How Twitter's Decision to Expand its Character Limit Will Impact You

Jan 18, 2016

Article ImageShort and sweet tweets have been a constant over the last decade - a cyberspace certainty as reliable as the sun rising every morning in the east. But ever since Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey hinted in early January at possibly expanding the 140-character limit on tweets over 71-fold--up to a whopping 10,000 characters--experts have been speculating on why, how and when this prospective social media game changer will happen and how it would affect digital publishers and marketers alike.

First, to be clear, no official announcement confirming the character limit expansion or a timetable for its rollout has yet been given (although the Wall Street Journal reported that it's a matter of when, not if). But when you consider how many other changes the company has implemented recently-from bringing back Dorsey and upping the character count on private messages to 10,000 to collaborating with Periscope and changing favorites to hearts-perhaps it's easier to understand why it's willing to roll the dice and allow longform tweets.

"The growth of numbers and revenue by other platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram are forcing Twitter to rethink its position, and Twitter's continuously falling stock value should be of even greater concern," says Rachael Jurek, assistant professor, Department of Journalism and Public Relations, State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

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Additionally, Twitter being able to actually host content versus simply being a platform for pushing out links to content housed in other place makes sense to many. "Publishers and content providers would be able to host excerpts or full pieces of content within their streams, providing a much more streamlined consumption process for their audience," notes Nick Brennan, founder/CEO of Watch Social Media.

More characters could also be a win for brand marketers. "This would be an opportunity for deeper engagement with their tweets. Brands can say more about themselves and their products and services in a single post," says Brad O'Brien, director of paid social for 3Q Digital.

Supporters of the expansion insist that longer tweets don't necessarily have to result in more tedious scrolling or abandonment of brevity within the first few lines. "In all likelihood, the stream will remain virtually identical to today's stream and you'll simply see a ‘read more' button to unveil the remaining content," Brennan predicts. "Tweets will most likely still need to be written with 140 characters in mind, as that's what people will see in their streams, but we'll be able to consume additional content without leaving the platform."

Others, however, worry that a character expansion could detrimentally alter Twitter's DNA and identify and lead to some unexpected headaches for content providers. "What's great about the character limit is that it forces marketers to be smart and choose their words wisely. By being forced to provide snackable pieces of information, marketers put control in the users' hands and allow them to pick and choose what they want to learn more about," Jill Grozalsky, strategy director at Verndale, says.

Scott Abel, CEO for The Content Wrangler, warns that businesses based on the 140-character model may be in for some major and costly changes should this change become reality. "They're going to have to adapt-if not, in some cases, totally re-engineer-their solutions. That's the primary con of building a business model on top of a software as a service model provided by a third party you can't control," says Abel.

Many also wonder how the character increase would help drive traffic from Twitter to their own properties. For that matter, what specific facilities will Twitter provide for lead capture? Will marketers/publishers push just a little further with longer content but still treat the tweet as an update-like post (as on Facebook) with links to their own content? These and other questions are on the mind of Ken Roberts, head of marketing for Pathmatics, who nevertheless believes that taking constraints off the character limit is a smart move.

"The reality is that, with images and video, the content in tweets has moved beyond the 140-character limit anyway.  Long-form consumption opens up Twitter to keeping users on the platform longer," Roberts says.

As for when the change may actually go into effect, it's anyone's guess, although O'Brien predicts a rollout around the end of the first quarter of 2016 after a few rounds of beta testing.

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