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Zuckerberg’s PR win: How Threads is winning its way to positive press

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By Chris Harihar, Partner

July 11, 2023 | 7 min read

After a flurry of product launches that have failed to attract glowing headlines and large numbers of users, Meta has seemingly managed to turn its luck around with the recent launch of its Twitter-like text-sharing platform. Here are three lessons that PR experts can draw from the platform’s rapid success.

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Threads has quickly been attracting millions of users, many of whom have grown disenchanted with Twitter. / Adobe Stock

Mark Zuckerberg has done it: For the first time in what feels like years, he’s getting some positive press coverage. With the success of Threads – which has shattered records by receiving more than 100mn new users within the first five days after its launch – his company, Meta, has been managing to ride a much-needed wave of popularity. Still in its infancy, the platform is being perceived by some as a viable alternative to Twitter.

How did we get here? Here are three PR lessons from this situation, along with a few suggestions for how Meta, Threads and Zuckerberg can keep the good press going beyond the initial surge of enthusiasm.

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Lesson 1: Don't shoehorn – respond to the demands of the market

In the past, Meta’s “secondary” apps have felt shoehorned into the market. Remember Slingshot, Riff, Moments, Poke, Paper and Rooms? The clone-and-conquer approach of replicating trending apps has rarely worked because users have generally been content with the original versions. And Meta’s metaverse offering – which cost the company many billions of dollars – has not yet taken off in the way that Zuckerberg had hoped.

Threads is different: It’s a well-calculated response to millions of Twitter users seeking an alternative platform; it’s demand-oriented innovation, not an attempt to catch up with the competition; and it’s a welcome shift in Meta's playbook and media coverage. If the company can continue to address obvious gaps in the tech market, they can continue to be successful.

App stores might be next. It was recently reported that Meta is gearing up to introduce its own app distribution system to compete with those that are on offer from Apple and Google. Again, this is a response to demand from consumers, developers and regulators who are seeking an alternative to existing app store platforms.

Lesson 2: Reporters are the real influencers

Forget MrBeast – Threads is showing us who the real influencers are on Twitter: journalists.

Reporters have long been the lifeblood of the service. Yet for whatever reason, Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, has mocked and maligned them. His feud with journalists – during which he has temporarily banned The Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz, threatened to reassign NPR’s handle and responded to journalist inquiries with the poop emoji – has left that vocal user base looking for an alternative to Twitter. Threads has stepped in to meet that need.

The mass migration of journalists to Threads could produce a wider ripple effect across Twitter. Other longtime core groups of users – like publicists, marketers and brand executives (all of whom like to follow reporters) – are now likely to make the same switch. Ad dollars could follow closely behind.

Musk has talked repeatedly about drawing more influencers and creators to Twitter, but he’s underestimated the value of courting journalists, who could ultimately prove to be a much more critical demographic for the survival of his platform. This has been a boon for Zuckerberg; we can reasonably expect Meta to continue to ship Threads features that will appeal to reporters, even if the company is currently downplaying its desire to feature news on Threads.

Lesson 3: Zuckerberg is done performing

Zuckerberg's quest for positive press has been long and awkward. Remember that weird cross-country tour? Or the Sweet Baby Ray’s video? For a long time, it all just seemed performative. He was trying hard to appear authentic, but it ended up having the opposite effect.

However, this approach has shifted for the better recently. His appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast last year was a controversial move, but nevertheless he managed to present himself as someone who was no longer trying to please everybody. Similarly, Meta’s press push around his love of jiu-jitsu – while maybe a bit random – appears to be garnering genuine interest. All of these things have made him seem more authentic.

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This shift in Zuckerberg’s approach has set him up to take on Musk. Not so long ago, Zuckerberg likely would have avoided a public showdown with another tech executive, preferring instead to play it safe. (And he certainly wouldn't have agreed to a literal, physical fight with one.) Now he seems to recognize the value of having a foil in enhancing both Meta’s PR, and his own. I expect he’ll continue to lean in here.

Chris Harihar is partner at Crenshaw Communications.

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