This week, rumours have been rife that Twitter is planning a pretty major change to the way we’ll all use the platform.
A story that first broke on Re/Code on Tuesday, it’s believed that the social network is set to extend the character limit for Tweets from 140 to 10,000, within the next three months.
The change is said to be driven by a number of factors, including that Twitter’s user numbers are plateauing, that the platform is failing to hit profit targets and needs a new injection of innovation, and finally, that users are increasingly taking to a series of tricks to get around the previous character limit, including snapshotting images of huge chunks of text and posting them on the site.
While it’s dangerous to cast aspersions on Twitter (given that no official announcement has yet been made), the rumour of this happening has already led to the social network’s stock falling to an all-time low, according to some reports.
And there’s no denying that should a change occur, it would strike to the very core of what Twitter’s philosophy has always been about: what was once a micro-blogging, content aggregating website would become yet another publishing platform (albeit with a sizeable, established user base).
The marketer’s perspective
Re/Code’s own social media expert, Kurt Wagner is unsure that such a significant change will add anything to the user experience: “CEO Jack Dorsey has been looking for ways to jumpstart user growth for some time, and the company has thrown a number of product updates at users (including new event summaries called Moments) to make this happen. None of it seems to be working, and giving users more real estate to share their thoughts may not be the answer.”
So do marketers agree with Wagner’s analysis or do they see the change as a breath of fresh air?
“Let’s look at the reality - there is no way Twitter is going to suddenly start having 10,000 word blocks of text appearing in timelines,” says Andy Barr, Head ‘Yeti’ at 10 Yetis Digital.
“This would destroy the user experience and give a platform that is already struggling to find the golden monetisation method another nudge towards the great big social media graveyard in the virtual sky.
“In my mind there is no doubt that this will be deployed using a “see more” button from the original 140 character tweet. This is something users are used to, given they often have to click on a tweet to see that image of the funny pug dog, or get a bit more info about a story, and so, in my mind, ‘10k-gate’ is a natural extension. It is also a smart move on the part of Twitter in that it gives them a greater chance of keeping the user on the platform, rather than losing them to another site via a link. This makes the user experience better, no jumping around from sites, all the info in one place.”
However, Pete Trainor, a director at design agency, NexusCX disagrees, stating that the fundamental shift in philosophy will mean Twitter will no longer resonate with ‘users’ and brands alike.
“This move not only fundamentally changes the entire company proposition, it also detracts from the reason people fell in love with it in the first place. It’s like marrying your childhood sweetheart and then they go off and get plastic surgery and become totally unrecognisable. Would you still love them as much? Their personality would be the same, but the person you married would be totally different.
“For me, there are a number of negatives, including that:
• By fundamentally changing the USP they risk losing a huge portion of those users.
• It flies in the face of the USP.
• They’ll get more soap-boxers venting larger amounts of negative or just plain dull sentiment.
• There will be more opportunity for companies to spam consumers.
• The ability to scan a lot of content quickly will be completely lost if you introduce what are effectively blog-posts in to what is a real-time feed of information.”
There’s no denying that relaxing Twitter’s character limit is a major reverse ferret given that its co-founder, Jack Dorsey has often called it "a beautiful constraint". But with the social network in desperate need of a monetisation method, some argue that it’s a requirement to stop the platform becoming staid, and crucially, to attract more money from paid advertising.
“Brands, content providers and media companies are already posting “Instant Articles” on Facebook, which keeps users inside Facebook instead of sending them to external sites,” says Richard Jones, co-founder and CEO, EngageSciences. “Twitter, in a sense, is now doing the same thing, hoping to increasingly become a one-stop shop for people to consume content, not content links.
Let’s look at the reality - there is no way Twitter is going to suddenly start having 10,000 word blocks of text appearing in timelines
“Putting this into perspective, the new character limit will give brands and advertisers more flexibility with how they can use the platform, encouraging them to share directly to Twitter more content more often. Don’t be surprised if you see brands, newspapers, magazines in the future publishing their content directly to Twitter.”
And it’s not only Facebook’s Instant Articles that Twitter has to compete with. In recent months and years LinkedIn has made a number of developments to ensure its users are actively publishing content directly on site, with many, including its blog aggregator Pulse, proving successful. It’s this type of ‘gated’ engagement that Twitter may well see as key to attracting more money from marketers in the future.
“Expanding the limit will benefit marketers because they will be able to advertise to an audience more accurately,” says Sharon Flaherty, managing director of content marketing agency BrandContent.
“With more text in tweets, there are naturally more keywords which can help twitter more accurately serve an ad to the right twitter user. In theory, this should mean brands get more engagement with their twitter ad’s but it could be spammy for users if twitter does not get this right. On the up-side, if they do consumers they may have more ad’s targeted at them in their feeds however there is a chance they are more relevant to them which could prove less annoying and actually useful.”
“In terms of SEO, now Twitter is back in bed with Google, tweets are being indexed more instantly but having tweets that have far more characters will mean more keywords get indexed. The move to allow micro-blogging and long-form content on the platform will mean brands can benefit from more tweets being indexed which in turn will support their content marketing and SEO strategies. Only a good thing for online businesses who are being torn apart by the rising costs of PPC to their businesses.”