Does Length Matter? Twitter’s 10K Character Dilemma

Twitter recently suggested that they might increase the length of Tweets to 10,000 characters. Unsurprisingly it created something of a Twitter storm. Social media users are passionate about their networks and rarely like change. It also happened when they changed the ‘faves’ star to hearts. But what will longer Tweets mean? Some commentators suggested that it will make the social media site no different to any other blogging platform. That points to the challenge that Twitter has an identify crisis. It doesn’t know what it is any longer. Celebrities and their audience have mostly left Twitter to go to Instagram. Perhaps they are simply driven by narcissism but it’s very telling that four of the top ten Instagram accounts are from the Kardashian clan. Twitter though, seems have become the place for politicians’ indiscretions, journalists Tweeting their own articles and the middle class moaning at brands over service failures.

That is Twitter’s broad problem. Over the last year its growth has slowed down considerably and had just over 300m active users in 2015. Well below expectations. Compare that to WhatsApp, the messaging platform is rapidly approaching 1 billion users. Since its IPO, Twitter has seen a fall in its share price, so it needs raise revenue (and investor confidence). For the mico-blogging site, that means bringing in more advertising, but it has not managed to deliver the expected revenues. Although it has grown, their advertising remains a bit-part player to Facebook’s highly successful offering. In part, it’s because they lack the reach of their competitor, but the key to Facebook’s ad success has been to create a walled garden and keep the users within the site. Twitter is trying a number of formats to address this issue. They recently launched a Conversational Ad format that with call to action options.In a similar vein, longer Tweets means that users should (in theory) spend more time in the channel. And that’s good for advertising.

But what about the users? The complaints about the changes are in part, a reflection that their audience cares about Twitter. Ultimately though, social media sites must evolve. Twitter has regularly added new features – from the (user driven) hashtag to their recent Moments. However, I think the problem for longer Tweets is that it goes against the prevailing trend. We are moving to shorter, message-based content.

Snapchat is a good example where social media this is going. The ten-second life of pictures and videos has caught the imagination of 200m+ users. The FT reported in Sept 2015 that the app had 6 billion video views per day – that’s a 3-fold increase in 7 months and rapidly approaching Facebook’s figure of 8 billion views per day. The fact is that from content to our attention spans, everything’s getting shorter (as a Microsoft study found). Certainly Twitter has to evolve but the answer probably doesn’t lie with longer Tweets.

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