Should Twitter go beyond 140?

Twitter 10000
Let’s get something straight. 10,000 characters is a lot to play with. Especially for a copywriter like me.

I’m not used to staring down the barrel of such a generous word allowance. In my game, brevity and simplicity are key. Ninety percent of my role is distilling lots of information down into accessible bite-sized chunks that are easy for our consumers to get their heads around. Not to mention the fact that big ol’ blocks of text make designers huff and do that ‘not again’ eye roll when you send over a copy doc that’s inevitably 10 words over the limit they had in mind.

Short and sweet

This everyday search for succinctness is probably the reason I feel such an affinity for Twitter. Launched by Jack Dorsey a decade ago, the platform was really coming into the mainstream as I took my first copywriting job straight out of university.

Trying to be funny, interesting or just coherent (and often failing, as my paltry 195 followers will no doubt attest) in less than 140 characters was the perfect way to supplement my first forays into professional writing. This wasn’t Facebook. Tweeting involved skill.

By the time my tubby thumbs fully entered the fray, the popularity of Twitter had exploded. Around 400,000 tweets were posted per quarter in 2007, compared to a whopping 50 million per day in February 2010. The Telegraph reported at the time that Twitter was claiming almost 600 tweets per second.

Times are changing

Five years later, with revenues at $502 million and 316 million monthly active users, you’d think the people behind the bright blue bird would be laughing all the way to the bank. But they’re most certainly not.

At the announcement of these financials, Re/code quoted returning CEO, Jack Dorsey, as proclaiming: Product initiatives we’ve mentioned in previous earnings calls like Instant Timelines and logged-out experiences have not yet had meaningful impact on growing our audience or participation. This is unacceptable and we’re not happy about it.

Chris Sacca, a prominent Twitter investor, points out in his blog that such growth pales into insignificance when you take into account the 1 billion users that have tried, tired and disengaged from Twitter in its 10-year lifespan. While account suspensions, deletions and multiple account holders can account for some of the mass of inactive accounts, it still leaves a lot of unhatched tweeters.

So, then. They need an idea to breathe life into these lifeless accounts. A big one.

Jack Dorsey: the man with a plan

Of course – officially – Twitter is yet to publically reveal its plans. But one rumour simply won’t disappear: the infamous 10,000-character limit. Or ‘Beyond 140’, as it’s known around Twitter Towers.

While tweets will still be restricted to the 140-character limit in your feed, this new functionality is intended to act as a ‘read more’ mechanic. Recent times have seen an increase in popularity of ‘Tweetstorms’ (the act of posting tweets in quick succession to extend your narrative beyond the limit). Plus, by Dorsey’s reckoning, over 300 million users have already been including screenshots of longer texts in their tweets. So, there’s some pretty strong user demand behind the mooted change.

But there’s much more to it than that. The new era of content marketing is in full flow. So it makes perfect business sense to cater to marketers’ needs for a more expansive, flexible platform.

A new walled garden

As things stand, if a brand links to an external website, Twitter loses sight of them. Under the proposed expansion, users will consume more content within reach of their analytics. They’ll be able to provide marketers with a whole bunch of statistics they can’t offer now – from how long the consumer engages for and where they click to how far down the article they’ve actually scrolled. Crucial metrics for marketers to benchmark and optimise content creation against.

An expansion of the character limit also stands to make life a little easier for brands offering customer service support on Twitter. No longer will they have to truncate the advice they’re giving to their customers. Or post it across multiple tweets. Instead, they’ll have more room to post clear, simple instructions. A win-win situation for anyone that’s experienced the soul-crushing agony of having to decipher incomprehensible shorthand to find out just where in the world their new sofa is. Not that I’m still holding a grudge or anything.

AdWeek’s Social Times elaborates: With the expanded character limit…brands now have the potential to use Twitter to digitally address an issue without directing people to call centers. Removing the extra steps not only maximizes a company’s Twitter customer support team’s effectiveness but also has the potential to reduce the amount of people reaching out to call centers, which at scale could make an impact on the bottom line.

But, is this really the answer?

Sat a few desks away from me here in The Real Adventure creative community, Senior Social Media Creative, Sam Beament, is excited about the possibilities that a new character limit could bring. However, he predicts that this expanded creative scope could come at a real cost to the platform.

Sam feels that a move towards a Facebook-esque filtered timeline – and away from the short, punchy and skim-able content that encouraged so many people to fall in love with the platform in the first place – is unlikely to generate the return in revenue they’re looking for. Not to mention that any change seriously runs the risk of alienating current fans.

Here’s his one tweet’s worth on the matter:

In fact, these rumours are already causing dissent within the tweeter ranks. A quick search for ‘10,000 character tweet’ throws up plenty of people dead set against extending the limit. In all honesty, when I first heard the news, I was probably in that camp too. At first glance, 10,000-character tweets feel like everything Twitter isn’t. But in reality, it could be a real shot in the arm for a company that many feel is currently heading towards stagnation.

Let’s face it – the number of tweets that are actually 10,000 characters long is going to be minimal. Mostly because it’s really, really hard to write that much. I’m only at around 6,600 here. And that’s including the title (an old trick picked up from my school days).

The 10,000 character limit isn’t about a newsfeed crammed with essays – it’s about freedom. Freedom to express your views beyond 140 characters if you get the urge. Freedom to click to read more if something interests you. Freedom to shun this new functionality altogether and just get the 140-character headline, if that’s the way you roll.

Or, to put it in the 140-character context my Twitter traditionalists can comprehend:

Embrace it, I say. Right, that’s enough. I’m starting to get keyboard cramp. Trying to get to 10,000 characters was just madness. I need a lie-down and a Twix.

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Joe Blogs
Guest Blogger

A truly versatile blogger able to handle any copy brief thrown his way. When he isn't writing, Blogs is reading. When he isn't reading, Blogs is writing.

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