When Twitter launched in 2006 it was smack bang in an era of massive Facebook growth. Facebook was becoming such a global success that in order to be a triumph, Twitter had to have a distinct niche, a particular set of features that differentiated it from the social media giant.
It did exactly that: its 140 character limit was its defining feature. It was a hub for news, a way to communicate with your audience where everyone was on an even playing field, from corporate giants and celebrities to the average person or an SME. Everyone had to play by the rules and shrink their messages to get to their audience. By 2016, writing tweets had become an art form perfected by many.
So it may have come as a massive surprise when, at the start of this year, the tech rumour mill started turning to reveal plans to extend this limit. Not just by a little but to a huge 10,000 characters. It is expected that more news on a potential change, nicknamed ‘Beyond 140’, will be announced at the end of Q1 this year.
So why is it doing this and what will it mean for your social media campaigns?
In 2013, Twitter launched an unsuccessful IPO and its shares have been diving. Monetising the platform has proven very tricky: the lack of data users provide and nature of its quick use mean getting advertising to users is difficult. It is also no secret that active user numbers have been steadily decreasing. A number of changes in the last 12 months appear to be an attempt to address these issues.
We have picked out the key potential issues that you should be aware of.
1 Could it be slower?
Why? Everything on Twitter over the last 12 months has been getting bigger. Larger images, more characters in Direct Messages, more tabs, more information collection. Whilst all this seems like it can only be better, bigger also means bigger files and therefore a slower loading time.
The average person already has an attention span of less than 12 seconds. For the next generation it is sub 10 seconds. A Twitter crash happens once a blue moon these days but could more data to load mean more crashes or a slower service? It is bad news for Twitter if bored users drift off when millions of gigantic tweets delay everything, and bad news for you if these users become less active.
The 140 character limit was its defining feature. Everyone had to play by the rules and by 2016 writing tweets had become an art form.
How to deal with it: Keep your content sharp and snappy to hold attention spans unless you really need to break the 140 character limit, and use low res images. Do not just rely on Twitter either by publishing across other platforms.
2 Could there be less engagement?
Why? ‘Beyond 140’ will provide the potential for larger pieces of content from a user, so that means newsfeeds could potentially be very clogged up. Although we do not know about the design aspect just yet it does mean that users are likely to engage with fewer larger tweets rather than lots of smaller ones, like at present.
How to deal with it: If you have not created a content marketing plan that will provide entertaining, eye-catching and valuable content for your Twitter users then now is the time. Twitter could become even more competitive so drop the pure sales messages and start publishing blogs and images that your users want to see.
3 Could there be customer service issues?
Why? Although Twitter is a hub for customer service and a great way for your customers to get in touch, in a more instant way the 140 character limit forced users to get straight to the point and actually engage in a constructive conversation. A 10,000 character limit could see the start of the ‘Twitter rant’ where customers are able to share every small detail of a complaint before you can constructively wade in or divert them into a Direct Message.
How to deal with it: Depending on their generation, customers often take to social media to complain as a last resort so ensure that you have a customer service policy in place and aim for ‘prevention’ rather than ‘cure’. You could also consider setting up a separate customer service channel so that the corporate channel is not flooded with long tweets, which could hold up response times. A dedicated channel will preserve your brand and manage the expectations of users searching for your company on Twitter.