Will Threads be the link between marketers and the fediverse?

Threads could be the missing link between brands looking to scale to new audiences and the untapped communities of the fediverse. But until Threads follows through on its commitment to join the fediverse, and marketers have a better understanding of what the fediverse is, that remains to be seen. 

The fediverse, otherwise known as the federated universe, is basically a group of social media networks that operate independently while still being able to communicate with one another. Thus far, it’s home to apps like Mastodon, PeerTube and Lemmy. (Read Digiday’s explainer here or tune into the fediverse episode of the Digiday Podcast here.)

Backed by Meta’s infrastructure, Threads saw unprecedented growth when it first launched over the summer, surging to over 100 million sign-ups in the first week. Around the same time, the platform promised to join the fediverse, potentially connecting the flood of brands active on Threads to what could be the next frontier of social media. 

“If Threads makes the connection, the connection would be the mass audience and the ease of access because the people, the players are already on that platform,” said Shatesha Scales-Flanigan, supervisor for paid social at Rain the Growth Agency. “When it’s time to pivot to the fediverse, the communication and entry point and exposure will start with Threads.”

Meta’s pledge to have Threads join the fediverse and its 12 million users is seemingly an early bet on the next iteration of the internet – one that is platform-agnostic. According to a Meta blog post, the future of social is decentralized, making Meta a first mover in the space should Threads make the connection to the fediverse. Meta hasn’t offered any official updates on Threads’ movement toward the fediverse since its original release and declined to comment for this story. Agency execs speculate that it’s an attempt to fix its earlier problems of having walled gardens. In addition to Threads in the fediverse, Meta announced a partnership with Microsoft on the release of Llama 2, its latest large language model which would be openly available for free. 

“They knew that each of their systems is a walled garden, and now they’re trying to remove that structure and make it open source,” said John Peterson, associate connections director at VMLY&R ad agency. 

Unlike Instagram or TikTok, multiple social media platforms exist simultaneously within the fediverse. Meaning, a user could exist on multiple platforms and communities at the same time, and wouldn’t be beholden to the whims of a single social network.

In addition to new communities, and perhaps more niche communities, the fediverse allows brands to own their data, communication and content as opposed to going through a third party. And the fediverse presents an opportunity for marketers to tap into a digital space that prioritizes organic, authentic community — something brands have recently been chasing to remain culturally relevant. Threads could be an easy entry point to the fediverse. Of course, could being the operative word here. 

Waiting for the moment

There are a few barriers to consider, mainly after its initial surge, and Meta’s executive chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hope to have it reach a billion users in a few years, Threads seemed to hit a wall. Users and marketers alike remain unsure what to make of the platform. After its groundbreaking launch, Threads saw daily active users drop by more than 75%, according to SensorTower. 

The fediverse itself hasn’t sparked marketer curiosity yet, but agency execs see that potentially changing. Over the past few years, marketers have been burned by overhyped promises that didn’t deliver with crypto, NFTs and even the Metaverse, which hasn’t taken off at the pace the industry expected it to. The fediverse aims to be ad-free, meaning brand marketers would be tasked with building out an organic presences and ingratiating within communities as opposed to shelling out ad dollars to get in front of users. 

“It takes that much more effort of listening to the community to inform content development and being a part of the community,” Peterson said. “Instead of just being a publisher, we also have to be a continuous thing of integrating and responding to users.”

Why it matters

So what’s the case for the fediverse? Although clients aren’t inquisitive about it yet, they should be, especially as the social media landscape continues to shift, giving way to what the next generation of social media could look like. 

“The main draw for brands is experimentation with a new model of audience-building,” Nilesh Ashra, technologist, strategist and founder and CEO of the OK Tomorrow live show, said in an email. “Paying for a customer’s attention is becoming an increasingly expensive and/or rigged game.”

It’s a game marketers and advertisers have been playing for years and only reconsidered due to Apple’s ATT obliterating ad tracking capabilities. There’s also Google’s crumbling cookie and antitrust battle with the U.S. Dept. of Justice. If nothing else, the fediverse presents marketers with the opportunity to experiment with interactions between brands and customers, and build communities in an authentic way, Ashra added. “Because that model will likely replace today’s mainstream ‘dollars for eyeballs’ attention economy,” he said. 

Still, there’s no mass exodus from today’s social media platforms and the next iteration of the social landscape hasn’t become plainly apparent. Even X (formerly Twitter), with all of Elon Musk’s changes, hasn’t folded in on itself. (A look inside the last year of X here.) It makes the fediverse a hard sell, agency execs say, but it’s still a sell worth trying.

“I still don’t know if advertisers understand the benefit right now of it and why they should be asking about it,” Scales-Flanigan said. “The more exposure around this topic and what it means for them, I believe we’re going to get a lot more questions.” 


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