The great Twitter 280 Characters debate of 2017 has begun and there are some rather prominent detractors on the 140 side.
The Pros & Cons Of The 280 Debate
The 140 Traditionalists
Leading the pack on the 140 side is Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who thinks Twitter has just destroyed its raison d’être:
Twitter’s destroyed its USP. The whole point, for me, was how inventive people could be within that concise framework. #Twitter280characters
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) November 8, 2017
You’ll notice the theme: These critics are writers all, people who take great joy out of crafting their language. I get it. I feel the same way about language.
But the very thing these writers found delightful about a platform that forces them to perfect their words within a 140 box frustrates normal users who just want to say something, not spend a ridiculous amount of time figuring how to fit what they want to say in such a short space.
The 280 Enthusiasts
Baby Driver actor Ansel Elgort‘s a fan:
Wow this tweet is gonna be really long I really like this I can say really without cutting it out now. I can use punctuation if I feel like it!!! I don't have to spend 5 minutes figuring out which words to take out, I can use them all hahahahahahahaha epic wow it's still going 😃
— Ansel Elgort (@AnselElgort) November 8, 2017
As is the Chester Zoo:
At least there's now space for endless animal emojis… 🦁🐵🐻🐭🐯🐸🐧🦇🦉🐗🦋🐜🕷🐢🐍🦀🦎🐠🐟🐡🐆🐊🐅🐃🐫🐘🌺🦂🐀🐁🐿🐒🐣🐤🦅🐦🐱🐹🐌🦏🦁🐵🐻🐭🐯🐸🐧🦇🦉🐗🦋🐜🕷🐢🐍🦀🦎🐠🐟🐡🐆🐊🐅🐃🐫🐘🌺🦂🐀🐁🐿🐒🐣🐤🦅🐦🐱🐹🐌🦏🦁🐵🐻🐭🐯🐸🐧🦇🦉🦋🐜🕷🐢🐍🦀🦎🐠🐟🐡🐆🐊🐅🐃🐫🐘#280characters
— Chester Zoo (@chesterzoo) November 8, 2017
Why Was Twitter Limited To 140 Characters?
A little historic perspective.
Twitter was originally designed to be used through mobile carriers’ text messaging services, which were limited to 160 characters per message. So Twitter’s creators imposed the 140 character limit to allow 20 characters to be free to display Twitter users’ handle, like our @KarwoskiCourage (15 characters plus the @ sign = 16).
Over time, Twitter has effectively increased the character count for actual characters by removing from the character count calculation things that weren’t actual alphanumeric characters, such as photos, videos, GIFs, polls, quote tweets, and @names.
Users themselves have resorted to hacks to work around the 140 character limit.
How Twitter Users Got Around The Character Limit
Tweetstorms are a series of tweets that are an extension of the same thought, topic or theme posted by one user and strung together but a sequence of numbers, i.e. 1/5, 2/5, 3/5, and so forth. When Twitter added the ability to add a comment to a retweet, people abandoned the numbering system and just retweeted their previous tweet with additional commentary.
Another hack people often employed was writing their message in a text editor, taking a screenshot of that message and posting the image instead of writing a tweet.
Why Did Twitter Expand The Character Limit To 280?
As you can see, Twitter users themselves were giving the company plenty of indications they wanted more space. So they tested 280 characters with a select group of users and now it has rolled out to everyone.
The Ideal Tweet Length
The company’s stated purpose in expanding the space allocated to individual tweets is to make it easier to tweet, as is outlined in the announcement blog post:
Historically, 9% of Tweets in English hit the character limit. This reflects the challenge of fitting a thought into a Tweet, often resulting in lots of time spent editing and even at times abandoning Tweets before sending. With the expanded character count, this problem was massively reduced – that number dropped to only 1% of Tweets running up against the limit. Since we saw Tweets hit the character limit less often, we believe people spent less time editing their Tweets in the composer. This shows that more space makes it easier for people to fit thoughts in a Tweet, so they could say what they want to say, and send Tweets faster than before. You can see this happening in the graph below.
By making the product much less frustrating to use, Twitter will go a long way toward attracting more users, an effort that has been stalled at about 330 million for some time.
Saving People Time = More Engagement & Time On Site
To paraphrase Pascal (or Mark Twain or George Bernard Shaw or Voltaire):
I would’ve written a shorter tweet, but I didn’t have enough time.
With the exception of we precious writers, who love to take the time to craft and hone our words into 140 character bits of brilliance, most people just want to dash off a quick thought, share an interesting link, or engage in a conversation.
The less time people spend editing individual tweets, the more fun they’ll have on the platform. The more fun people have, the more tweeting and replying and retweeting with commentary they’ll do. And all that behavior will create more time on Twitter.
That is exactly what Twitter needs to satisfy its shareholders. More users spending more time on site equals greater advertising revenue.
More Users & Engagement = More Ad Inventory
The more users Twitter acquires, the more data they get to allow more options for advertisers to target specific types of people. The more targeting options Twitter creates for advertisers, the more ad inventory they can make available.
Similarly, the more frequently people post tweets, the more content there is on the platform from which you can trigger ads. Likewise, the more frequent and verbose the tweets, the more keywords are available to trigger ads.
Finally, the more time people spend on the site, the more opportunities there are for users to view and click on ads.
10 Ways 280 Characters Will Effect Twitter
1) Users Can Have More In-Depth Conversations
Discussion of or debate over complex topics are not easily conducted within 140 characters. Doubling the space for those conversations will likely lead to more substantive content on Twitter.
2) Better Twitter Chats & Revived Twitterviews
Twitter chats are regularly scheduled group chats on Twitter that are typically devoted to a specific topic and usually include a featured expert. They are tied together using a devoted hashtag. The extra space will allow for better, more in-depth discussions for these events.
Twitterviews, on the other hand, are interviews conducted on Twitter between the subject of the interview and an interviewee with the ability of other Twitter users to pose their own questions. But it is usually limited to the interviewer and interviewee, tied together with a hashtag and shared as a whole document on a blog post after the fact. It is a more controlled format than Twitter chats.
Twitterviews have kind of fallen by the wayside since the platform’s earlier days but I could see them making a comeback now that Tweets can provide a more expansive discussion.
3) Quicker Response Time
As Twitter found in its test, if people are spending less time editing their tweets for space, they will be more likely to hit the Tweet button more quickly and more frequently. That will make conversations on Twitter more immediate, which will have the effect of keeping people from dropping out of current conversations due to delayed responses.
4) More Quotations
Quotations are a very popular format on social media in general, but I imagine journalists will use the extra space to include quotes from the stories their sharing as a way to entice followers to click.
5) Hashtag Abuse
This will definitely be an issue and be a cause for grumbling among some users. Expect to see more Instagram-like posts with 10+ hashtags included in tweets.
5) Better Discovery
Doubling the available content within a tweet will provide richer context for Twitter’s own search function. This will help users to more easily find textual content. It will also help with the discovery of photos and video with the addition of explanatory text that helps provide context for the content of the photo or video.
Tweets In Google Search
I will be interested to see if or how the 280 character limit affects the manner in which tweets show up in Google search results. Keep in mind that Google has a deal with Twitter to get access to its “firehose” of data, so the additional context may provide some interesting opportunities for the search giant.
One such opportunity I could see is Google using tweets that answer question-related search queries as the basis for its “rich snippets” or instant answers feature. Instant answers are that little box that sometimes shows up at the top of search results that directly answers the question you posed rather than requiring you to click through to the website for the answer.
7) Better Sentiment Analysis
Social listening tools have long been notoriously bad at understanding sentiment. The tools have improved over the years but there is definitely room for improvement. Since most of these tools rely heavily on Twitter data to perform sentiment analysis, the sparse nature of tweets have presented a structural impediment to accuracy.
More characters, in this case, means more context from which to determine the emotions being expressed or implied. Look for sentiment analysis to improve as a result.
8) Influencer/Sponsor Disclosure
One of the issues that have always been raised in terms of influencer marketing is the failure by influencers to disclose sponsored relationships and sponsored content due to “lack of space.” There’s no longer any excuse, as if that was a legitimate one to begin with.
9) Customer Service/Reputation Management
The extra space will allow aggrieved customers more room to detail just how badly they’ve been wronged. This will throw some curve balls at social media managers in the form of additional details they’ve yet to have to contend with publicly.
10) News Commentary & Criticism
Twitter has always been a go-to source for news, especially when it comes to breaking news events. The extra space and ease of use Twitter now affords will provide more people more opportunities to voice their opinions about news events.
If the volume of tweets increases as Twitter hopes, those in the media spotlight will be subject to a greater deluge of commentary than they’ve heretofore been subject to. That, obviously, can be good or bad, depending on the nature of the story.
The end result will likely be greater reach for specific stories but more work required by brands and their public relations professionals to monitor, manage and respond to such events.
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