Twitter's magic number? Ad revenues
A view from Mark Jackson

Twitter's magic number? Ad revenues

Will doubling a tweet's length save Twitter? Unlikely, reckons MC&C's managing director.

Twitter’s 140-character limit has been synonymous with the platform since its launch in 2006. It was a quirk based on the character limit for SMS. As the platform was reliant on text messaging at inception, the creators of the platform wanted to ensure that no content would be carried over into second or third messages when delivered to recipients.

Driven by existing technology, Jack Dorsey and his team inadvertently created a real USP by enabling users to consume bite-sized pieces of content quickly and easily. It’s part of the reason why Twitter has been particularly popular with the media, especially journalists and those looking to get a snapshot of the day’s news, fast.

So why the increase to 280 characters? And why that change of specifically?

Twitter reports that this is based on differentials between languages, with those writing in Japanese, Korean and Chinese able to convey double the information.

Those Tweeting in the languages I’ve just mentioned don’t have the 280-character limit trial available to them… but coders have already found an easy hack to make it accessible to anyone and everyone.

Besides, those who want to publish longer content on Twitter have been publishing that content as an image to side-step the word count for years. In this sense, the change seems quite arbitrary.

So, if users have already found hacks to publish more content as and when they want, let’s then think about what a doubling in length of Tweets really means for the business.

How about the user experience? Each Tweet being double the length is likely to make the feed feel more cluttered. More to read, harder to absorb. On mobile, there will be less content in view at any given time.

This might not seem like a big deal, but for those on the go, having a quick scan while waiting to hop off a bus, it will make a difference. Twitter in Chinese, Japanese and Korean (where it is still 140 characters) will still look the same. In this sense, there are two things at odds here: volume of content and the user experience.

Further to this, from an advertiser perspective, less content on screen is also likely to mean less opportunity for advertising. And, after user experience, if Twitter really wants to shore up its business, this is where it should be focusing attention.

In July the platform’s ad revenue dropped 8%. Meanwhile Seeking Alpha opened its review of that quarter’s earning call with "Twitter is losing advertising revenue. What more do you need to hear? Social media is advertising. That’s how they make money".

And it’s a shame. Twitter, theoretically, has a ton of assets, in terms of offering in the moment advertising opportunities, as well as direct relationships between brands and consumers. It also has snappy content – a skim of Buzzfeed’s top stories, which frequently round up some of the best quips from the platform, is enough to show you how entertaining and engaging the format can be.

But Twitter has a long way to go when it comes to building a better ad and analytics platform, and one that is competitive with the rest of the social networks.

From a business perspective, I can't see how this move will encourage more active usage or grow the user base to make Twitter more appealing to advertisers. Not to mention its brand safety issues, trolling, bots… the list of advertiser concerns is unfortunately long given the social relevance it carries.

I’d love to see it become just as relevant to advertisers, but toying around with character count makes it feel like the platform is still clutching at straws to find its value, or drive growth for its clients. 

Mark Jackson is managing director at MC&C