Why Twitter is Trialing 280 Character Tweets

User behaviour, customer service and social insight, are all reasons that Twitter is trialling longer tweets.

Twitter has a problem. It hasn’t seen significant user growth since 2014.

User data for Q2 2017 was flat over the previous quarter at 328 million. The platform needs to increase users in order to increase revenue from advertising.

Twitter has tried a number of different innovations in the past 12 months to drive growth including improved safety; algorithm changes; and removing usernames from the 140 character limit.

The latest change, announced in a tweet by CEO Jack Dorsey last night, sees it trialing tweets of 280 characters.

The original 140 character limit was based on the 160 character length of SMS messages, with 20 characters reserved for a username.

Twitter has justified the move by suggesting that the 140 character count causes frustration, and is a barrier to new users using the social network. Inevitably the news has been trending on the platform and spawned numerous hashtags including #280chars and #280characters.

Views range from a tentative welcome; to hard core users calling on Twitter to address more important issues such as editing, fake accounts and trolls.

There’s no doubt that increasing the size of tweets to 280 characters is a significant change to the culture of the platform but there could be benefit.

Our advice to brands is proceed with caution; test, measure and learn.

Brands:
Having more room to talk about your products or brand might seem attractive. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people will read your tweets if there are 280 character long.

Every piece of consumer insight suggests that our attention is reducing. Brands need to get to the point and make every character, or image, count.

Tweets versus threads and screengrabs:
Twitter users frustrated with 140 character limit have used threads to share stories and deliver longer messages. Another alternative is a screen grab image of a longer text message.

If 280 characters are rolled out across the platform expect the use of threads and text images to fall.

Customer service:
Twitter is frequently used for customer service. It’s an easy way for users to reach retail or travel organisations. 280 characters will make it easier for users to explain an issue, and for community managers to respond to enquiries.

Customer services issues are frequently pushed from the main newsfeed to direct message. Twitter increased the length of direct messages from 140 to 10,000 characters in August 2015.

Social listening:
It’s often said that Twitter is the world’s largest focus group that no one ever commissioned. With more characters, users will be able to be even more descriptive in sharing their opinion about brands, products and services.

The change is a boom for social listening and will prove valuable for organisations that use social media insight.

About Stephen Waddington and Jeremie Aubert

Stephen Waddington is Ketchum's Global Chief Engagement Officer. Jeremie Aubert is a senior account executive in our London office.

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