Is Twitter’s new character limit the final nail in its coffin?
This month, Twitter finally confirmed the rumours and increased its character limit from 280 to 4,000. The feature is currently only available for Twitter Blue members in the US, but has already caused a stir amongst tweeps across the world.
Twitter has assured users that this won’t affect their scrolling experience. Longer tweets will be truncated to 280 characters on the timeline, with a ‘show more’ prompt. However, this latest change could completely transform the way that users interact with the site. In the age of split-second judgements and shorter attention spans, is the ‘long-form microblog’ a smart way to re-engage users? Or could this finally spell the death of Twitter?
When Twitter launched back in 2006, its main point of difference from other social platforms and networks was its original 140-character post limit. It quickly gained popularity amongst celebrities, politicians, and thought leaders who wanted to succinctly and openly share their musings with the wider world. It was known as the ‘SMS of the internet’ – even its original name, twttr, was inspired by the five-character length of American SMS short codes. Twitter co-founder and former CEO, Jack Dorsey, has long been a proponent of his platform’s trademark feature, stating: “it’s a good constraint for us and it allows for of-the-moment brevity”.
Twitter’s logic for implementing this latest change seems to be that it will reduce the number of threads used on the platform, to make posts easier to follow. It last increased its word count, from 140 to 280 for certain languages, back in 2017, to tackle copy ‘cramming’ – and this change did lead to positive results. It allowed users to become more creative with their content, and users also reported an increase in engagement and followers. A longer character limit also seemed to have a positive impact on user interaction. In the year following the change, Twitter reported that the use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ increased by 54% and 22% respectively. So, there’s a chance that upping the limit again could be a force for good on the platform.
However, a 3,720 character increase may be a step too far. It is now 14 times longer than it was this time last year. This means that a tweet can be 1,000 characters longer than an organic LinkedIn post, a platform which is known for its odyssean content.
Strict character limits not only ensure that users exercise greater discipline and consideration in their writing – it can also encourage greater creativity. There is power in brevity – take the classic six-word story: ‘for sale. Baby shoes. Never worn’. A significant increase in character limits could ultimately result in rambling, poorer quality content with less self-editing and sense-checking. And, without threads to break down arguments within a longer think-piece, it will become more difficult for people to react or reply to a specific point which is being raised. This will likely lead to reduced overall engagement rates, and even the total number of Twitter users.
So, what about marketers? Even if the new character limit eventually applies to any paid or organic content, it is unlikely to change the way that professionals write for the platform – after all, succinctness sells. However, a reduction in overall platform engagement is likely to drive an even greater exodus of advertisers from the platform, and further dry up Twitter’s revenue streams.
For context, this entire article is roughly 4,000 characters long. So, in the near-future, this is what the average tweet could look like. People took to Twitter in the first place for its concise nature, which had the power to be as entertaining as it was illuminating – that could soon be gone. As a reader, there’s a certain joy in consuming compelling short-form copy. And as a writer, there’s a certain joy in crafting content that communicates big ideas in a few words. If Twitter loses its USP, it could also lose its relevance as a platform.