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Twitter’s 280 character limit: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it?

Twitter’s 280 character limit: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it?

by George Toner | , The IDM |
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, it’s safe to assume you are well aware of Twitter’s latest controversial decision to introduce 280 characters per tweet. After initially testing the idea, Twitter has now rolled out the change to every user. This change is no doubt a game changer for marketers, but how necessary is it?

Following several tests across selected accounts, Twitter discovered that 9% of tweets in English were hitting the 140 character limit and, after introducing the increase in characters, the tests resulted in only 1% of Tweets hitting the limit. This proves that most users were no longer being restricted to the character limit, allowing them to freely tweet what they want.

Despite this research suggesting the increase in word count is welcomed by Twitter users, are they happy with it? Has it improved user experience? According to a poll we carried on Twitter, only 9% of voters loved the new character limit, whereas 39% hated it. Although a further 52% of voters said they were not fussed either way. With this in mind, what does the doubling in copy mean for marketers, is it good or bad for business?

What does this mean for Digital Marketers?

Just like any update, the new increased character limited poses many opportunities for businesses. The official tone on this change was that it will now be “easier to Tweet”.

On the surface, doubling the character limit can be seen as a positive change as it allows those in charge of social media to tell a story, market their brand and add context in a way they were unable to before. We digital marketers have often struggled to cram our content into 140 characters.

After the initial testing period, Twitter claimed that users who had more room to tweet received higher engagement. Good news, right? Yet with every opportunity comes a threat and digital marketers should realise that, just because they have 280 characters to use, it doesn’t mean they should always use them all. No one wants Twitter turning into Facebook or LinkedIn with long, drawn out posts. The conciseness and creativity inherent to tweets are still what makes Twitter users tick.

Social Media expert and IDM tutor Will Francis had this to say about the update:

The key thing here is, it’s actually a pretty trivial point - the character limit for a Facebook post is a whopping 63,206 but that doesn’t mean you have to use them all! The fact is that short, pithy text with a nice image always wins and I don’t think the character limit affects that. What it does address is those posts, often about a more serious subject that needs a more detailed explanation, now having room, or at least not being spread over quite so many tweets. And that’s surely a good thing for everyone.

How did businesses react?

One of the greatest aspects of Twitter is its reactiveness and the way users and companies respond to trends creatively. To keep up with tradition, some organisations responded to the update in the most “Twitter” way possible. 
Is Twitter self-destructing?

Twitter has struggled in recent years with sluggish growth and the inability to attract new users in a way it once could. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, returned to the company in 2016 and has since made several high-profile changes and trigger-finger decisions, some seemingly personal thus leading to the question, is Twitter damaging its USP?

Twitter was once seen as a micro-blogging community, one where users could freely express their opinions, thoughts and ramblings in a concise and creative manner. Twitter’s USP was brevity, it’s what the company was built on, what made it so popular. The main argument against the new character limit was that longer posts would ruin user experience and timelines would clog up with long tweets. However, Twitter assures us this won’t be the case, claiming that throughout the testing period, only 5% of tweets were longer than 140 characters and 2% were higher than 190. If this is the case from now on, then we have nothing to worry about and the odd long tweet here and there won’t hurt us. After all, it does save me pulling my hair out when desperately trying to get a marketing tweet down from 147 characters to 140.

But it does beg the question, if these were the results from testing, and if only 9% of Tweets previously hit the 140 character limit, then was this change really necessary? Is it a case of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”?

This isn’t the only change Jack has made to the character counts within tweets, at the beginning of the year, Twitter announced that media attachments no longer counted to the character limit, much to the relief of regular Tweeters.

What do you think of the new character limit?

Have some strong opinions on the latest change from Twitter? Let us know @TheIDM, or follow us and see whether or not we have taken advantage of the new limits. If you would like to learn more about how Twitter, and other social media platforms can benefit your brand, or the strategies and tactics involved, we offer a full portfolio of social media training, ranging from one-day courses to a professional qualification
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Up to date information, the internet session particularly useful

Alison Marshall,
Scottish UFI

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