A song to read by: “Venus,” by Shocking Blue
What I’m reading: “A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn
As an idiot, I was ecstatic yesterday to discover that Twitter had unveiled its newest feature, “fleets,” an ephemeral version of a tweet that disappears after 24 hours. Yes, years after Snapchat introduced temporary messages, and years after Instagram copied Snapchat, and years after LinkedIn, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and WhatsApp all added iterations of the concept, Twitter has finally joined the fray.
What is their reasoning? According to reporting from Mike Isaac, the same line of logic that holds true for other social media holds true for Twitter: that posting on main is intimidating. This is especially true on Instagram, where a timeline post feels like a personal IPO.
On Twitter, too, there are far more lurkers than tweeters, because people feel that their tweets need to be funny, insightful, sharp, or otherwise profound. Now that they disappear, so, theoretically, will the pressure.
The big question is: Will fleets catch on? Instagram stories revolutionized Instagram; the timeline is now an afterthought to the story. On the other hand, ephemeral bites of content have flopped on nearly every platform.
Personally, I have high hopes. Tweeting is intimidating, and if fleets can release some of that pressure, they stand a solid chance of sticking around. They also open up entirely new worlds of possibilities for content-sharing, just as stories did for Instagram.
So, although the technology is still too new to have much of a clue as to whether it will sink or swim, I put together a list of all the ways journalists might put the new feature to use. Feel free to add ideas in the comments, or quote-fleet (?) this article and see what moss it can gather rolling through the fleetverse.
If nothing else, Twitter users have a new toy to play with, which means ample jokes, hot takes, and eventually someone leaving to start a Substack. Happy fleeting!
1. Fleet analytics let journalists and publications see their lurkers for the first time.
In the same way Instagram users can see who looks at their stories, Twitter users can see who looks at their fleets, which is novel information for normie accounts. I have a pretty good idea of who likes my tweets — there are enough “the same 3 people who like your tweets” memes out there for me to think that this is a relatively universal phenomenon — but I have no idea who looks at my tweets.
After posting a few fleets, I suddenly saw a list of hundreds of onlookers who never interact with my tweets. In fact, I get probably 15 likes on an average tweet — yes, I am a Low Clout Twitter Figure — so seeing this many people engaging with my content was huge. Who are these people? How do they know me? Why haven’t they been liking my tweets??
While this has a lot of fun parasocial dynamics, journalists and news organizations can put this information to good use. These lurkers could represent a valuable group of people: silent fans. They could be potential connections, potential sources, potential subscribers — they clearly know and follow you, but you didn’t know they existed before. Now that you do, you have an entirely new subcategory of follower, a wealth of information that can be put to exciting new uses.
2. Journalists can use fleets for live, updating stories, and tweets for firmer facts.
It will be interesting to see how tweets and fleets slowly learn to coexist. Instagram stories are improvisational, casual, and personal, whereas timeline posts are often important, posed, and calculated. If this trend holds true on Twitter, a delineation might arise wherein tweets take on more gravitas and fleets are used for speculation. A tweet can be a declaration of fact, whereas a fleet represents the latest known information.
Some writers have already suggested that fleets will be great for breaking news, sharing live photos or video, or otherwise being “on the scene.” This tracks with how users on Instagram employ stories for slice-of-life content, while reserving the TL for life announcements.
3. Fleets could give hot Twitter users a boost!
As we all know, Einstein’s theory of social media holds that hot, dumb people thrive on Instagram, while ugly, smart people thrive on Twitter. Instagram, with its pictures, stories, and videos, has always catered to beautiful people, whereas Twitter was best suited for people with sharp ideas and faces for radio.
Now that Twitter has introduced fleets, it will likely lend an advantage to the smart people who also happen to be attractive. Or maybe just the attractive people — who knows!
Either way, if you’re hot and on Twitter, your stock just went up.
4. Journalists can use fleets to give important tweets double exposure.
People have already started doing this — I’m calling it a “selfleet” — and it makes sense. Nowadays, depending on your thirst for engagement, it’s somewhat common to post on your Instagram timeline and then share that post in your Instagram story. Why? To give people two opportunities to see it rather than one.
The same logic holds true on Twitter. If you have an important tweet, you’ll get more engagement on it if you share it as a fleet too. This can also be a way to “re-up” an old tweet, i.e. put an old tweet of yours in a fleet if it is newly relevant for some reason. It’s all double-dipping, and it’s all fair game.
5. Journalists can use fleets to share more personal versions of themselves, which can humanize them and build audience affinity.
This has been the most immediate ramification of fleets. Esteemed journalists, who win Pulitzers and only tweet about Serious News, are now sharing pictures of their poorly cooked pasta dishes and videos of their dogs zooming around in yards.
For news consumers who follow journalists on Twitter, they might find these nuggets of humanity to be endearing, which could positively affect their opinion of the journalist. It also, importantly, lends more weight to the journalist-as-influencer model put forth recently by the academics behind RQ1.
6. Publications can tell stories through multi-panel fleets.
If you look at how publishers use Instagram stories, there is reason to believe they could use Twitter fleets to accomplish a similar purpose. On Tuesday, I saw that the Los Angeles Times had already begun sharing infographics on its fleets. I assume they just copy-and-pasted those graphics from their Instagram stories, because it would have been very impressive if they created them day-of.
Nonetheless, I imagine publications will use fleets to tell multi-panel visual stories. These fleets — including their language, images, subject matter, and style — should be different than the stories on Instagram. The audiences are different, and the content needs to reflect that. (Sorry, social graphics teams!) But this, to me, is a very natural use-case that will probably crop up very quickly.
7. Fleets can replace (or complement) Twitter threads.
What a multi-panel fleet is to publishers, a thread is to individual journalists. So, the next time a journalist has a big story to publish, instead of (or in addition to) a thread of tweets, it would be a logical extension to see journalists debuting their articles through fleet threads.
These fleet threads give more context to a published story and more opportunities to intrigue readers, both of which are generally net positives.
8. How will quote fleets affect retweets?
The retweet is still the ultimate sharing mechanism. It places the content of someone you follow in front of the people who follow you, in a “permanent” way. Instagram still has no fluid equivalent for this, unless you count the aesthetically repulsive regram.
Quote fleets add a new dimension to the retweet, because they allow users to share content from people they follow with the people that follow them, but only temporarily. How will this affect what people retweet? Will quote fleets usurp retweets, supplement them, or fail to move the needle? I’m very interested in this particular dynamic.
Some good readin’
— My family and I are huge fans of “Jeopardy!,” so Alex Trebek’s passing has been a real bummer. Doreen St. Felix wrote the best tribute to him that I’ve read. (New Yorker)
— I often write about the passion economy for Business Insider, and I finally got an opportunity to speak with Li Jin, the woman who coined the phrase, to get her thoughts on the “post-company” economy. (Business Insider)
— I am obligated by The Discourse to make sure you’ve read the latest in the ongoing platform vs. publisher debate that has embroiled Substack. (Columbia Journalism Review)
— In the last year, I have essentially fallen in love with OneZero on Medium. This piece, “Why Facebook is the ‘mainstream media’ now,” is right on the money. (OneZero)
— I got to curate a newsletter for Media Voices on Saturday morning, so check it out if this list of articles fails to sate your thirst for lists of articles. (Media Voices)
Cover image: “Impression, soleil levant,” by Claude Monet