon Musk’s lawn but at this stage it does slightly different things. 

This is not an emergency planning breaking news tool. Meta have been clear to distance themselves from the practice of news. Journalists are on and some titles but you have to search for them by name rather than bump into them on particular news topics.

This has not yet reached the tipping point for the public. There’s no doubt that 70 million users in the first 24-hours is impressive but the platform has not settled in yet and there’s no published detail of UK user numbers. 

This has tools to cut down on snark. There’s a pre-installed list of banned swear words and you can add your own key words, too. This may be handy for the harassed public sector social media admin. You can also limit who can reply to a thread, too. But don’t make the world smell of fresh paint. If you are stopping reasonable feedback people aren’t stupid. They’ll see. 

This is worth taking out a profile on to stop cyber squatting. It’s early days and four days after launch there are 44 UK councils including Braintree, Oxfordshire, Torbay, Aberdeenshire, Telford & Wrekin and Liverpool.  For fire and rescue there’s 10 including London, West Midlands, Devon & Somerset, Humberside, Surrey and South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue. For NHS there’s 46 including NHS South West, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Trust and Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust.  

There is a discussion about privacy and ethics but this isn’t a place for the public sector. I may have a particular view on this but as a press officer I dealt with media queries from The Sun and the Daily Mail. These wouldn’t be publications I’d buy. That doesn’t matter. As a press officer, my job was to deal with debate wherever the debate was taking place. It didn’t matter if that was a national newspaper or the weekly newspaper letters page. That debate is for others. 

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