The UX of Threads’ downfall. When fast onboarding gets in the way of… | by Daniel de Mello | Feb, 2024


The growth hack was structured in a way that made it mandatory for you to connect your account with your Instagram profile.

They’d just take your profile data, pre populate your new profile and that’s it. You could also jumpstart your experience by connecting with friends from Instagram right away.

Well, here’s the issue: in the internet we keep multiple profiles, each serving a purpose and showing different sides of us.

On LinkedIn we show our professional selves, Instagram is more for friends and family, whereas on TikTok we show our content creator side. You get the idea.

Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman’s theory presented in his book “The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life” says people navigate life wearing various “masks”, like actors in a theatre play.

Now, how does that relate to the Threads case? The mandatory connection didn’t allow users to keep those separate “masks.”

“I was faced with an identity crisis. I’m a suburban mom on Instagram and an industry leader on Twitter”, says one of the iOS App reviews. It perfectly portrays my point here: the onboarding was seamless, but then things got awkward.

A review for Threads on the App Store that says “I was faced with an Identity crisis. I’m a suburban mom on Instagram and an industry leader on Twitter. I don’t mix the two and it felt awkward.”

Sometimes quick onboarding strategies can boost KPIs related to that step, but get in the way of long term retention.

Superhuman’s case is a great counterpoint: they made it mandatory to have a meeting with the CEO as part of their signing up. The goal was to go over the product and learn as much as possible before getting started.

At first glance, this adds friction to the UX. But it also adds a personal touch to the experience and forces people to take their time in getting to know what’s new.

Contrary to our tendency to hate friction, it was a net positive decision for the company as they showed this reduced churn.

Thread’s case is the exact opposite of that.

The mandatory attachment to Instagram might’ve had an effect on the content mix of the platform too. In the beginning, normal people were still tiptoeing since they didn’t want to drop their Instagram “mask.” Speaking freely, like many do on X, was unthinkable. It’s hard to be comfortable giving “hot takes” if your 62-year-old uncle is automatically following you.

On the other hand, brands or professional creators went for it at full speed. That’s their job.

This creates an environment where the majority of the content has a salesy, brand-like vibe.

In my research, I found many references to this reality:

Image showing comments on Redditt forums and an article on The New Yorker mentioning how content on Threads sounded salesy.

Another point worth mentioning is Thread’s decision to disfavor hard or political news from its algorithm.

For better or worse, those kinds of discussions drive engagement. A PNAS study found that “posts about political opponents are substantially more likely to be shared on social media.”

There are many sides to the debate on politics and social media. But for the UX, this surely contributed to a less engaging content mix.

Network effect is a business principle that states that the more people use a product, the more value it provides to existing users.

This is what makes social media businesses difficult to scale: until you have a certain number of users, it’s hard to generate a critical mass of content and keep people’s attention.

Threads launched at a time when X was experiencing a PR crisis. Elon’s acquisition threw fire on the politics and free speech discussions, and his platform was under scrutiny.

To many, it seemed like the perfect timing, but it wasn’t enough.

The truth is the two platforms are substitutes and when X has over 110 million active users, it’s just too hard for Threads to compete.

Rep. Alessandra Ocasio-Cortez is a good example: she is one of Musk’s strongest detractors and decided to stop threading a couple of weeks in. As we can see on the second chart, that’s exactly when Thread’s usage started to go downhill.

There’s no point in staying on a platform if there’s not enough people to interact with.

On the other hand, her X account is active daily, approaching 15,1K tweets and 13.2M followers.


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