Pulling at loose Threads: should the art world sign up to the latest social media app?

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As the expression goes, there is no rest for the wicked. So while many of us were trying to take a well-earned rest this summer, a new social media app burst onto the scene. Threads—the latest platform from Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram—launched on 5 July seemingly set on one thing: the takedown of Twitter (now rebranded as X… which is a whole other story). But with a growing number of social media platforms, and dwindling time and budgets with which to manage them, should artists and art organisations even bother signing up?

Meta has been cooking up the Threads app—which it describes as “an app built by the Instagram team, for sharing text updates and joining public conversations”—ever since Elon Musk’s takeover of X in April 2022. Mark Zuckerberg, the Meta boss, made a plan with the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, to create a rival app to lure away disgruntled X users. In fact, it launched a week earlier than planned to “capitalise on Twitter’s [X’s] high-profile stumbles”, according to the Washington Post. The Threads app functions a lot like X but has been designed to work through Instagram: “You log in using your Instagram account and posts can be up to 500 characters long and include links, photos and videos up to five minutes in length,” Meta’s press release says.

So how is the new app—described by The Washington Post as a “bare-bones Twitter clone”—faring? Initially, it took the world by storm, gaining 100 million users in the first five days. A month later, engagement on the app dropped by 79% according to the analytics firm Similarweb. The rushed launch has been blamed for a lack of functionality on Threads, and the app is rapidly adding updates.

So should artists and arts organisations be joining? “What Threads does offer the art world is an opportunity to forge a new personality on a new platform, at the ground floor,” says Alec Ward, the digital skills manager at Culture24, a UK charity supporting arts and heritage organisations. “Despite Threads losing users, there will be some people who stick with the platform and as Meta adds more features there will likely be another surge in users. If cultural organisations can carve out a little niche on the platform early, they might be able to ride that wave and build up a decent following.”

Anecdotally, many art worlders have shared that they joined Threads in the initial upsurge and now keep it as a silent insurance policy in case X implodes. Verity Babbs, an art critic-comedian and presenter, says that Threads is now as neglected as the X app on her phone. “Threads positioned itself initially as a friendlier X, and I still think of it as that. But the sense that one could make any real impact on there has faded. I just wish it had been released as another tab on the Instagram app—maybe then it would see some scrolling action.”

So what to do? “Cultural organisations are stretched, under-resourced, underfunded and firefighting,” says Ward. “So my blanket advice would be to hold off and see what happens.” Watch this space.

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