After years of discussion, debate, speculation and some small moves in this direction, Twitter announced yesterday that it will be testing an expanded 280-character limit for some users for English, Spanish, Portuguese and French tweets.

In its announcement, Twitter revealed that 9% of English tweets hit the 140-character limit and according to Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen, “our research shows us that the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people tweeting in English.”

As Twitter seeks to find a way to restart its growth engine and better compete with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, the company appears to be focusing in on this apparent source of frustration.

While the expanded character limit is just a limited test for now, here's what marketers should be considering given the possibility that this change will be made permanent and rolled out to all users.

The good

It's hard to craft effective messages in 140 characters, and while marketers have proven over the years that it can be done, in theory, a 280-character limit will give marketers more flexibility and make it easier for them to craft still-brief but clearer messages that resonate with Twitter users. 

For that reason, many marketers are already excited about the prospect of a 280-character limit.

Additionally, if Twitter is right and an increased character limit can broaden Twitter's appeal and increase engagement, marketers active on Twitter will obviously benefit. Right now, Twitter's languishing growth and the uncertainty of its future in the market is a drag on marketers, particularly those that have invested heavily in the platform over the years while upstarts like Snapchat rose up and eclipsed it.

The bad

Despite the fact that a 280-character limit would give marketers greater flexibility, after years of building messages around the 140-character limit, it will also require them to rethink how they tweet.

After all, just because marketers would have room to post longer messages doesn't mean that they'll make effective use of it. Attention spans are short and marketers won't be able to assume that Twitter users will read all 280 characters just because they're on the screen.

Some users have suggested that instead of displaying all 280 characters, Twitter display a “read more” link on tweets above 140 characters in length. This is a reasonable suggestion, but for marketers to take real advantage of the extended tweet length they would still have to focus on creating a compelling message that's 140 characters in length. If they didn't, it's unlikely users would click on the “read more” link to expand their longer tweets.

Bottom line: even with a 280-character limit, marketers are going to have to work hard to cut through the clutter and it's plausible that a longer character limit will make it even harder to do that.

The ugly

Twitter will no doubt be closely monitoring how users respond to its 280-character limit test and only roll it out broadly if it sees evidence that it will benefit the platform. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for error because what Twitter thinks will benefit the platform might not be what other stakeholders believe will benefit the platform.

Twitter users, particularly power users, have been notoriously resistant to change and this is one of the biggest changes that Twitter could make. Not surprisingly, some users are already expressing displeasure with the prospect of a 280-character limit.

There are two worst case scenarios that marketers will have to keep an eye out for if Twitter rolls out an increased character limit broadly:

  • It negatively impacts the platform. This could come in any number of forms. For example, an increased character limit could drive power users away. Or if it does broaden Twitter's appeal, marketers might find that the user base changes and the signal to noise ratio decreases.
  • It does nothing. While the status quo might not seem so bad, if such a significant change fails to help Twitter increase user growth and engagement, it will be one of the strongest indicators yet that Twitter's long-term relevance is in doubt and that might hasten a marketer de-emphasis of the service.
Patricio Robles

Published 27 September, 2017 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

21 days ago

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