Richard Jones, CEO and founder of EngageSciences, examines the recent news that Twitter may be considering ditching the 140-character limit, and what that move means for users, publishers and marketers.
Ever since the return of Jack Dorsey as CEO in July, Twitter has been searching its soul for a way to jump-start user growth. The platform’s share price keeps on falling, as Wall Street worries Twitter is not as engaging as it’s cracked up to be. So now Dorsey has mooted ripping up Twitter’s tweet length limit, allowing messages to go long for the first time.
The outrage from veteran tweeters and power users, who have grown up with the 140-character constraint, was only to be expected but Twitter needs to find new users, and needs to give marketers deeper opportunities to engage with those users. Extending to a rumoured 10,000 characters is a great way to do that.
Twitter’s share price may have fallen further in response to this news, but shareholders shouldn’t be so worried – there are few negatives here.
The move could fundamentally change the dynamic between Twitter and publishers. Rather than simply being a signpost where publishers can point to their content, Twitter becomes a fully-fledged partner to the publisher where users can directly consume the content.
While some might argue that this makes Twitter into another walled garden, like Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple News, this doesn't make for a bad user experience. Quite the opposite. If Twitter gets the user experience right – and, let’s face it, they are more likely to excerpt long articles in your stream that show the whole thing – users will likely consume more content, more voraciously.
There’s a big potential marketer bonus in this. Right now, when someone clicks a link out to a brand’s site, Twitter loses them; it has no sight of the actions they perform - how long they read, where they click, how far they scroll. By hosting the content, however, Twitter will get to harvest data for analytics that can not only be shared with advertisers; it can redefine marketer relationships. Soon, you could pay for placing a Promoted Article according to the number of people who read more than 70 per cent of that article.
That’s why I can imagine some fundamental changes emerging from this move. Historically, the business of digital marketing has been about spending money tactically to move audience from one place to another. Of course, eCommerce brands that want to sell things through their online stores will continue to play that game. What will change is the use of content to get people there, a switch that will affect content marketers more than retail marketers.
Rather than clicking from a tweet to a blog article and on to a storefront, brands would now get to use content in situ, right there on Twitter. An article in a tweet could carry a call-to-action button that either links to a product page or can support integrated buying right there. In short, Twitter may be about to make the machine of content marketing work a lot more smoothly.
So how should you prepare to use up to 10,000 characters in a tweet? Start thinking of Twitter as less a news-breaking, click-driving service powered by microblogging, and more of a destination where deeper levels of engagement can happen. Start imagining the stories you would tell, not just the remarks you would make.
But don’t just start shovelling Facebook content in to Twitter. If Twitter lifts its unique length limit, you may be tempted to think you could harmonise your social media production across a range of increasingly-similar networks. But that would be a mistake – communities who use these services tend to be different across each one.
Twitter is already a great place for marketers to convert customers, and I won’t lose any sleep if Jack Dorsey doesn’t make these changes. But if the 140-character wall comes crashing down in 2016, we can’t wait to see what brands will do with it.
Richard Jones is CEO and founder of EngageSciences