Twitter has done a 180 on its 140.

Since tweeting began a decade ago (yes 2007 was 10 years ago, do you feel old now?), the lure of the channel has been that you were limited to 140 characters. Originally, it was a practical decision – Twitter was dependent on SMS messaging. The SMS limit is 160 characters so factor in 20 characters for a username and the 140 character tweet was born.

Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Twitter’s character count. I’d always joke that the perfect tweet was always one character too long and sometimes, I’d consider throwing all self-respect out the window and committing one of the most heinous crimes – deliberate misspelling and incorrect grammar. Thankfully it never came to that.

How does Twitter’s new character limit affect social media marketing?

However, overall, I think Twitter’s character limit was a force for good as it gave marketing managers no choice but to focus on and hone their message.

  1. What are you trying to say?
  2. What is the most important information?
  3. Do I need a call to action? (Always!)
  4. Do I need a link? (Most likely – you only have 140 characters, where else are users going to get their information?)
  5. Do I need rich media? (Not essential, but your tweet will get better engagement)

Last year, Twitter made the decision to exclude rich media from the character count, which I welcomed with open arms. It allowed Twitter to become more engaging and move away from the static text based updates it was known for. If I worked in the Twitter development team, I’d have been pushing to exclude links from the character count, meaning you could use all 140 on your message.

After a short trial, Twitter has now rolled out 280 characters, double the previous limit, for everyone (except Chinese, Japanese and Korean users as they can convey much more information with fewer characters.)

Is 280 actually better than 140?

While it’s still not as many characters as Facebook and LinkedIn allow, I can’t help but feel a little sad as the Twitter we know and love probably won’t be the same again. The one characteristic that made the social media channel unique has now gone. In an effort to combat criticism, Twitter has released data that shows only a small handful users who were part of the pilot misused it, with only 5% of tweets sent longer than 140 characters, and just 1% using the full 280 limit.

I’m slightly more sceptical and fear that marketing managers around the world will become lazy and revert to old habits; perhaps even just replicating LinkedIn and Facebook updates directly on to Twitter. Just because you have 280 characters doesn’t mean you have to use them all. While it gives you a little more breathing space, you don’t need to go to the limit in every tweet.

Another benefit is that it will allow for better formatting and creativity. You can use emojis and line breaks to help make your tweet stand out on the timeline.

Twitter acts as a great referrer of traffic and the more information you include in your tweet, the less likely a user is to click through to your website to find out more, so make sure you’re always providing just enough to entice them without click-baiting.

While I accept that social media is constantly evolving, for me this feels more like a step back than a step forward but I am excited to see how users react and adapt. What do you think of the new 280 Twitter limit? Tweet me your (extended) thoughts @BIGPartnership.

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