The 140 Character Limit: I’m Not Ready to Kiss It Goodbye
Goodbye To Twitter’s 140 Character Limit…
UPDATE (16 May 2016) – “Twitter Inc. will soon stop counting photos and links in their 140-character limit for tweets, according to a person familiar with the matter.”
I mentioned back in an October 2015 post about a few of the recent changes with the big one the removal the 140 character limit for direct messages. For businesses, this was a HUGE positive move. It was hard to have any real significant dialogue whether it be with a customer or colleague when you were forced to send multiple messages for one thought. I remember a few conversations I migrated to LinkedIn just so we could actually communicate.
The ubiquitous 140 character limit remained for public Tweets. Now there is a buzz again over Jack Dorsey’s hint at increasing it to 10,000, the same new limit for direct messages. (Update: For now, at least, there will be no change in the character limit. It’s still worth considering a few ideas for what COULD be changed to increase character counts while still maintaining limits.) How it will affect Twitter’s role for businesses, especially small, unknown brands is obviously unknown but a few of my thoughts based on having used Twitter since 2009:
The Art of Twitter Effect
For someone who enjoys writing and provides copy editing services, Twitter’s character count means I am continuously perfecting my craft. Can I get my message across, can I get you to click-through to a link and can I get you to further convert using only 140 characters? And when it comes to resharing old content, I get to play with different content to see what gets noticed or picked up in searches.
Getting content seen and engaged with on Twitter has become an art form.
Based, at least on what has been reported, the skill in getting a Tweet seen will not likely change. What will change is what happens when a Tweet is seen. This’s where the real concern lies. It’s where the copy editing skills will shine and the art form elevated.
Web Traffic Effect
If your content is crafted well and seen in a feed or pulled in a search, the default action (and what you want) is clicking on your website link. That’s web traffic. That’s an opportunity to capture lead information. That’s an opportunity to convert.
What happens when content can be directly added to a tweet? No reason to click-through.
Given the amount of web traffic I see from Twitter and the quality of it, I’m not ready to give that up.
Yes, there still is a huge opportunity by creating compelling content within the tweet to get the click-through, but that requires even more action and time on the part of the reader (personally I’m always tapped for time):
- Get the reader to see or find the tweet.
- Get the reader to expand the tweet
- Get the reader to actually ingest the content.
- Compel the reader to want to more.
The last point is the tough one. The additional content has to be crafted perfectly to be read, understood and still drive one more action – for me ,a link click to this site. Depending on how the change is implemented you may even be able to add in an image, an animated gif or a short video. The bonus with the longer character count – you can have multiple CTAs and links. Regardless, your content will need to be able to encourage further action. Rather than focusing on web traffic depending on post length will they really need or want to read more?), your link CTA may need to be direct list sign ups, registrations, downloads or purchases. Suddenly not only is the art form alive, it’s is elevated to a whole new level.
For me, what still likely gets lost is website traffic. Granted list sign ups, sales and downloads are valuable, but I still have a chance at those when you’re on my site. It’s more about what else I get. You’re exposed to more content than just one article whether it be through links within a post or content in a sidebar. Regardless, the reader is ON my site. Even without additional content being consumed or traditional conversions, there’s still an opportunity to bookmark my site or grab an RSS feed.
On other platforms, I see less traffic to my site and I suspect it’s in part due to NOT needing to click. All of the content is already visible. While you can still create ‘teaser’ posts, I find those to be click-baiting when the opportunity is there to tell me more and you don’t. I know all you are after is that click. (The practice costs you search value – more on that in a minute).
A blog post in a tweet may provide new opportunities but I’m worried about the ones lost. I’m not convinced what we gain makes up for the losses.
The Readability Effect
As of April 2015 80% of Twitter users were mobile.
Increase content within Tweets offers the plus of not having to follow a link but the length of the tweet could affect if it is read. Reading anything long, having to continuously scroll, then still potentially needing to click on a link could make for a very cumbersome read on mobile devices. I won’t even begin to consider writing a long post from a mobile device. Twitter’s current format favors mobile devices. In fact, aside from Instagram, it’s the ONLY social site I prefer on mobile.
One nice feature now is actually the ability to have a link to click for external reading. If I can easily open a browser window and bookmark a page to read later. Remove the link and if I see something I like, getting back to it could be a challenge.
The ReTweet Effect
There are two sides to how this can play out. The first is compounding the effect of losing web traffic. If web traffic is reduced by fewer URL clicks in tweets, it makes sense for the effect to carry over to ReTweets. In my case, approximately 15% of my web traffic is driven from my ReTweets. Not a significant amount of traffic but still another hit.
The flip side?
I see far too much content reshared that shouldn’t be. No time is taken to actually read the content, presumably because it actually TAKES time.
The end result can often be a hit to one’s reputation. While this will not change when using auto retweeters (really, I beg you not to do this), removing the need to follow another link may mean more content is actually read and less crap is reshared. End result – a less cluttered feed filled with better quality content.
The Search Effect
One big positive being touted by Jack is additional text being searchable. It just may be the best thing about removing the 140 character limit. With 1500 million visitors (as of 12/10/15) who do not log in, more searchable content matters. If you know how to write good copy (again, the Art of Twitter Effect) and Tweet often, this could be a be a huge win. Of course, it also means with everyone posting more your actual odds of content appearing in a search could decrease.
More searchable content, however, still doesn’t diminish the lost web traffic effect. It could also lead to wide scale abuse in due to keyword stuffing and other black hat ‘SEO’ practices.
(The Search Effect Side effect: This could create an internal Twitter SEO industry.)
The Conversation (or the Customer Service) effect
My favorite reason for loving Twitter (even more than the oodles of web traffic I get) is it’s ability to build and grow relationships. Yes, it can be done effectively elsewhere (I’ve been having a great conversation about life, this industry and working together on a few projects with the Fabulous Amy Donahue of Get Hybrid Social on LinkedIn), but Twitter offers me something exclusive – brevity
Twitter’s beauty has alwaysd been in its brevity.
Since I can get wordy – this article is over 2100 words – being forced to cut it short is a good thing for me. Then there’s the time management issue. Tweets were set to 140 character limit for compatibility with SMS messaging. As life has gotten busier, as demands for our time have increased, it’s been harder to sit down and chat for any length of time. I found myself scheduling time for conversations with friends. That meant longer intervals between speaking. Text messaging has enabled me to have ‘conversations’ and ‘talk’ regularly. It allowed life to proceed and still maintain or grow connections. Twitter, for me, works the same way. For business, it’s the equivalent of constant customer contact and top of mind awareness.
I’m concerned the messages could start becoming longer, requiring more time to read, longer replies and ultimately become too time consuming.
Not to be completely negative here, having the ability to expand a tweet still works for me (and I’m excited about the prospect). There are times I truly could use an extra 20 characters.
I really dislike abbreviations and shorthand (and you’ll rarely see me use them). To me they’re less professional and using them runs the risk of miscommunication. The 140 character limit means sometimes having to use them or change the content and what I really wanted my message to be. That’s one thing for my content but another for conversations and especially customer service.
I have a number of Twitter conversations most days and keeping within the 140 character limit is easy. But what happens when it’s a customer service question? What happens when the answer simply cannot be cut short? That means multiple, continued Tweets. It works but still a choppy conversation. It would be nice in these circumstances to have some extra real estate.
The Meta Description
This is not the first time the character count has been discussed. If there is no change, I expect it will be brought up again. That means thinking ahead. True, I do not need to change my posting strategy. I can still march on as I have been doing. I may even be successful for a time but….
Failing to adapt in a changing environment, however, rarely has a good outcome.
My posting strategy if and when the 140 character limit is removed:
What if Tweets were structured like Google’s search listings?
The body of the tweet, the 140 character limit you see now, would continue be the attention grabber, what gets you to stop and hit ‘expand’. It’s the article or page title in the SERPs.
The expanded content would contain the post link with a short description, effectively the post’s meta description. Like the meta description in search listings, it’s what truly determines if the link is clicked. Only in this case that ‘meta description affects the actual search results.
A Tweet for this article would look like:
The expanded version:
The art form remains. Instead of writing content to be seen in a feed or picked up in searches and getting the external click through, it’s slightly altered to produce an internal click. The bonus is in getting a few more characters to work to use (your link moves to the body of the Tweet).
What I’d Like To See
I do like the idea of changing up Twitter. I think it could use a refreshing. I do however like much of what has made Twitter such an awesome platform for many of us using it. Going from a 140 character limit t0 10,000, while offering some positives comes at the potential expense of diminished web traffic and a few other negatives.
So what would I do?
Granted no one is asking my opinion, especially Jack Dorsey himself but that’s never stopped me before so…..
Simply thinking about how I would approach posting above, maybe a hybrid of what we have vs what is proposed may work best.
- Split Character Limits: 140 character limit for the visible portion of tweet and 155 (from Google’s meta description length) for the post body. This more than doubles the character count, adds the search value from more text, makes conversation (customer service and relationship building) easier, maintains Twitter as a great source of web traffic and still keeps with the initial reason for the character count. Add in a link, image or video at the end (not counting towards the character count).
- No links in the visible portion of the tweet. This should encourage more quality content within the visible portion reducing clickbait practices as well. It would force content writers to step up their game. While Twitter would still be a good source of web traffic, you will have to put in a little more effort to get it. Want the traffic? Your content needs to generate two clicks. One to expand the post and one to get to your site.
- A post save feature: Yes, I can click on a tweet’s timestamp, open it in my browser and bookmark it for later, but it would be so much nicer to have a ‘save’ button. Then I’d have access to the content long term. Even give me a column next to Notifications called ‘Saved Tweets’.
- An edit feature: None of us are perfect. (Thanks to Angel Rubia for the suggestion during today’s #DigiBlogChat with Carol Stephen.)