The big news this week is Meta’s new Threads app, which has just become the tech product to reach 100m users the fastest (previous titleholder: OpenAI). And just like that, Mark Zuckerberg has a friendly new PR storyline.
PR hype cycles have been on my mind. Last week I was on the Rocketship.fm podcast discussing the supernova PR event that has been AI. According to the chatter, the technology is either the best thing to ever happen to us, or the doom of our species. One thing I’ve learned is that whenever the spread of outcomes is that wide, the inevitable outcome is some kind of muddle in the middle. Some industries will find AI useful, while dictators and propagandists will find it even more so. Medicine and poison are the two intertwined sides of tech.
One thing I can definitively predict is that you will read articles with titles like “Is AI Dead?” or “What Happened to AI?” in about a year. That’s because of something I call the Hype Clock.
The Hype Clock exists for all companies, but it is particularly visible at tech companies because of the centrality of their product to our daily lives, their speed of development, and the fact that the chattering classes love talking about them. Here’s what it looks like:
Facebook is a great example. Before Zuckerberg suddenly turned a fresh PR page with the remarkable Threads launch, Meta did an entire turn through the Hype Clock with their pivot to the metaverse. You can chart several turns around the entire Hype Clock starting with Facebook’s meteoric initial growth, their acquisition of Instagram and Whatsapp, the dark years of Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 Election, the boom/bust of their metaverse pivot, to layoffs, and now Threads.
You can plot the stories of any large tech firm on the Hype Clock. Google recently took an entire spin through the clock when Microsoft closed a partnership with OpenAI and then Google botched their initial AI launch.
The great news is that unless you’re in AI, or even a late-stage tech behemoth like Google, you have a more straightforward challenge. Most companies struggle to get to the “What’s this new thing?” slot, much less being branded as the Next Big Thing—essentially, you’re just hoping that you even have the privilege to take a full spin around the Hype Clock.
The most important thing here is to provide a crisp, vivid, and consistent story around the company and why it’s important. That gives potential customers the inspiration they need to become actual customers—and journalists the courage to be early converts to writing about your company. Remember: it’s an honor to get to the stage where journalists are writing about the problems within your company!