In the world of social media, the fleeting moment is having its hour. Last week, Twitter became one of the last major social media platforms to facilitate ephemeral messaging when it introduced ‘Fleets’. Snapchat first made this mode of communication popular with ‘Snaps’, which evolved in 2013 into its Stories feature. Instagram eventually followed suit in 2017, bringing a huge surge to usage of its app.
Twitter’s new feature is similar to those of its competitors; it allows users to share passing thoughts and moments with their followers by sharing tweets, photos or videos. These are displayed at the top of the timeline in bubbles for 24 hours before being automatically deleted.
Twitter has amplified important conversations across different communities through its liberal approach to thought-sharing. But the freedom to tweet has bred a cancel culture, which can deter users from publicly tweeting. Design Director Joshua Harris and Product Manager Sam Haveson hope that Fleets will curb fear of public conversation on the platform by introducing “a lower pressure way for people to talk about what’s happening”. As Fleets don’t appear in Search or Moments, and cannot be embedded on external websites, they are inherently less public, and perhaps more appealing to users. Twitter’s income is based on user-engagement, so if Fleets is successful in driving communication, Twitter stands to benefit.
On Twitter’s own account, its announcement has not been initially well-received by end-users, who are still holding out hope for an ‘edit’ button for tweets. Twitter has also opened itself up to more serious criticism regarding the spread of misinformation, which it has already been scrutinised for. The ease at which Fleets can be shared will mean it will be difficult to moderate posts, especially if it takes off at the scale of Instagram stories. It will also be difficult to moderate misinformation if it is spread out over multiple Fleets; for example, if one Fleet writes ‘Trump rightfully’ and the next Fleet writes ‘won the US election’, this would be difficult to moderate. Twitter also has a responsibility to crack down on hate speech and harassment, which will become a bigger challenge– any user can reply to a Fleet, which goes to the owner’s DMs whether or not they follow you.
Users have been slow to adopt the new feature, with very little opting for a fleet over the traditional tweet. Brands should not assume that users who don’t post on the feature won’t engage with Fleets posted by accounts they follow. Despite the possibility of more unwarranted DMs, is also an opportunity for more open communication between consumers and brands. Harris and Haveson noted that from their tests, they learnt that “Fleets helped people feel more comfortable joining the conversation”, observing how “people with Fleets talk more on Twitter”. This is a window for brands to engage with their followers on a more human level through their DMs, which would likely increase with the usage of Fleets. But, in order to successfully create stronger relationships with consumers, brands will need to invest in support to respond to these messages.
On a B2C level, brands can also use the feature to keep their timeline more streamlined, by pointing consumers to flash sales and giveaways through Fleets, leaving more room for upholding their brand image on the main feed. Instagram has recently introduced its shopping button in replacement of its engagement button, reflective of the platform’s shift towards becoming a consumer marketplace for brands. But where consumers use Instagram to browse appealing images and ideas, consumers turn to Twitter for updates and communication.
Twitter is already host to brands’ customer service accounts; by utilising Fleets for updates, brands can create an even more open line of communication with followers. B2B brands can establish themselves as thought-leaders at the click of a button, with easy-to-digest information. They can optimise Fleets by sharing key moments from events and maximise reach by leveraging partner and influencer contributed video content.
Twitter has already established itself as a news source for many users. A Reuters Institute Digital News Report in 2019 found that 57% of Gen Z are more likely to turn to social media and messaging apps for their news. Based on Snapchat’s lifestyle news-sharing model on stories, Twitter could also become the platform for quick, easy and digestible news from national and business media alike. Video is an increasingly popular way of sharing information because it is easy for the end-user to engage with. Media outlets can use this as an opportunity to share news through more visual content for their followers.
TikTok’s rocket-speed surge in users in the last year demonstrates the success of fast-moving, mobile-first video content. As more and more brands embark on the video-sharing train, they all establish their own identity. TikTok is the stop for escapism and we alight at Instagram for lifestyle. Twitter has the scope to cement its role as the home of breaking news on social, with Fleets encouraging the more reluctant tweeters to get involved in the conversation.
Twitter has already established itself as a news platform. Through Fleets, brands and media outlets now have an excellent opportunity to broaden their outreach and communicate more with their followers. To achieve this holy grail, they will need to share content that is both authentic and appealing to their followers. Going forward, Twitter’s main obstacle will be tackling the spread of misinformation and hate-speech amongst end-users through Fleets – if it manages to do this, it will secure its position as a relevant contender in the world of social for brands as well as consumers.