Social Content, Social Media Marketing, Social Media Strategy, Twitter

Our “Fleet”ing Thoughts

Erika Lovegreen

November 30, 2020

The arrival of ‘Fleets’ into the world of Twitter, has already sparked an array of conversation surrounding how brands and audiences alike can make the best use the new feature.

The nature of the debate is certainly playing out right in front of our eyes, with several different in-platform norms already surfacing and evolving by the minute, day and week in terms of user and brand behavior across this new feature.

A rapidly evolving environment

From an audience perspective, ‘Fleets’ has been designed to allow end-users to “think out loud” and use Twitter as a potential dumping ground for controversial ideas (more so), complaints and non-impactful content like breakfast selfies. The end-user would then essentially be able to split their timeline into “permanent” content, as a gallery of thoughts, and “ephemeral” content, that does not need to live there forever, but it’s good to get off your chest.

But perhaps, we’re seeing the intended purpose of ‘Fleets’ change in front of our eyes, before the feature has had a chance to even sit down and get itself comfortable in its new hot seat. It appears we’ve got ourselves a rapidly evolving and mutating feature that has already moved away from what Twitter intended it to be.

Far from it being the nature of ‘Fleets’, could we be seeing the unintended consequences of user behavior reigning supreme? Whereby ‘Fleets’ very quickly becomes Twitter Stories rather than “throwaway” tweets, a gallery of thoughts, and a collection of “ephemeral” content.

A bit like the theme of the Social Dilemma where an array of unintended consequences was born out of user and algorithm behavior, maybe this time around we’re seeing audiences changing the perceived nature of this new feature within days of its arrival into the world’s social media ecosystem.

What does it mean for brands?

‘Fleets’ are presenting a new way of interacting with your audience via Twitter, and so far, we’ve seen a range of experimental approaches from audiences and brands alike as they familiarize themselves with this new feature with social media managers keen to understand how they can best make use of ‘Fleets’.

What have we seen so far?

Primarily we’ve seen two typical brand behaviors:

  • Repurposing stories – Unsurprisingly, due to the relatively unexpected arrival ‘Fleets’, we’ve seen a lot of brands simply repurpose their Instagram Stories and upload them as a fleet, to see exactly how audiences will interact with such a new development.
  • Pinning/Showcasing tweets – The new feature appears to be a potentially great opportunity to stay top of mind in people’s timelines. With your brand logo featuring prominently at the top of your followers’ feed, users will be encouraged to tap and hold on the Fleet to deliver the desired outcome. For example, what we are seeing repeatedly are brands delivering static images of tweets and then users being able to click straight through to the tweet featured. In essence, what this is delivering is the ability for you to essentially pin or showcase your priority tweets at the top of a user’s feed.

The opportunities

There appears to be a multitude of opportunities for brands to become more acquainted with ‘Fleets’. By being at the top of a user’s feed you can tap right into their “top of mind” and deliver content that can drive positive action and deliver the desired outcome for your brand.

You can simply present a static image of an existing priority tweet that you’d like your audience to see or engage within a particular way. You can combine an array of existing creative assets, such as static images and motion videos, even incorporate user-generated content that showcases positive brand sentiment or social commentary about your brand. It certainly provides the opportunity to be a powerful action driver to deliver updates on events, trends or big news concerning your brand.

‘Fleets’ can additionally be a place that is an extension of your brand’s personality. For those brands that have a whimsical personality already working in their favor. Accounts such as the Washington Post can easily translate their amazing handling of TikTok for quick “practical joke” type content, to comment on world happenings over ‘Fleets’. It would suit them perhaps to provide opinion on world matters in a format that gives them the edge to react to others in real-time. A less flexible brand like Forbes for example, or anyone in a regulated industry, would have a harder time finding the right content for ‘Fleets’, as their approach tends to be more neutral and steadier over time in terms of narrative.

Users and brands with clear opinions on potentially controversial matters (climate change, politics, poverty, LGBTQ and race, for example) can benefit from providing their point of view in fleet form or echoing someone else’s opinion in fleet form, and then have that opinion disappear.

Retail, food and beverage, and entertainment brands have a great opportunity to bring their Twitter wars onto ‘Fleets’, with echoing each other’s content in the shape of “duets” (looking at Wendy’s and the gang here) and bouncing off each other’s creativity. Life-long rivalries like Adidas vs. Nike could have a lot of fun in poking at each other on ‘Fleets’, and smaller brands can benefit from the disappearing nature of Fleets to gauge consumer interest and audience mindset prior to a big launch or announcement, instead of running a Twitter poll, for example.

Giveaways, surprise and delight and influencer strategies that require the user to take an action to participate, may work well on ‘Fleets’, given there are tools to monitor participation on them. The sharing and reaction capabilities of ‘Fleets’ are still to be ironed out, but they offer an interesting way of creating chain-type content that cascades through the community, rather than getting to everybody at the same time. ‘Fleets’ could potentially make use of influencers as gatekeepers of certain points of view, and/or empower them to “host” certain activities if the measuring capabilities can be leveraged in benefit of the brand, which is not yet clear.

Whilst the opportunities to make use of this new functionality are numerous, what isn’t clear yet is just what incremental difference ’Fleets’ will make to your brands reach or engagement with audiences via Twitter. At present, it’s best utilized as an opportunity to try new or different creative routes that won’t forever live or be present on your timeline.

A cautionary note

Whilst the much highlighted “ephemeral” nature of ‘Fleets’ presents an opportunity for fleeting thoughts so to speak. Let us not forget that there are always screenshots and the internet is forever, so sober, that established brands might want to steer clear of sharing “fleeting thoughts”, especially if they are trying to establish trust within their audiences or build a transparent community.

What should you do next?

What best practice and user behavior will evolve to become is unknown as of yet, but what we’re sure of is whether you take an experimental or cautionary approach to the arrival of ‘Fleets’, in-platform cultural norms will be very quickly shaped by audiences and brands alike, as both parties look to understand how they can best deliver effectiveness through this new feature.

What we’re sure of is that ‘Fleets’ are here to remain, and you should really be looking at how they fit into your social and content strategy. Look at the arrival of ‘Fleets’ as a new opportunity, an opportunity to innovate and as an opportunity to evolve your content delivery. Audiences will be expecting to see new fresh formats delivered to their social channel of choice.

Don’t fall victim to the trap of re-purposing your Instagram Stories for your audiences to consume a second time on another channel. Give audiences what they want, content that is fit for the channel and tells your story in a new and refreshing fleeting way.

What We Know:

  • ‘Fleets’ were test-launched in Brazil, South Korea, Italy and India, will be available worldwide in the next few weeks for smartphone users. The rollout delay is due to technical difficulties, and “slowing down1” of the Twitter app when using ‘Fleets’.
  • ‘Fleets’ can be made of text, photos, videos, or reactions to other tweets and will disappear after 24 hours.
  • ‘Fleets’ are available to followers and anybody with access to your full profile and anyone who can DM you can see your ‘Fleets’.
  • Protected accounts do show up in your ‘Fleets’ views count.
  • Live audio version of ‘Fleets’ called “Spaces” might come soon, first to women and marginalized people as a way to avoid abuse of the feature, which would be similar to Clubhouse2 (opportunity to speak in a public conversation).

The Good

  • Quirky, quick way of reacting to content without long term repercussions.
  • Ephemeral content makes people more comfortable sharing their thoughts.
  • No pressure for competition for engagement, as they are “fleeting thoughts” aimed first and foremost to the need to express, aka “thinking out loud.”
  • Comments to ‘Fleets’ are not public, so a great way to get insights without getting burned publicly.
  • Dynamic will be similar to Instagram where a “right now” message can be shared on Insta Stories, and a more permanent gallery item can be shared to your timeline and enjoy a longer shelf life.

The Bad

  • Creates an opportunity for online harassment without consequences.
  • Tricky to police and moderate for abuse/fake news (although ‘Fleets’ abide by the same rules as tweets).
  • Comments to ‘Fleets’ are not public, which means little opportunity for customer service there.
  • No notification when your ‘Fleets’ are shared, so no way of measuring virality, or who is talking about your content.
  • You can be tagged 3in any Fleet, without controlling who associates your brand with themselves, which makes for poor reputation management.