Why Higher Ed Marketers Should Pay Attention to Instagram’s New App Threads

Posted: July 18, 2023

Christian Jessup Company Marketing Manager

Noticed a number or a swirling icon next to some of the people you follow on Instagram? Instagram, the popular photo and video sharing app owned by Meta (formerly Facebook), has recently launched a new text-based app called Threads that allows users to post for their followers.

Sound familiar? It is. Threads is Meta’s latest attempt to compete with Twitter, which has been facing backlash from users over its controversial policies, limited features, and newly announced daily content limit. But what does Threads mean for higher ed marketers? How can they use this new app to reach their target audiences, promote their institutions, and connect with their communities? Here are some points to consider.

Threads is Meta’s latest attempt to compete with Twitter.

Why People Are Leaving Twitter

Twitter has been one of the most popular social media platforms for higher ed marketers, as it allows them to share news, updates, events, research, and other content with their followers. Twitter also enables them to interact with prospective students, alumni, faculty, staff, and influencers in real time. However, Twitter has also faced a lot of criticism and controversy recently.

Earlier this year we wrote about the “Twitter Tumult” facing marketers in all fields. Following Elon Musk’s takeover of the social platform, there was an immediate rise in hate speech, controversial changes to verification accounts, and technical performance issues.

These factors have led many users (and marketers) to look for alternatives to Twitter, which brings us to Threads.

What Is Threads?

Threads is a new app from Meta that aims to fill the gap left by Twitter. Threads integrates with Instagram, using the same login information, verification status, and profile. You can post messages of up to 500 characters, along with photos, videos, and GIFs. You can also reply to, repost, and quote others’ posts.

According to its creators, Threads really is an extension of Instagram, aiming to create a social platform for news and discussion. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Threads post following the launch: “The vision for Threads is to create an open and friendly public space for conversation. We hope to take what Instagram does best and create a new experience around text, ideas, and discussing what’s on your mind.”

Pros of Threads

  • Threads offers a new opportunity for higher ed marketers to reach their audiences on a different platform. Threads attracted over 100 million sign-ups within a week of launch, including many brands, celebrities, journalists, and other prominent accounts. Higher ed marketers can use Threads to showcase their institutions’ stories, achievements, values, and personalities.
  • Threads allows higher ed marketers to leverage their existing Instagram network. Since Threads is integrated with Instagram, higher ed marketers can easily follow their Instagram contacts on Threads as well as share their posts to their Instagram stories.
  • Threads supports multimedia content that can enhance higher ed marketers’ messages to showcase their campus, facilities, programs, events, research, and more.

Cons of Threads

  • Threads is a new and unproven platform that may not last or succeed. While it was meant to compete with Twitter, it is not clear whether it will be able to retain enough users to sustain itself (or survive potential lawsuits). Meta has a history of launching and shutting down apps or online features that fail to gain traction. Higher ed marketers may invest time and resources into building a presence on Threads, only to see it disappear or become irrelevant.
  • Threads may not offer enough differentiation or value from other platforms. Threads is similar to Twitter in many ways, but it also lacks some of the features and functionalities that Twitter offers, such as hashtags, a web-accessible version, or a “For You” personalization page. Threads also overlaps with Instagram in its general design. Students and higher ed marketers alike may find it hard to justify using Threads when they already have other platforms that serve similar purposes.
  • Threads may pose some challenges or risks for higher ed marketers in terms of privacy, security and compliance. Threads is not available in China or Russia due to privacy concerns, which may limit higher ed marketers’ reach to potential international students in those regions. Threads also requires users to log in through their Instagram accounts, which may expose them to data breaches or hacking. Higher ed marketers may also need to be careful about complying with regulations and policies regarding social media use by their institutions.
Images courtesy of Meta.

How higher ed institutions should use the new app

Being a new social platform offers both opportunities and challenges for higher ed marketers. Here are some tips on how institutions should use the new app:

  • Be strategic and selective. Higher ed marketers should not use Threads just because it is new or trendy but because it aligns with their goals, objectives, and audiences. Higher ed marketers should also consider how Threads fits into their overall social media strategy and mix, and how they can differentiate themselves from other platforms.
  • Be authentic and engaging. Higher ed marketers should use Threads to showcase their institutions’ unique stories, values, and personalities as well as to connect with their audiences on a personal level. Like similar platforms, start and join conversations that are relevant and interesting to your audience.
  • Be creative and innovative. Higher ed marketers should use Threads to experiment with different types of content, formats, and styles that can capture their audiences’ attention and interest. This is an exciting new space, and while you shouldn’t go off brand or off strategy (see our first point), this is a great time to experiment with the uses of a new social media platform.

While it’s far from perfect, Threads has the potential to become a powerful tool for higher ed marketers. By understanding its pros and cons, and by using it strategically, authentically, and creatively, higher ed marketers can leverage Threads as yet another way to reach, engage, and influence their target audiences.

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