My favorite social network – Twitter – has problems.
I’ve been a fan of the platform for years, a relationship turbo-charged by the “140 Characters Conference” – or #14oConf as it was called. It was an amazing amalgam of all sorts of people from local communities, talking about how they use digital tools to connect with one another. Back in 2010, the conference came to the Fillmore Theater in downtown Detroit. And it was an amazing day.
I was fortunate to be a speaker at that event, along with people I went on to forge relationships with – its founder Jeff Pulver, WXYZ-TV’s Stephen Clark who created the #Backchannel, media strategist Chris Brogan, and others prominent in the social media and marketing communities. Like Twitter itself, each presentation was in their neighborhood of 7-10 minutes long, allowing for more than 50 speakers taking the stage in just one day.
Twitter seemed to have so much promise, but instead has fallen on hard times while other social channels including Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Pinterest have thrived.
The price of a share is well below their original 2013 IPO open price. They are being trounced by Facebook and other platforms. And their usage metrics are puny.
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So, what’s their big move?
Blow up the one thing that truly made Twitter unique: the 140 character limit.
Starting this week, just about all of us now have twice the “tweet real estate” – 280 characters – in which to communicate our content, our news and our philosophies. The move is reminiscent of the tactics Procter & Gamble uses when they try to re-energize a consumer product like Tide or All: alter the formula or the packaging, promote it, and hope people care.
“Now with little blue granules.”
“Now with 280 characters.”
Why does this increase – which on the surface sounds like a grand idea – not in Twitter’s best interest – or ours? Because that odd tweet length that defined the product has now been scrapped to compete with the verbosity on Facebook.
It would be tantamount to doubling the number of lines in a sonnet to 28.
Expanding the limerick to 10 lines.
Or doubling a haiku up to 34 syllables.
It just doesn’t work. And yet, Twitter has now meddled with the primal forces of social media nature. And it’s not a good thing.
There are lots of things to hate about this move. Without breaking into a sweat, I came up with a half dozen reasons why 280 characters is a bad business move for Twitter, and why I hope they try something else…perhaps like adding little blue granules.
1. One thought per break
Just like on the radio, the best breaks are ones where DJs don’t pile on a bunch of content. Most of us have the capacity to remember only one thing anyway, especially as our attention spans deteriorate. When you only have 140 characters to work with, chances are you’ll only be able to clearly communicate one main idea or message. Double that, and tweets will start to ramble, include too many pieces of information, and lose their focus.
2. Less snark
One of the beauties of Twitter is the number of truly clever people who anyone can follow to appreciate their snark, irony, and sarcasm. For many of us, the platform was built on those values, whereas Facebook tends to be about anniversaries, pets, TBT, and political rants. The 140 character limit was made for quick-hitting snarky comments. They’re the ones we want to retweet.
People like Josh Mankiewicz (@joshmankiewicz) are brilliant at boiling down their snark to just a handful of words. Some of the best tweeters could make the platform work with half the characters. So, why double tweet capacity?
I didn’t set my clocks back. I’m writing this from one hour in your future. We have jet packs.
— Jake Vig (@Jake_Vig) November 5, 2017
3. It’s not PPM friendly
In my mind, Twitter and the personal people meter came around at about the same time (actually, 2006 and 2007 respectively). And their shared characteristics – learning how to communicate in less time and space – was not lost on me. I have long believed that if you communicate concisely on the air, chances are good you’ll write great tweets. So doubling the character limit for tweets is like expanding jock breaks. Yes, some of the time it works out, but for the most part, more talk time doesn’t lead to better ratings.
4. Twitter’s 140 character limit has made me a better writer
Maybe you wouldn’t know it from the length of some of these blog posts, but on Twitter at least, I’ve learned how to communicate my thoughts in a more direct, staccato fashion. All of us on Twitter have been there – you type out a tweet, discover it’s over the character limit, and then you edit your way back to 140 or less. It’s a good process, because the more you edit, the better and cleaner the message.
5. Twitter won’t be as much fun
Scrolling through a bunch of tweets used to be easy and often fascinating, especially when you’re staring at several short messages on a topic – like #Oscars or #WorldSeries. But the longer the tweets, the more cumbersome it is quickly getting a sense of what people are talking about. Longer tweets mean more rambling and fewer punchlines.
6. The Tweeter-In-Chief just doubled his Twitter real estate
Recent polls indicate that no matter your political party or world view, the one thing most of us agree on is that @realDonaldTrump tweets too much. His morning “tweet storms” are his signature way of responding to just about anything. And now that Twitter has essentially taken the governor off tweet lengths, there’s no telling where our Commander In Chief will go off with more space to rant and rave. It’s hard to see an upside here.
Maybe Twitter’s expansion to 280 character tweets will end up as a “New Coke moment.” After all, Coca-Cola was a massively successful product until they screwed with the formula.
And in the wake of this tweet “format change,” it’s hard to imagine Twitter will experience an influx of new users or an upsurge in usage. If anything, many of those great, shareable “Twitter moments” will markedly decrease.
Twitter can’t unring the bell, but it can do something to get itself back on track.
Like do a mea culpa, go back to 140 characters, and rebrand it Classic Twitter.
At least for the time being, let’s connect on Twitter here.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.