Like many others, some marketers in vending, OCS and micro markets were surprised to learn earlier this month that “tweeting” was going to be twice as much fun because of a new character limit of 280, doubled from 140 per tweet.
Twitter execs shook up the Twittersphere by testing the new limit and announcing the results November 7. What they had to say was surprising: According to Twitter’s Aliza Rosen, “Only 5% of Tweets sent were longer than 140 characters and only 2% were over 190 characters. As a result, your timeline reading experience should not substantially change, you’ll still see about the same amount of Tweets in your timeline.”
Rosen also said in her blog “Our goal was to make this possible while ensuring we keep the speed and brevity that makes Twitter, Twitter. Looking at all the data, we’re excited to share we’ve achieved this goal and are rolling the change out to all languages where cramming was an issue.” (Japanese, Korean, and Chinese will continue to have 140 characters because cramming is not an issue in these languages.)
Twitter execs also said that the test resulted in better “engagement,” meaning more Likes, retweets and @mentions. But the jury’s out on whether that will continue to be the case, regardless of what the short-lived test proved.
Let’s face it, the beauty of Twitter has always been its ability to provide short, pithy tweets that are easily scanned in a feed that moves fast. The concern now is that the very popular social media platform will become jammed with the verbose ramblings of Millennials and GenZ kids – about everything from gripes about their parents to tabloid headliners.
Worse yet is the distinct possibility that businesses – and more specifically, marketers – will lose the ability to engage their target audiences quickly and frequently.
Jack Morse of tech/digital giant Mashable says, “In the immediate future, we can expect to see scores of obnoxiously long tweets that take advantage of the increased character count to spam users’ feeds.”
Some experts, however, agree that a flood of 280-character tweets in the short term will give way to a lesser character count in the long term. That includes Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey, who tweeted when the “test” commenced, “This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of…solving the real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence!”
Arbitrary or not, one thing’s for sure – you won’t experience brevity and speed, at least not in the short term. Clunky 280-character tweets will undoubtedly dilute Twitter as a proactive marketing tool for businesses seeking to connect and engage with consumers (or whoever their target audience may be).
That said, what alternatives exist that can boast 330 million monthly active users? Twitter’s closest competitor, Mastodon, launched in October 2016, has seen impressive growth, from 42,000 users in April of 2017 to 466,500 in August. But, clearly, they have a long way to go if they’re truly going to compete with Twitter.
Mastodon is a free federated social network. Users post “toots” that can run 500 characters rather than Twitter’s 280. But the biggest difference is that it is an open source platform, which means no one company owns it, and users can engage around subject matter, individuals or other “instances” as they call them.
From my vantage point, it seems Mastodon is decentralized and highly fragmented, which could result in it being a less attractive option. However, an advantage of Mastodon, according to the pundits, is its approach to combating harassment, which many say is Twitter’s biggest issue. Evidence the ranting of politicians and extremists on social media for the past 11 months!
For now, it’s probably best for vending, OCS and other industry marketers to stick with Twitter, and ride out the storm of 280-character tweets until the return of a kinder, gentler Twittersphere of shorter, punchier tweets.
John Healy is Co-Founder of The Vending Marketer -- www.vendingmarketer.com -- a digital marketing agency that exclusively serves vending, OCS, micro market and other refreshment services businesses. He is also CEO of Healy Consulting & Communications Inc., a traditional, digital and social media marketing firm that strives to ensure its clients’ relevance while fueling their growth and success. His affiliation with the industry dates back to 2009, and he currently serves as a NAMA Knowledge Source Partner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org