The release of Twitter’s “Fleets” feature at the end of November marked a new era for Jack Dorsey’s social media giant. The feature enables users of the site and app to post images or short text snippets that disappear after only a day. These “fleets”—or “fleeting tweets”, as the name is presumably supposed to signify—have been promoted and advertised by the social media site as a way for users to post content that they may not necessarily want to stick around forever. In the words of Twitter’s official account: That thing you didn’t Tweet but wanted to but didn’t but got so close but then were like nah. We have a place for that now—Fleets!”

At first glance, Twitter’s “Fleets” are the latest in a long line of imitators of Instagram’s “Stories” feature that launched in August 2016, and does very much the same thing as Fleets. In the months and years since, a number of social media sites also added their own version of this feature, such as Facebook and even professional networking site LinkedIn. Instagram was not the first social media app to add a “Stories” feature—in fact, Snapchat was the first app to popularize the concept of temporary, ephemeral images and messages that would disappear after being viewed, or after a certain amount of time (usually 24 hours by default). 

The temporary nature of these “Stories” was the main selling point of Snapchat and was initially the feature that differentiated it from the other social media sites and apps available out there. However, the huge success of Snapchat led to Instagram, and subsequently various other sites and apps, implementing this feature in a (largely successful) attempt to grab a market share of this concept. This trend—described by some as shameless plagiarism and by others as a smart way to adapt to changing user desires—even resulted in a pretty funny meme that became popular and widely-circulated in 2017.

Whereas a few years ago, each social networking site or app had largely its own distinct features, intended purpose, and unique selling points, in recent years each has increasingly adopted the features of its rivals, most notably seen in the “Stories” phenomenon. To be honest, it is surprising that Twitter took until the year 2020 to implement their version of “Stories”! 

In addition to adopting extra features, some social networks have modified their existing features in an attempt to adapt to new market demands and a changing online landscape. In 2017, Twitter doubled its 140-character limit (which had been in place since the site’s launch way back in 2006) to 280 characters. Although Twitter’s own blog admitted to the concise nature of tweets being the site’s main appeal—“Twitter is about brevity. It’s what makes it such a great way to see what’s happening. Tweets get right to the point with the information or thoughts that matter. That is something we will never change.” The site decided that this change would increase the user experience without sacrificing the site’s main draw. 

Facebook and Twitter have also increasingly become homes of online video and news, offering streaming options and news updates. YouTube, a site originally designed solely for video streaming, has even added the option for users to post “statuses” in a similar way to Facebook and LinkedIn. 

It seems that as time goes by, social media sites are becoming gradually more and more similar to each other, with each aiming to provide users with a full multimedia and communications interface and experience. This has been seen before with technology, such as mobile phones evolving to become advanced smartphones that have more in common with a computer than a traditional telephone, and smart TVs and video games consoles becoming hubs for various TV, music, and gaming applications. In some cases, the main difference between a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, and a TV is simply the size of the screen! It is clear that social media is following this same trend. 

What Is the Future of Social Networking?

If the trend of social media sites and apps becoming more and more similar to each other continues, it doesn’t seem impossible that Twitter may abandon its character limit altogether, Snapchat introduce statuses and permanent public photo albums, and Facebook introduce its own version of character-limited Tweets (called something like Feets, perhaps). 

While this may make each site more diverse, it is likely to reduce the number of different sites and services that a user visits. It is possible that this trend may actually backfire on these companies—instead of a user using Snapchat for messaging, Twitter for reading world news, and YouTube for watching video content, they may stick to just one of these options that offers all of these features. 

On the other hand, the changing nature of the market and how we use the internet means that most of us are spending more time than ever using these sites, so these trends seem unlikely to spell huge trouble for the future of social networking.

Advances in technology are also likely to change the way we use social networking sites. For example virtual reality (or VR) could certainly cause a shift in social media. While VR is most commonly used for video gaming at the time of writing, it is more than likely to expand into other areas. Not to mention that integration between gaming and social media is steadily increasing anyway. The barriers between different types of online activity (e.g. gaming, video streaming, communication, news, research, etc) are likely to begin to dissolve.

How Can Digital Marketing Strategies Respond to These Changes?

Digital marketing is a complex and ever-changing discipline—it is no wonder that there are various different degree courses available on which you can study the field in-depth. Click here to find out more. If you are interested in digital marketing, you will almost certainly need to be able to adapt to changing online trends. It can also be incredibly useful to predict future changes so that you can prepare for them and stay ahead of the curve.

The introduction of Twitter’s Fleets, for example, opens up another avenue through which marketers can reach an audience. In this case, the same strategies used for other “Stories”-style features can most likely be used. The homogenization of social media sites and apps can make developing content a little simpler, as the same strategy can work across multiple platforms and in some cases literally just be copied and pasted!

However, when features—or entirely new social media sites or apps—appear that are unlike any other that is already in existence, marketers need to develop a quick plan of action. For example, the rise of the app TikTok has led to a scramble among digital marketers to capitalize on this new arena. The app now has over 800 million monthly users, a large portion of them children and teenagers (an important demographic for marketers). In the case of TikTok, its “sounds” feature has led many marketers to shift focus towards creating audio content in an attempt to “go viral”—the Holy Grail for any digital marketer! 

However, you don’t have to necessarily create a brand new trend yourself, whether on TikTok or any other medium. Effective digital marketing often hinges on getting involved with an existing trend. On TikTok this usually means creating your own video content using existing sounds that are going viral. This means that anybody who is listening to that particular sound may be exposed to your account, similar to the way Twitter’s (and now Facebook and Instagram’s) hashtags can display your content to a wider audience.

Collaborating with influencers has become a very common and mostly reliable strategy for marketers to share their content or products with the wider world. “Influencers” have been common on Instagram for a while, but the rise of TikTok has created a new generation of influencers that can be reached out to. Many influencers may be reluctant to partner with brands, especially if they have built a reputation as being relatable and down-to-earth rather than “corporate”. However, even these influencers can be reached if they genuinely like your product or service! If they can promote it organically to their followers as a genuine recommendation that does not come across as disingenuous, this may well be possible—and can result in their followers being more likely to check out your business than if that influencer had a reputation for partnering with any brand that got in touch with them. 

When platforms develop to make your job easier, you should still avoid getting lazy. After all, all marketing is based largely around creativity. Ultimately, every digital marketing strategy should be adaptable. Social media platforms can fall just as quickly as they rise. One notable example of this is video-sharing app Vine, which became popular very quickly after its launch in 2013 but ceased trading in 2017. TikTok is, in many ways, a natural successor to Vine, and many users have managed to migrate successfully from one platform to the other, but it is important to prepare a plan of action in case a particular site or app ceases to exist! Remember—when one door closes, another one can open.