The Twittersphere has been abuzz lately as the network announced it is trialing 280 character tweets.
It’s the first such shake-up since January 2016 when the internet freaked over reports the network was considering upping the character cap to a stunning 10,000.
Obviously, that proved premature. CEO Jack Dorsey ended the speculation the following March, saying: “It’s staying. It’s a good constraint for us,” adding that the 140 limit “allows for of-the-moment brevity.”
A doubling of characters is hardly going to transform Twitter the way 10,000 would have. But what are the implications for Twitter marketing?
This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence! https://t.co/TuHj51MsTu
— jack (@jack) September 26, 2017
First, why change the character count at all?
Twitter’s profits have languished in recent years – with some fingers pointed squarely at the limitations of the character count.
In its blog last week, Twitter explained some of the rationale behind the trial. The network noticed that Japanese Twitter users employ all 140 characters much less frequently than English-speakers (0.4% compared to 9%). The reason is believed to be the more meaning that can be expressed in Japanese calligraphy.
The blog added:
“Our research shows us that the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people Tweeting in English, but it is not for those Tweeting in Japanese. Also, in all markets, when people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people Tweeting – which is awesome!”
So, boosting the character count is essentially a tactic to boost user activity. Whether this will actually bolster the company’s bottom line is yet to be seen.
Will it really affect Twitter marketing?
Had the 10,000 character tweet happened it would have been a significant move towards a ‘self-contained’ feed for Twitter — which has always been, much more so than Facebook, a place where links are essential.
In comparison, the 280 character cap keeps Twitter highly link-dependent; even with the increase in tweet-storming where certain people post multiple, successive tweets to deliver more detailed thoughts or arguments.
While many are lamenting the potential end of an era where the network championed brevity and conciseness, others see an opportunity to pack more value in.
Certainly, the immediate reaction on the network suggests that the humor that characterizes the most shared tweets is in no danger.
140 characters vs 280 characters pic.twitter.com/bKXix6Kpsz
— Michael (@MLHS_Mike) September 27, 2017
Not that the 280 cap is available to everyone just yet.
Twitter is expanding tweets to 280 characters? That is great news because now we can tell you how to get free beer for the rest of your lif
— Stone Brewing (@StoneBrewing) September 26, 2017
A lesson here is that whether users are writing in bursts of 140, 280 or 10,000 characters, it will still take fresh ideas and compelling links and CTAs to get people clicking.
For more on that, be sure to read How to Write Funny Tweets to Expand Your Audience.
What about customer service?
Twitter is where 80% of customer service requests happen.
For people trying to address an issue on Twitter, a back and forth of @replies is the easiest way to get things done, but it quickly becomes difficult to do that in 140 characters.
Doubling that could lessen the need to ask people to DM you to talk about things in a less abbreviated way. The strong pro there is the fact that many people engaging with brands on social media expect their questions to be resolved there – and can become annoyed by the request to take it to another channel.
It is both an opportunity—if fans can reach you the way they want to, the odds of satisfaction are higher—and a challenge, as conversations that would usually happen in the privacy of the longer-form DM could occur more in the public eye. But, on the plus side, that level of transparency may aid consumer trust.
One thing that definitely won’t change in Twitter marketing is the importance of a quick reply.
It is still early days in the (maybe) 280 character tweet era. But it will be exciting to see how brands and users will take advantage of their 140 extra characters, if and when Twitter hands them over.