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Twitter's rumoured character limit changes might please brands but won't solve its new user problem


By Lawrence Weber, managing partner innovation

May 18, 2016 | 3 min read

We’re all familiar with the quote "If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter", which has been variously attributed to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and Cicero over the years. But for Twitter fans, the brevity of its 140-character limit has always proved to be one of its greatest attributes – the soul of wit.

Sadly, anecdotal evidence suggests that this limit might be putting off new users – Twitter’s global user base has stalled over the past few months, standing at around 320 million active users and, despite the UK being one of its leading markets (as befits the home of Shakespeare), analysts are less convinced of its overall strategy for growth.

Twitter has announced a series of initiatives since its founder Jack Dorsey returned as chief executive to replace Dick Costolo – a move that was meant to appease those same investors and analysts. Not all of the initiatives have been the success that the company had hoped for – a tweak of its algorithm that changed the Twitter news feed to stories it thought most relevant, rather than most recent, proved to be controversial. However, the introduction of new emojis has proved rather more popular.

Its latest ruse, according to reports, is to exclude photos, links and videos from the 140-character limit thereby giving users – and advertisers – the opportunity to post longer messages and include more multimedia. As an acknowledgment that social media platforms have evolved – and that other services, such as Facebook, have made their own moves into live content – it probably couldn’t come too soon. But will it attract those new users that analysts (and advertisers) are so keen to see?

Sadly, I think it’s unlikely – and it may not do much to keep those expert current users loyal to Twitter. More content makes Twitter longer to read and, therefore, less likely to be absorbed. For time-scarce people, with short attention spans, I can’t see how the ability to write longer posts will either attract new users or prove to be the silver bullet that the analysts are looking for. Rather, it is just another part of Twitter’s evolution, such as the launch of Periscope, the change of its star button to a ‘like’ – similar to Instagram – and the introduction of Twitter Moments. In fact, I think that it’s the latter that is far more likely to help provide structure for newbies.

Shakespeare seems to have been right when he wrote: "And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief."

Lawrence Weber is managing partner at Karmarama

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