Two months in, 280 characters hasn't shifted Twitter's strategy

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Photo: Thinkstock/PrettyVectors
Photo: Thinkstock/PrettyVectors

The social media network's big change doesn't amount to much, now that the novelty has worn off.

On the day Twitter doubled the character limit for every user, people went a little overboard. So did brands, many of which went a little wild and tweeted out 280 emojis related to their companies or made complicated, artsy compositions.

But now that the dust has settled and the novelty has worn off, creatives say having twice as much space to work with has surfaced as many difficulties as it’s solved.

"Now that you have more room to breathe, you have to restrain yourself," said Ryan Vinnicombe, an engagement strategist at Arnold Worldwide. "I think brevity is an even bigger creative challenge—to not abuse [the expanded limit] and ask people to read a novel."

Considering that only 9 percent of tweets came up against the original limit, the expansion wasn’t addressing a particularly pressing issue, although Vinnicombe said that his creative team often joked previously that "the perfect tweet is 141 characters long." His clients, he said, are "excited about removing a constraint that would let us include something fun or include a proper disclosure." Being able to include legalese, he said, is a big stress reliever and a clear benefit of the new limit. 

Winston Binch, chief digital officer at Deutsch North America, also welcomed the move from an ease-of-use standpoint. "My first impulse was that they were ruining it, but it removes the fear and anxiety about going [a little] over," he said. "It’s a smart move."

But, he added, the change has had no impact on his strategy for clients, he said. They had never complained about the original limit before, because they just don’t think all that much about Twitter. 

"It’s a visual web. Instagram is dominating the conversation in terms of what brands are thinking about. Twitter is still part of the mix, but it’s not as prominent in our thinking as it once was."

Immediately after the rollout, many commenters saw Twitter’s move as as an attempt to address this issue and recapture revenue and engagement from visually-driven platforms, by re-emphasizing its value for written messages. Either that or, as critics suggested, it was an attempt to redirect the conversation away from the platform’s handling of harassment and abuse. 

"I’m most interested to see if it has impact on Twitter’s issues of user growth," Vinnicombe said. "Will this attract people who felt constrained? Will it improve customer service because you can explain something better in 280 characters? The jury is still out." 

Binch would like to see Twitter take a cue from competitors like Google and Facebook, who have in-house creative teams that partner with brands and agencies, and bring stakeholders directly into the conversation, rather than releasing updates like the higher limit that no one really asked for. "There’s a big opportunity for Twitter to be more inventive and aggressive in their brand collaborations, helping them use the platform in novel ways," he said. 

"When you’re down is the best time to do surprising things."