It's seen time and time again: A beloved social media platform makes changes to its operation or function, and the Internet erupts with panic and dismay. Whether it's the introduction of ads, the addition of new features, or a layout switch, it can be hard to get the masses to adapt to change, especially when it affects a social network they use every day. And when it's a change that affects the core values of a platform - that's when people really start reacting.
That's where we find Twitter. The popular "microblogging" service made its name based on that very "micro" concept: that you can post small messages no longer than 140 characters in length. Pictures and links are also allowed, and services like TwitLonger may allow users to extend their thoughts, but on a whole, Twitter has always firmly stuck to its 140-character limit. But now, it's been hinted (in a tweet from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey) that the limit may potentially increase to 10,000 characters - a huge jump, and one that's set off waves of annoyance and confusion through its user base. Though while the casual user may worry about how it will affect their Twitter feed, if this idea does indeed come to fruition, savvy marketers are already looking at ways to make it work for them.
Why the Change
For anyone who's followed Twitter for the last ten years, two things have always been a mystery: how the platform can increase its growth, and how it makes any profit. In terms of the former, there are rarely any significant changes done to Twitter to attract new users; in terms of the latter, there may be a few sponsored tweets here and there, but on a whole Twitter remains mostly ad-free. Both of these factors add up to make Twitter's growth plan a conundrum. While there's no denying that it remains one of the most popular social networks, its longtime user base is accustomed to the service being free to use and free of ads. So how else can you evolve to encourage growth?
The answer: Change it up by changing the one consistent feature, which would be its rigid 140-character limit. An article at MyCustomer explains the possible rationale: "The change is said to be driven by a number of factors, including that Twitter's user numbers are plateauing, that the platform is failing to hit profit targets and needs a new injection of innovation, and finally, that users are increasingly taking to a series of tricks to get around the previous character limit, including snapshotting images of huge chunks of text and posting them on the site."
The article goes on to get to the heart of the matter by saying that such a change would "strike to the very core of what Twitter's philosophy has always been about: what was once a micro-blogging, content aggregating website would become yet another publishing platform (albeit with a sizeable, established user base)." And that's caused much hand-wringing from Twitter users - after all, if Twitter extends its character limit, what's there to set it apart from a regular blogging platform?
But this is how Twitter hopes to find new users: by making itself less confusing to people who have just signed up. "As a new user signing up to Twitter for the first time, I could imagine myself questioning the 140 character limit and it feels like it could add friction and make the platform tougher for me to understand as a beginner," says a blog post at Buffer. By releasing Twitter users from its 140-character limit (although, as Slate notes, it's more likely that the extended tweets will only show the first few lines and have an "expand to read more" option), the platform is opening itself up to bigger conversations and potentially more chances to attract marketers - and bring in more ad revenue.
What It Means For Marketers
Currently Twitter's advertising capabilities are limited to the same characters as any other tweet - 140. While an ad buy may only go as far as a sponsored tweet, there's still plenty you can do with 140 characters - create a hashtag, engage with customers, or point links to landing pages. But if 10,000 characters becomes the norm, it could open up a whole new world of content engagement and search engine indexing.
The article at MyCustomer refers to the "gated" engagement involved with platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, which allow companies to post articles directly within the social media platform, thus keeping users on the social site - and potentially keeping money in Facebook's coffers - rather than moving to somewhere external. This is something Twitter wants to emulate, posts Richard Jones, co-founder and CEO of EngageSciences. ""Twitter, in a sense, is now doing the same thing, hoping to increasingly become a one-stop shop for people to consume content, not content links," Jones is quoted as saying. "Putting this into perspective, the new character limit will give brands and advertisers more flexibility with how they can use the platform, encouraging them to share directly to Twitter more content more often."
And that very content may become even more valuable when it comes to SEO and widening a client's digital footprint. In the same article, Sharon Flaherty, managing director of content marketing agency BrandContent, is quoted as saying: "In terms of SEO, now Twitter is back in bed with Google, tweets are being indexed more instantly but having tweets that have far more characters will mean more keywords get indexed. The move to allow micro-blogging and long-form content on the platform will mean brands can benefit from more tweets being indexed which in turn will support their content marketing and SEO strategies."
In the meantime, there are fundamental lessons that marketers can learn from even the proposition of a character increase. For one, it's always important to craft your tweets so that the initial few words grab eyeballs right away. With the volume of tweets flying across Twitter at any given moment, you're going to want to stand out in the noise, so it's valuable to look into which words perform best to entice potential customers to click. Discuss this goal with your client, and continue to refine the process as you note which Twitter-based links bring in more traffic.
Also, regardless of how long your tweets can be, it's vital that they're readable and have substance. If you're simply posting tweets for the sake of it - without deeper intent, like customer engagement or to promote links to content - then there's a good chance you'll be lost in the shuffle. Treat every tweet you post as the chance to further build out your client's online profile. If you take the time to make Twitter a useful extension of your client's brand, you can reach a whole new audience - whether you're using 140 characters or 10,000.
140 to 10 000 Words: A Change Could Impact Marketers
Social media users rarely react well to the prospect of change, and even though the 10,000 character limit on Twitter is still just a prospect, it's enough to send ripples of curiosity across marketing agencies that rely on the microblogging service. Yet no matter what the future holds for Twitter, it's always wise to hold to best practices - and be ready to grow and adapt along with the platform.
Do you think Twitter will go ahead with the 10,000 character limit increase? Why or why not?