You might have heard the news this week that Twitter is going to change its character limit from 140 to 280.
One of the reasons for this, says the social media giant, is to create language equity. According to Twitter, about 9 percent of tweets are exactly 140 characters, meaning that users frequently have to edit their initial thoughts to get them under the limit or just on. In languages such as Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, where whole words can be expressed in one character, this isn’t the case. For Twitter, the move is giving those in the west who are affected by “language cramming” the opportunity to use Twitter in a way that doesn’t limit them in expressing themselves.
But, to put a 21st spin on Shakespeare, brevity is the soul of Twitter (I know, rich coming from someone who wrote a play 4,042 lines long when the average at the time was 3000). So how will the 280-character limit affect Twitter as a platform?
Why a 280 character limit could be a good thing
Twitter has evolved many times to accommodate what users want – which quite often seems to be the capability to say and do more. For example, adding longer videos. When you look at the way people use Twitter, it’s easy to argue that this is a feature that people want – how often have you seen someone use Twitlonger, screenshot a note from their phone or ‘tweetstorm’ (i.e. post a succession of tweets on one topic, usually with (1/5) tagged at the end to show how many tweets there are in the series).
Quite simply, 280 characters will allow people to express themselves with fewer limitations. When it comes to marketing, this has some potential to be beneficial – how often have you struggled to fit your key messages into 140 characters? Twitter’s 280 character limit has the potential to help individuals and businesses say what they mean to say, not what they can say within the limitations. It also means that businesses might be able to have more meaningful interactions with their customer base. For example, if a customer complains about something to a business or has a question, a larger character limit will allow them to explain the issue in more detail and give the business more opportunity to respond with a solution or answer beyond “Sorry to hear that – could you DM us your email address?”.
Why a 280 character limit could be the worst thing to happen to Twitter since Donald Trump
On the other hand, the short, snappy, nature of Twitter is what makes it so attractive for a multitude of uses. The format is what has made Twitter what it is today – the place to go for breaking news and one of the best mediums for humour ever invented. The essence of Twitter is inevitably wrapped up in the format of its content, and changing a fundamental part of the platform is likely to change the way we use it – and not for the best. At the start of the year, we predicted that social media platforms were likely to start looking more and more similar. If Twitter feels comfortable doubling its character limit to 280, who is to say that next year, it won’t double again to 560? As different social media platforms start to offer the same things, it will become harder for businesses to make informed decisions about which to invest in, as what they can offer becomes less clear. Twitter’s 280 character limit takes it that one step closer to simply being Facebook… How long will it be before you can post a full blog on the platform, and what benefit could it bring that you wouldn’t get from posting a blog elsewhere?
The argument could also be made that if your business can’t whittle down your core messages to 140 characters, they’re too complex. The beauty of Twitter is that it forces you to think harder about what you want to get across and how to do it. A longer character limit means that businesses run the risk of getting their message lost in a tonne of meaningless fluff simply because there’s space to fill. Creating clear and concise messages is an art in marketing, and Twitter’s 140 character limit is a super useful tool for helping develop it.
What do you think of Twitter’s 280 character limit?