Twitter’s Fleets could be fleeting, but Stories are forever

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Ephemeral media has moved from Snapchat to Instagram to Facebook to YouTube to Whatsapp to LinkedIn, and now Twitter. But we shouldn’t have been surprised.

When Twitter started testing a Stories-like function called “Fleets” in their Brazil market last March, we should have assumed it would be coming to the U.S. Here’s why…

Let’s jump back to this tweet from 2015:

“The growing dark social and ephemeral networking phenomenon is not unrelated to the pressure on young people, who know Google is forever.”

At the time we were witnessing the widespread popularity of disappearing Snapchat stories in a social media world where every tweet was archived in the Library of Congress. And the rise of “dark social,” below the radar networks, was something many of us were predicting could take over public social networks, given the tension between social media permanence and culture.

Digital natives were already familiar with the axiom that things you posted on MySpace or LiveJournal could hurt you from finding a job (or a date). But as social media increased in popularity, suddenly an entire generation was starting to realize two things.

First, things you say online could actually haunt you later – whether for dating, work, or becoming the President and having your hypocritical tweets shared back at you every single week of your term.

And second, the pressure of “success theater” – the perfectly manufactured social personas and manicured content we share and maintain online – wasn’t sustainable. People found themselves needing more places to share content where it was okay if your hair was messy or there were dirty dishes in the sink.

And so the social networks started adding disappearing content as a core function…

  • In 2011, Snapchat launched a product that opened on the camera, featured disappearing content within 24 hours, and featured a chronological content order for the very first time. (Here’s me on local TV news talking about the new Snapchat back in the day). While all other social networks were reverse chronological – or later, algorithmically mixed) – Snapchat Stories were displayed like a story – start to finish.
  • In 2014, Instagram added its own disappearing Stories feature, a direct copy of Snapchat aimed at giving people the breadth and connectivity of mass social networks without the permeance and pressure of a post with an archive and permalink.
  • In 2017, Facebook, YouTube and Whatsapp all added Stories-like functions. Facebook added Stories to their mobile app, largely populated by people syndicating Instagram Stories. YouTube added a stories feature called Reels. And WhatsApp added Status, which similarly featured content that would disappear after 24 hours.
  • In September 2020, LinkedIn added a similar feature called… Stories.
  • And now here we are in November 2020, with Twitter adding their own version of Stories, called Fleets.

So that’s how we got here. Fleets, aka Stories, are not unique in modern social media. Rather, they are expected, and necessary.

You may not be interested in the Stories format. But people crave it.

Or at least, they crave a release from the permanence of content on social that lives forever. And they like content that flows chronologically, like a story. And don’t forget that although Twitter is more globally relevant than ever before (largely due to POTUS), it’s a massive social network that needs to keep its active user number up and find areas for growth.

Twitter has already come under fire for its lack of forethought about user safety with Fleets and lack of giving people what they really want on the platform (e.g., better fake news enforcement, an edit button, and more), but that won’t stop Twitter from pushing Fleets to the forefront of their user experience through the end of the year. They didn’t launch ephemeral stories without a lot of intentional planning.

On the brand front: brands need to be considering how Fleets work into their content strategy. No brainer.

Fleets are another place for content and engaging with fans, and the feature is part of a platform uniquely suited for engagement. So yes, Fleets are a channel your brand should consider putting effort. Bifurcating Twitter content strategy harkens back to the first content calendars where we had to separate Instagram Feed from Instagram Stories. There was a learning curve, but we got over it. You’ll figure out Fleets.

I can feel the community managers and content strategists rolling their eyes at me right now. I know – you didn’t want to write a POV on yet another new content channel this week. Sure, your brand isn’t “woke” and you don’t make disposable content like that. Or you’re not scoped. Or the ROI isn’t there. Or you’re a B2B or heavily regulated brand who has legitimate issues with Twitter. Or you don’t want to easily repurpose content from Snap and Insta. Fine. Then don’t use Fleets.

But I’m an old man in social media years who has been around the newsfeed a few times, so let me bloviate just a little more on the necessity of embracing a new content channel opportunity for brands. I’ve built branded Yahoo Messenger skins, branded MySpace pages, massive proprietary blogging platforms, Facebook contest tabs, UGC video portals, Snapchat strategies, and chatbots that have all lived, served their purpose, and died.

It’s a fact of social media nature that very little of the architecture that brands create in this industry will have longevity from an asset architecture longtail perspective.

However, the creation of brand affinity, loyalty, love, and advocacy can be a coveted outcome here. Especially in an attention economy. Especially on a primary social network who is pushing a new engagement feature hard. So by ignoring a potentially new key channel without even trying or really seeing if you can squeeze out some ROI, you’re signaling something quite significant to the world. Even if Fleets aren’t around years from today.

Fleets could be fleeting. But the Stories format is here to stay.


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