Twitter came out in early January with talk of expanding the character limit of a tweet from 140 to 10,000 characters. The thinking – to the extent that there was any – was that longer tweets could bring in new users and have them spend more time on the site. In essence creating Twitterbook.
Response on Twitter was somewhere between volcanic and apoplectic. The idea was nearly universally panned – with some tweets predicting the change would render the communication medium almost useless. This being Twitter, they said it with their own bit of panache and snark.
Never one to miss out on good ol’ fashioned faux outrage, I mocked up a 10,000 character Tweet and posted a photo of the unruly mess that resulted. The 64 retweets and comments were overwhelmingly negative:
A similar reaction was received on LinkedIn, where a simple post of “This is a terrible idea” led to 36 likes and 34 comments, again mostly from an impassioned and inflamed user community not keen on the proposed changes. Why is that?
One reason is because the expansion of the number of characters cuts against the very fabric of what makes Twitter unique. Short-form communication, born out of necessity to fit within the confines of early SMS technology, has found a niche in the short-attention span world. Twitter users have learned to master the art of the tweet to appear clever or informed, in a way easily lost among the prepositions and preambles of longer form communication.
People have modified their communication styles to incorporate the best parts of Twitter. Those with their own content, such as a user-hosted blog, use Twitter to drive traffic rather than post the entire blog on the news aggregation site. Twitter is a vital part of many SEO and SEM strategies.
Another reason for the furor is because the Twitter dictate on high was very un-Twitter in its approach. Twitter developments such as hashtags and @replies were not developed in some secret Twitter lair, but rather were user generated and adopted. Twitter was unique in its approach to crowdsourcing developments. The user community wanted to know why @jack didn’t consult them first.
The change was not lost on some communication professionals, which immediately saw opportunity in the change. One industry that was pointed to for potential benefit was financial services, which have long been constrained from including necessary disclosure language in their public communications. The thinking in this circle when that expanding the usable characters in a Tweet, more room is allocated for explanation, alleviating some concerns that what is market commentary could be misconstrued as financial advice and an offer to sell. Twitter saw potential in what some financial services organizations were already doing; bypassing formal press release in favor of tweets on financial results.
Others in the pro-expanded Twitter camp said the announcement was not that radical of an idea. Since last year direct messages could be 10,000 characters and the sun still rises in the east. Users can now customize their content using Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, creating dedicated streams for specific types of content. An investor may follow specific fund managers, advisors, and others solely for the longer form content, without disrupting the use of Twitter as a news tool.
Those points though miss the mark for what makes Twitter great. It’s not about more, it’s about better. Good tweets are those that simply and effectively communicate a message. Be it through a single photo or a few words on a breaking news event, those that are most effective at Twitter are the ones that can provide succinct commentary in the moment.
Even though Twitter may allow for expanded tweets, successful users will still recognize all characters are not created equal. Twitter users should not feel compelled to use every character allocated in the new expanded universe. The rules that made for successful Twitter strategy before should still be considered valid: engage with your users and stimulate dialogue.
After all, 10,000 characters isn’t a conversation, it’s a monologue.