Twitter continues to face significant challenges. Its Q2 results showed slow user growth and a fall in ad revenues. The business is under pressure from investors to show that it has a long-term, profitable future. This morning Twitter announced its latest product development: it’s planning to double the character limit from 140 to 280 characters. For a network well-loved for the brevity of its tweets it’s a bold move. And will it be enough to improve Twitter’s fortunes?
Twitter’s rationale for making the change
Why has Twitter tinkered with the 140 character limit after almost 10 years? The challenge for Twitter has been getting more users, and getting those users to tweet. Whilst Twitter has a hardcore of active, dedicated users, many are content to passively consume content. Growing volumes of tweets is central to its plans to generate revenue.
Twitter’s post announcing the change indicates that for certain languages 140 characters is too tight a limit. Twitter demonstrates this in the chart below:
Tweets in English it suggests use up more than double those of Japanese ones. 18 times as many English language tweets hit the current 140 character limit than those in Japanese. Twitter has decided to address this. So from today a small, select group will get to test tweeting with 280 characters.
As expected the news has certainly generated a high volume of coverage in the media and plenty of tweets too. Some Twitter fans are outraged, others welcome the change. The BBC’s Tech Editor was fairly blunt in his initial assessment of the news. It’s indicative too of how hardcore fans see the move.
This has to be the stupidest idea ever from a social media firm that’s lost its way and doesn’t know that brevity is https://t.co/6ppHocnRW4
— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) September 27, 2017
Others have been less forthright and this being Twitter, there’s plenty of humour too. In reality the debate over 280 characters is largely moot. If Twitter’s own chart above is to be believed, then the average tweet length will still be under 100 characters.
Those worried that businesses will flood timelines with wordy promotional messages are probably over-reacting. The risk for marketers is that excessive use of these longer tweets will result in lower engagement. This should temper brands as they look to take advantage of the new rules (if, and when they are made available globally). Ditto for personal ones. As usual the ‘market’, in this case Twitter users will ensure the limit is not abused.
Twitter’s real reason for making the change is money. More people tweeting drives more engagement and further conversations. This gives more impressions which can be sold to advertisers. Crucially, increasing these volumes will help drive down unit costs for advertisers. This in turn will bring in more revenue as the channel becomes more attractive (especially to smaller advertisers). Make no mistake, this is about money. The fluffy explanation is purely for PR.
Will it help Twitter grow?
At the moment this is purely the announcement of a test. Only time will tell whether it will have worked. Twitter though does need to innovate. The latest results showed slowing US user growth and a decline in non US ad spend. Can they reverse this decline? Twitter thinks so.
Driving advertising growth depends on users and content. One reason why smaller brands are investing less is value. Twitter ad campaigns do not offer the response or cost-effectiveness of Facebook & Instagram. So a solution that increases interaction and results in increasing volumes of tweets can only be a good thing.
We all want Twitter to survive so if this brings revenue it’ll also bring stability to a platform that many people love.