CEO Jack Dorsey recently announced a plan to double the character limit of tweets from 140 to 280.
Honestly? Our amusing first reaction was, how would Donald Trump react to this? ("Shh! Don't tell him," we imagine some White House staffers said.)
No growth in active users: Twitter growth has slowed down in recent years to a stagnant 328 million active users worldwide. This summer, active user engagement dropped in the U.S. by two million for the very first time.This means businesses will spend less on targeted ads.
Money: The company's 2013 IPO started at $44 a share. Now Twitter shares linger at $17, far below the market success of its former big brother Facebook, which is now more like a Great-Uncle Moneybags. Sluggish Twitter user growth is mostly to blame.
Most importantly, Twitter the company has never turned a profit. It has had to evolve, innovate or die.
Evolution so far
Over the years, Twitter has added many new features both good and bad:
- Eliminated character counts for links and @handle replies
- Native video uploads & live streaming via Periscope
- No DM character limits
- Mute button for spammers
So, Twitter hasn't been sitting on its hands. They just haven't come up with a game-changer.
That is until now.
Many colleagues and fellow tweeters will disagree. But hear me out! Setting our emotional biases aside and knowing Twitter MUST grow, the new 280 limit can entice more users and engagement. Concurrently, Twitter culture and point of difference of brevity and speed endures. For Twitter, growth is all that matters right now.
Why 280 is good
More space: The biggest tweeter complaint is not enough space. I personally spend time shortening many of my important tweets about politics and social justice. Yes, brevity is good. But character limits are frustrating. Like Twitter says, now there will be less cramming.
Increased tweet value: The biggest gain will be in cogent, well thought-out tweets that can now tell a short story, flush out details of an event or make a stronger argument. Additionally, some of the more inspirational or creative tweeters can share longer, thorough quotes and entire poems, etc.
Core value remains: The core value and benefit of Twitter for thought leadership, event updates and information exchange stays the same.
- Responsiveness: Twitter is for the most immediate things happening in the world. The first place we see any breaking news, an earthquake or a World Cup goal score, is Twitter. People respond the most quickly here.
- Accessibility: No other social platform has this. I can't send Lady Gaga or Lebron James a personal message on LinkedIn or Facebook. But on Twitter I can directly tweet them (even if they don't read it). Users love this feeling of access.
- Brevity: 280 is FAR fewer allowed characters than LinkedIn (1,300), Facebook, (63,206), or Instagram (2,200). Twitter culture still places value on shorter posts. You can still choose to write shorter tweets and many do. In fact, read mybold prediction below.
This idea didn't come from left field. Data shows that Twitter users desire a change like 280. Twitter has been carefully considering how best to attract users and more engagement.
According to their publicized data chart (see below), most Japanese tweeters use only 15 characters and don't hit the maximum that often, while nine per cent of all English tweeters hit the limit. This implies, perhaps not too strongly, that 280 characters doesn't mean English tweeters will max out tweet lengths, but they are cramming the space. I personally do this sometimes, changing tenses, losing punctuation and even taking out verbs (about = abt). I would argue an even higher percentage of users would welcome more space.
Two other important implications are:
- Complex language users will likely try Twitter
- Busy people will enjoy it more because they're not spending time trying to be so concise.
More time and space will both add users and create more tweet engagement.
Better connection: Isn't this what every social platform wants? Twitter can do the same with the 280 and allow more depth of interaction. @BilalJaffrey said this about the 280:
"It allows better expressions of ideas and this will likely improve engagement and will allow deeper connections."
Why this 280 may be bad
Negative response: Twitter is both brutal and brilliant when it comes to humour.
We have already seen voluminous jokes about how "we hate this," dread about how we "fear change," and pandemonium over "should I stay or should I go," "thanks but no thanks."
Clogging tweets: We may see even more junky tweets. Do people really need to put their signatures in tweets now? Or worse, spam/legal notices!
Users leave: I doubt all the heavy users will leave. If the engagement gets more creative and open, you will see more users join and try it out.
140 is enough! Twitter is doing what Instagram did with video. First, Instagram had video at 15 seconds and then upped it to 60 seconds. They didn't go higher like other platforms. What do we see now on Instagram? Either short five-10-second videos or full 45-60-second videos.
What's next for 280: bold prediction
Given the higher currency in shorter tweets remains, I predict we'll see two main types of tweets.
1, Higher-value short tweets: the one quip, idea or bold statement
2. Longer-form tweet: short story, creative expression, or concise yet detailed arguments.
We do the same thing with texts, either super-short or longer ones. Twitter may eventually large-size the text of shorter tweets like Facebook does. It's a best practice that works and shouldn't be ignored.
Given the above, Twitter will still own the culture of brevity, offer more creative expression and deeper connection, and ultimately bring more users to engage and tweet more often.
Is that a game-changer? You betcha!