November 19, 2020
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. The phrase is so common because it’s true – once you have a highly successful idea, chances are someone is going to make either a better version, or a far worse version of it, but the end result will be that it will take away people that would have gone to your product to this new and (maybe) improved version. The same is true in social media, with the most egregious example being the mass expansion of Instagram Stories clones; the latest, Twitter’s Fleets, launched just this week.
What are Fleets?
Fleets are essentially Stories on Twitter, allowing users to share updates that disappear after 24 hours within the app. You can text Fleets, share Tweets or post a video clip or photo to your Fleet. With no special effects or AR tools for Fleets, the similarities pretty much end there. The feature is rather limited, with only real advantage being the top of feed presence in Twitter, which could help build up interest and exposure.
It’s par for the course, really. One social media platform comes out with a product or feature. Another copies it with their own bare bones version, trying to keep users within their own platform as quickly as possible. And so the cycle goes on, and on, and on.
The move to sameness
So, what happens when everyone has the same product? Across social media, we’ve seen a movement – particularly by Facebook – to bring all the features inherent to different social media channels under one banner. Reels is a great example. TikTok exploded onto the scene a few years ago with its quick, bite-size content streams and incredible algorithm that always seemed to know what you wanted (this was already an imitation of Vine, if you remember that, though the imitation isn’t as blatant since Vine was already out of commission). With Instagram Reels, Facebook aimed to capitalise on the growing audience heading to TikTok and bring it over to their platforms, with varying success. TikTok still has more than 800 million users active worldwide and continues to be a powerhouse on social.
What’s the issue?
The issue is there is no issue. Not really. Between Fleets, Stories, TikToks and Reels, we’ve seen that there is an evolution happening here that could actually be beneficial for all social media users. Fleets are such a bare bone copy of Stories that Twitter could take them in any direction from here, as long as they stick with it. So, either it fails dramatically and is forgotten (like the audio Tweets that haven’t had as a big a splash as Twitter likely expected), or it evolves into its own thing that caters to a different need. Already, Twitter is thinking of providing features that could lead to GIF wars, interviews, real-time highlights, etc.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but when it’s done correctly and is not just blatant plagiarism, it’s also just plain natural. If something works, of course, someone else is going to copy it, and iterate on it, until it barely resembles the original.