Twitter has announced plans to double the character limit allowed in an individual tweet from the familiar 140 characters up to 280.
Many will see it as the biggest development on the platform since 2006 when Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet. That said, it’ll be a gradual roll-out rather than an overnight transformation as only a select few users will be allowed to experiment with the new limit.
Justifying the decision, Twitter pointed out linguistic disparities in what users are able to say in a 140-character tweet. Specifically Japanese, Korean and Chinese users, who are able to convey roughly double the amount of information in 140 characters then those tweeting in languages of European origin such as English, French and Portuguese.
According to Twitter’s research, 9 per cent of all tweets in English hit the 140-character limit, compared to just 0.4 per cent in Japanese. Crucially from Twitter’s perspective, more people are tweeting in markets where they don’t have to cram their thoughts into the current character restriction.
“Trying to cram your thoughts into a Tweet – we’ve all been there, and it’s a pain,” said Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen and senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara in a blog post. “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.
“When I (Aliza) Tweet in English, I quickly run into the 140-character limit and have to edit my tweet down so it fits. Sometimes, I have to remove a word that conveys an important meaning or emotion, or I don’t send my tweet at all. But when Iku tweets in Japanese, he doesn’t have the same problem.”
What this means for marketers
This is the second major update to Twitter’s character limit inside 12 months. In September 2016, Twitter announced that photos, GIFs, videos and polls would no longer be included in the 140 characters.
This was a major step forward for brands, particularly when it came to sponsored tweets – which often included images or videos. But this development is even more significant; 280 characters of text plus images or videos? Copywriters will be in dreamland.
But despite the increase, marketers should carefully consider the ramifications for their brand before rushing out to compose a month’s worth of 280-character tweets…
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of having 140 extra characters is the ability to communicate more effectively with your customers. Sure, brands have been able to happily chat away with customers via DMs without any character restrictions for a while now. But sometimes it’s useful to respond to a customer’s tweet and have all of your followers see it at the same time.
There just isn’t room for substantive dialogue in 140 characters, and responses can sometimes can across as inadequate and lacking in necessary detail – not good when customer loyalty is on the line. The new character limit will allow for brands to sound more human in their dialogue with customers without having to redirect them to a call centre.
With the new limits, marketers might be tempted to stuff their tweets full of hashtags. Don’t.
Research has shown that tweets with one or two hashtags generate 21 per cent more engagement than those with three or more. That aside, tweets suffering from a hashtag overdose just look plain ugly.
Consider the timeline
The small pool of users given access to the new character limit are going to stand out in people’s timelines. Their longer tweets will take some getting used to, particularly because they’ll be sandwiched between tweets written within the old limit.
Initially this will attract attention and curious users will stop to read these peculiar bloated tweets. In time, however, they might learn to scroll straight past them – particularly if other brands decide they prefer to keep things brief and stick to the old limit.
Most brands have learnt that less is more when posting on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms. But without a character limit in place, the temptation to copy-and-paste text across the platforms can sometimes be difficult to resist. With Twitter increasing its character limit, that temptation can now stretch across all of the major social platforms.
However, no brand worth its salt would output the same message across its social channels. Each platform is unique and copy needs to be carefully tailored for each. Just because Twitter is giving you a license to be more expressive, it doesn’t mean you should reach for those Ctrl C keys…
The character changes will especially benefit marketers with strict disclosure rules. For instance, financial tweets sometimes need to be labelled for compliance reasons, and some paid tweets require disclosure in the text, all taking up scarce space.
A walled garden?
Let’s be clear: longer tweets mustn’t be seen as micro landing pages. Twitter wants more users to stay in the app for longer, and increasing the length of tweets should certainly help them achieve that aim.
However, as a marketer you still want to drive traffic to your site – so try not to include so much copy in your tweets that the all-important URL gets buried in the bloat.
Brevity is still best
Twitter’s USP is brevity – that’s what its foundations were built on. This is a big shift and not everyone will like it.
Brands should keep a close eye on how the Twittersphere responds to the change. Keep talking, but keep listening too.