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Has Twitter destroyed its USP?

Posted on Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Has Twitter destroyed its USP?

Last week, Twitter increased the maximum limit on tweets from 140 to 280 characters following a successful global trial. The change has been introduced in all languages except Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

According to Twitter, the changes were being introduced to allow users to express themselves more freely on the social media platform and prevent word ‘cramming’. The news comes as Twitter, which has 330 million monthly users, tries to increase revenue in the face of a declining market share and stiff competition from the likes of Facebook and Snapchat.

Media commentators were quick to pour scorn on the news – predicting that this would ruin Twitter’s USP of speed and brevity. Even J.K Rowling got on the bandwagon.

Copywriting: keep it short and sweet

Now, I’m all for brevity. I’ve spent much of my 15-year career as a copywriter and a trainer eulogising over its benefits. The best way to get your message across is to keep it short and snappy. It’s one of the first rules of copywriting and a key point I enshrine in the copywriting style guides I produce for my clients.

Nothing focuses the mind more than a strict word count and, in my experience, it’s the only way to get people to focus on their key messages and express these in a clear and concise way.

However, I’m going to disagree with many commentators. I don’t think that Twitter has destroyed its USP with this change.

A licence to ramble?

When Twitter carried out the trial of its new 280-character limit back in September, the results were intriguing. There was an initial spike in the length of tweets, due to the novelty value, but this quickly wore off.

Aliza Rosen, Product Manager at Twitter, explained: “We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they tweeted more easily and more often. But importantly, people tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained.

“Historically, 9% of tweets in English hit the character limit. This reflects the challenge of fitting a thought into a tweet, often resulting in lots of time spent editing and even at times abandoning tweets before sending. With the expanded character count, this problem was massively reduced – that number dropped to only 1% of tweets running up against the limit.”

In fact, the trial showed that people who had more space to tweet received more engagement (likes, retweets and mentions) and got more followers.

Increasing engagement

So, users taking part in the trial liked the longer tweets and spent more time on Twitter as a result.

I would also argue that users have been finding ways to get around the 140-character limit for a long time now, such as posting consecutive tweets. This is always rather annoying as the first (and often most important) point is often hidden at the end of a long line of tweets.

And, let’s face it, the new 280-character limit is still, well, limited – around the same length as the first paragraph in this blog. So, it’s hardly a thesis. The character limit still forces you to distil your thoughts into a relatively small number of words.

So, in my view, this change does give users the chance to express their ideas more freely while still retaining the essential elements that make Twitter, well, Twitter. It will be interesting to see how this change impacts user stats in the long term but, for me, this is a change for the better.

Find out more about Twitter’s recent research and findings by checking out Alizia Rosen’s blog.