In a recent blog post, Twitter announced it would be beefing up its tweet character limit, doubling the now canonical 140 characters to 280.
Twitter’s Product Manager Aliza Rosen explained they are rolling out the chunkier tweets for a select test group, before making the decision to launch it to everyone. But at this stage, it seems like a done deal.
So what does this mean for agencies and brands, and the writers they employ? After all, “change” can be a spooky word in the land of business and commerce. Will we be scrambling to adapt?
Limitations can lead to creativity
Reactions - perhaps predictably - have been mixed so far. Many are irate at the change, arguing that Twitter should be all about brevity. The seemingly arbitrary character limit birthed an entirely new format of online content, one that forced creativity and wit out of people by sheer necessity.
Over the years the social channel has become a unique cultural phenomenon, home to absurdist one liners, as well as flashes of succinct wisdom. It’s also been an excellent way for agencies and brands to promote their wares in clever and original ways.
In think pieces and academic writing, much of this creativity and success has been attributed, at least in part, to a somewhat miserly character allowance per post. Will doubling the limit dilute the magic of the tweet? And is the change even necessary?
Putting it in context
It's important to remember that 280 character limit, when placed in the wider context of social media, is still tiny. On Facebook, we have 63,206 characters to play with. That's practically a novel compared to a tweet, and more often than not, is also enough to bore people into fits of tears. Brief is better. And for all intents and purposes, 280 characters is still brief.
There is also, some would argue, a clear need for a change. If you’re on Twitter every day (as you should be - Twitter is amazing) you’ll have seen things like “THREAD” and “(1/34)” on an increasing number of tweets to signify that they are part of a longer diatribe, linked together by the author @replying to themselves.
I can’t speak for the quality of ideas or writing in long-form tweet threads, as it can vary wildly, but there is clearly a hunger for a slightly more substantial format on the Twitter timeline.
It started with a text
The news has got people thinking about how Twitter landed on 140 characters as a limit in the first place. The reality is interesting, if only in its mundanity. It’s a comfortable 20 characters short of the old 160 character SMS message limit - yes, in the pre-smartphone days people used to tweet by texting. You just had to text Twitter’s phone number and they’d post the tweet for you (it’s still possible for those who need it).
Now that most of the world has smartphones, this initial reasoning has been relegated to the late noughties’ dustbin along with CDs, polyphonic ringtones and this writer’s youthful innocence. Couple this with the ever increasing need for clarity and transparency on social media, and now seems like a perfect time for the change.
Twice as much of a good thing
Personally, I’m looking forward to having more room to express my ideas, and I think agencies and the brands we work for will benefit too. While it’s true that squeezing everything you need to convey into the smaller character limit can at times be deeply satisfying (I still get a little jolt of serotonin if I manage it on the first attempt), 140 characters is ultimately restrictive.
If you take pleasure in your work, the space to write more should come as a wonderful opportunity. And, crucially, If you can still say it in less than 140 characters, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that. I’ve been obsessively glued to the Twitter timeline since long before I wanted to be a copywriter, but the embryonic job requirements were always there. The need for clarity of thought, the need to be concise. The need for wit and humour.
Ultimately, thoughtful, well-crafted writing will continue to attract attention as equally as lazy writing will repel it. The magic of Twitter is still very much intact, and will arguably be bolstered by this update once it’s rolled out to everyone. You and the accounts you love to follow will have twice as much room to play with, and as long as there are good copywriters out there, that can only be a good thing.
Niall is a creative and a copywriter at Signal. He thinks up ideas and writes words. Occasionally, he googles pictures of dogs.