Get ready to unload a bigger piece of your mind via Twitter - starting today, the micro-blogging giant is removing the 140-character limit on direct messages (DMs) for all users. The move was first flagged in June, hours after CEO Dick Costolo announced he'd be standing down as CEO of the social platform. From today, the change becomes reality, as the update is rolled out to users across the world.
From the official announcement:
"While Twitter is largely a public experience, Direct Messages let you have private conversations about the memes, news, movements, and events that unfold on Twitter. Each of the hundreds of millions of Tweets sent across Twitter every day is an opportunity for you to spark a conversation about what's happening in your world. That's why we've made a number of changes to Direct Messages over the last few months. Today's change is another big step towards making the private side of Twitter even more powerful and fun."
The changes referred to here being the removal of restrictions on who can DM whom - previously you could only DM those following you, now users have the choice to receive direct messages from anyone - and the addition of group direct messages for wider, private group discussions. And while some have been skeptical about the decision to remove the character limit on DMs, the move will add to the wider functionality of the platform, particularly from a customer service standpoint - and that, precisely, is where this addition is aimed.
Logic and Reason
There are two big reasons why Twitter has been working to improve the functionality of DMs. The first is to improve the utility of the platform as a customer service channel, something Twitter's been working to emphasize in an effort to get more brands on board. Just last week, Twitter released 126-page 'Customer Service Playbook' which outlines the strengths of Twitter for this purpose. The focus on this element makes sense - as detailed in the Playbook, an increasing number of consumers are turning to Twitter to get a response from brands, meaning more brands should take note and maintain a presence on the platform.
If Twitter can convince more companies to utilize Twitter for this purpose, that'll boost its status as a business tool and gets more brands, and more consumers, on board. In this sense, the extension of DMs fits perfectly in-step, as it'll enable brands to more comprehensively answer audience queries and provide additional context that would have been impossible under previous character limits. When you consider this, along with the addition of Twitter video, and even the extra functionality of live-streaming in Periscope, Twitter is working hard to frame itself as the platform of choice for customer service. And with its focus on real-time, quick response, it may actually be ahead of Facebook in this regard - it makes perfect sense that this would be their main focus for this change.
But there's also another motivator behind the upgrade - the continued rise of direct messaging. The growth of direct messaging has been well documented, with major emphasis on the expanded use of Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Just last week, Pew Research released a report which shows text messaging is clearly the dominant communications option of choice among Millennial teens. The increased adoption of direct messaging is something all platforms are considering and trying to align with - if Twitter can provide a direct messaging functionality that appeals to the rising number of users who are more comfortable with this form of connection, then that's a win for them. At the same time, if they don't take it up, it's no big loss.
Given the potential benefits of adding more functionality to direct messages, removing the character limits is a pretty safe play for Twitter - whether it leads to increased user engagement on the platform will be another question entirely.
Overall, the removal of the 140-character limit on direct messages is more than likely going to play out as a positive move for the micro-blog platform. Concerns have been raised that the changes to DMs will mean more, and longer, spam, and definitely that is a possibility, particularly in the case of opening DMs to all comers. But the use of these new functions is optional, you can turn them off or not use them if you choose, and you can still block troublesome users with the existing Twitter tools.
It is worth noting, too, that there is still a character limit on DMs - it's been upped to 10,000 characters, giving you plenty of room to contextualize and explain (and if your message hits that 10k limit, you probably need to consider taking it to another forum).
Adding more room for users, particularly brands, to contextualize via direct message may prove to be an extremely handy addition in the long run, and it's definitely something all brands should be considering in their wider Twitter strategy. Having the ability to provide users with more in-depth answers, on the platform which they're already using, means you'll no longer need to refer them to another link or re-direct them to another channel - more issues will be able to be resolved there and then, streamlining the process. And with the number of Twitter queries for brands rising, this can only be a positive.