What Twitter's evolved character count means for brands and agencies

Twitter is reportedly excluding images and URLs from its 140-character limit, making it easier for users to post longer updates with multimedia.

Twitter: latest update shows the service is more than just words
Twitter: latest update shows the service is more than just words

Posting a photo or URL, even when Twitter shortens the link, currently takes up 23 characters, meaning users only have 117 characters to play with. Combined with emoji or hashtags, this doesn’t leave much room for words.

Observers say the tweak is a minor one, but also indicative of how the internet has swiftly evolved from a primarily text-based medium to one where swiftly creating a Gif or video on mobile is completely normal.

As welcome as the greater leeway is, the company also faces greater questions over its future as Facebook and YouTube make in-roads with live content – something that’s traditionally been Twitter’s  wheelhouse. Or is changing the character count, as one agency CEO put it, "rearranging characters on the Titanic"?

There's more to the internet than words

"It’s not a major update. It’s the realisation that there’s more to Twitter than just words," says Hannah Beesley, the social director at Iris. "They are constantly telling us as brands that richer content does better and that people communicate in Gifs now. 140 characters in words is quite limiting, based on how people use the internet now. It’s almost a hygiene thing, and a smart move."

Beesley adds: "It’s great for us as brands, it gives us more freedom. We know power of an image, but you need that copy to get message across, and this means you don’t need to be splitting it out over two tweets.

"It’s great to keep 140 characters and still good to be made to be concise, but there’s now more leeway."

This means fewer 'ugly' tweets

"Including links within the character limit always felt pretty arbitrary and restrictive," says Tom Dunn, head of futures at Maxus. "And resulted in some pretty ugly and confusing tweets – copy in a couple of people, add a link and a hashtag and there’s not much room for content."

Dunn adds: "This is a minor but welcome change – hardly going to kick up the same fuss as last year’s proposed 10,000 character limit. Technically, including images within this relaxation of the rules gives users 140 characters and 1,000 words to play with, so what’s not to like?"

Twitter's making a tactical change

"The last news on the character limit on Twitter is a very tactical change that I highly doubt will change anything from a content strategy perspective," says Florence Lujani, the social team lead and head of influencer relations at JWT London.

"The company is in a very complicated situation at the moment, they are struggling with growing their user base, which has remained steady in 320 million active users for the past two quarters, and their shares have reached an all-time low earlier this month."

Lujani adds: "At the moment it seems that the company is introducing small changes like this one to create a more engaged user-base, but I’m not sure how big the impact will be."

This means greater flexibility for marketers

"The news that Twitter has extended the 140 character limit by excluding images and links is, in principle, a good one," says Mark Varley, managing partner, Havas Media Manchester. "It will give marketers the flexibility to engage more fully with their audiences and give brands a richer canvas in which to exchange information with their customers."

But Varley warns there's a danger of "missing the point." 

"The joy of Twitter is that you are restricted and limited in what you can say or show, and good marketers have made clever, punchy comms an art form," he says. "All social channels have a different purpose and should be approached and used differently – Twitter works best with concise content, not waffle."

Twitter has bigger problems to solve

"Anything that makes Twitter more flexible and useful for users is good news and more visual content is always a good thing," says Antony Mayfield, founding partner and CEO, Brilliant Noise. "It’s not a fundamental change though - and a less charitable view would be that it’s rearranging the characters on the Titanic.

"There’s no evidence of a correlation between character count and share price."

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