January 12, 2021

Fleeting Thoughts: The More Things Change, the More They Seem the Same

By Jay Bemis | Advertising Systems Inc.
In mid-November, just before Americans were about to covet something fowl from the oven, the mountain bluebird that serves as the distinctive logo for Twitter decided it was time to make a little noise of its own.

Twitter was introducing “Fleets” — at the top of mobile users’ feeds, they could suddenly see a series of profile photos of tweeters who now were sharing fleeting thoughts on the platform. Fleets, Twitter sung to the world, “allow you to share fleeting or transitory thoughts, and after 24 hours, they’ll disappear from view.”

“Wait a minute,” many Twitter users must have thought while scratching their heads. “Isn’t this like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat’s stories?” Indeed, very similar: A case of the more things change, the more they stay the same, perhaps.

The experts at eMarketer noticed this last week, too.

“Never in the past two decades of social media history have the features, ad formats, and other business initiatives of the four major social platforms looked as similar as they do today,” wrote Jasmine Enberg, an eMarketer senior analyst.

“But they don’t just look alike — many of the social platforms’ new offerings are a nod to TikTok, 2020’s breakout social star.”

She notes this is a major shift from previous years when the social networks tried to be different from each other. “Remember when Twitter started calling itself a news app in 2016? It even went so far as to remove its app from the social network category in mobile app stores and place it in the news section.”

But since then, a whole lot of copycat movin’ has been goin’ on.

In 2016, Instagram would reveal “Stories,” akin to a popular Snapchat feature. Its parent company, Facebook, meanwhile, since then has integrated Stories-like features into all of its apps, including WhatsApp and Messenger, Enberg says, “and Twitter now has its own disappearing photo and video feature.”

The pandemic has played a major role in the trend, as it has in so many others, by speeding things up.

“As the pandemic propelled social media usage — particularly on TikTok — and temporarily slowed ad spending, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and others quickly rolled out new services to retain users and diversify their revenue streams,” Enberg says.

“The result? A new social media world order where the platforms have more in common than not.”

Twitter Says Its ‘Fleets’ Play to a Silent Majority

Because many Twitter users view it mostly as a news platform, they don’t share as much as users of some of the other social media networks do. In 2019, a report from the Pew Research Center found that most of Twitter’s users rarely tweet and that 10% of its most active users are responsible for 80% of all tweets in the United States.

When announcing Fleets in mid-November, Twitter said in a blog post that “some of you tell us that Tweeting is uncomfortable because it feels so public, so permanent, and like there’s so much pressure to rack up Retweets and Likes.”

To help people feel more comfortable, “we’ve been working on a lower pressure way for people to talk about what’s happening.”

Twitter said that after conducting tests in Brazil, Italy, India and South Korea, “We learned Fleets helped people feel more comfortable joining the conversation — we saw people with Fleets talk more on Twitter.

“ … Because they disappear from view after a day, Fleets helped people feel more comfortable sharing personal and casual thoughts, opinions, and feelings.”

What Might This Mean for Marketers in 2021?

In this world of where platforms seemingly have more in common than not, marketers can expect the social properties to start streamlining their services “as they figure out what works and what doesn’t,” Enberg, the eMarketer senior analyst, says.

Her eMarketer post last week included a convenient chart, titled “Social Media Features and Opportunities for Marketers,” that’s worthy of marketers pinning on their bulletin boards as they plan for the year ahead.

The chart shows, for example, that among the top five social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter), all of them feature direct messages and livestreaming, and in several categories, four of the five have the same features that appeal to users.

“Not every feature will be successful on every platform, as their user bases and value propositions will remain different,” Enberg notes.

She adds: “Do Twitter users really want — or need — ephemeral content the way Instagram or Snapchat users do? Probably not. Will Instagram users adopt TikTok-like short videos? All signs point to yes.”

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