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

Sign up for Greg’s email list here

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.

Sign up for stuff like this in your inbox every week!

Success! You're on the list.

Social Pulse, Week of 10-19

Every week I keep tabs on what’s trending, new technology and consumer habits that impact the social web. These are summed up in a round-up called Social Pulse. Sign up to get this in your inbox every Friday here.

Hum to Search: On your mobile device, open the latest version of the Google app, tap the mic icon and say “what’s this song?” or click the “Search a song” button. It immediately identified Suzanne Vega’s track “Tom’s Diner” based solely on doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, duhdoodoo. Try it!

The FOBO is Real: It’s our new universal neurosis: Fear of Being On… “an anxiety characterized by a constant need to check that you are muted, silent, hung up, off-mic, logged off, shut down, incognito, invisible, or otherwise safe from someone hearing or seeing you via technology. Even and especially when you just checked 10 seconds ago.” Some NSFW news this week brought it up, and the only cure is a pandemic vaccine. So keep checking for that little green light, folks.

Patents of the Week: Although patent filings aren’t a guarantee that new technology will come to fruition, they give us a hint of where we may be headed. Amazon is looking at ways of serving video ads even on devices that are offline. Google has one for their virtual assistant to synthesize every incoming message you get across all the various services and apps you use into one screen where the assistant decides what’s most pertinent at any given moment. Facebook has a giant USB port for your brain to support their brain-computer interfaces. Read about these and more here.

I’m the Mayor of this Coffee Shop! This week Gowalla relaunched as an augmented reality social app – kind of a Pokemon Go meets Foursquare experience. Sign up for the beta here.

Osiris-Rex Tags Bennu: This week was a massive week for science, physics, software, and understanding the solar system. NASA landed a space probe on asteroid over 200 million miles away, then immediately took back off and sent a sample from the asteroid’s surface back to Earth. The spacecraft operates more or less autonomously due to the 18 minute communications delay, and it already changed a lot of what we thought we know about near-earth asteroids, including the discovery that the sandy beaches we anticipated were big rocky boulders. So much to learn! Watch the video here.

Audio’s Opportunity and Who Will Capture It: Technologist and former head of strategy at Amazon Studios Matthew Ball wrote a comprehensive and compelling essay about media consumption patterns and the interplay of technology, content and business models for audio right now. Key quote: “Just imagine a Sony Music executive trying to figure out why a 15 year old today should care for Billy Joel, how to reach them, and how to overcome the stigma of Joel being their dad’s favorite artist.”

I Want My AMTV: This week saw the launch of Apple Music TV, a free 24-hour curated livestream of popular music videos that will also include “exclusive new music videos and premiers, special curated music video blocks, and live shows and events as well as chart countdowns and guests,” according to the announcement. Watch right now through the Apple TV app on your Apple device.

Augmented Reality Comes to Native Google Search: As I predicted, only 16 months after launching augmented reality search for animals Google is now bringing in-search AR results for brands, starting with auto. When searching for supported vehicles, users will see the ability to view a 3D model either on a generic background, a stylized background, or in real-life using AR through the camera directly in the Google search results. In your mobile browser, Google “2020 Volvo XC40 Recharge” and scroll down to the card that says “View in 3D.” Then project it via hologram in your driveway, garage, or living room!

For brands, it’s time to start thinking about creating 3D files of your products for native AR features like this. If you have a product, it’s time to start practicing creating really good 3D models of your product. If you have a service, it’s worth doing some workshopping what kinds of brand assets you would want to have in 3D form that could be utilized for Search, as well as other VR and AR experiences. It’s only a matter of time before native AR search results come to other categories. Time to plan ahead!

Quick Hits:


Success! You're on the list.