Twitter took millions of users by surprise when it announced in late 2017 that it was expanding its character-per-Tweet limit from 140 to 280.
(Reactions to the change were…well, mixed.)
280 tweets look like serial killer manifestos
— Scott Aukerman (@ScottAukerman) October 8, 2017
Now that the shock of Tweets doubling in size has worn off, though, one question remains:
Should you actually be using 280 characters at all?
Is the feature a must-use, or is Tweeting in 280 characters a surefire way to lose followers?
The dust has settled and this feature is here to stay, so let’s take a closer look at what’s happened since it dropped – and whether it’s something your fans and followers actually expect you to use.
To figure that out, there’s one important question that comes first:
Twitter first started testing the 280-character limit in September 2017, and the results of that experiment convinced them to expand it to everyone.
The results, by the way, were that people didn’t like it.
Twitter found that out of the Tweets sent by users with the expanded limit, only about 5% actually went over the usual 140 characters – and only 2% went over 190 characters.
Me making sure the circle in the compose tweet window doesn't go over the halfway mark pic.twitter.com/2ZKzUT0hql
— Craig Bro Dude (@CraigSJ) November 30, 2017
Twitter tested a potential new feature, found that it was unpopular, and then released it to everyone.
One of Twitter’s biggest advantages has always been the brevity of its updates – a brevity that a lot of people worried would be threatened when this feature first rolled out.
This is small and stupid, but am genuinely distressed to see people on my feed shifting into 280 characters. It’s not scannable.
— Rainbow Rowell (@rainbowrowell) November 8, 2017
The fact that this feature wasn’t popular in testing says a lot about how Twitter expects it to be used in general.
(And what Twitter users expect, too.)
Specifically, they expect it to be used sometimes, but not often enough to disrupt the traditional Twitter experience with hefty updates.
If you aren’t necessarily supposed to use it all the time, though, that still leaves a big question:
The fact that not many people are eager to Tweet 280 characters at a time – and the fact that so many people are vocally against it – might make you wonder who exactly this feature is for.
The truth is, though, that sometimes you actually do NEED more than 140 characters to make a point!
In fact, that truth has always been the source of one of Twitter’s biggest contradictions.
The 280-character limit is a terrible idea. The whole beauty of Twitter is that it forces you to express your ideas concisely (1/47)
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) September 26, 2017
Tweets becoming twice as long may sound like pure excess, but Twitter users have frequently been forced to split up their messages across multiple Tweets anyway.
And this is especially true for anyone who has ever used social media for their business.
People who use Twitter for marketing or providing customer service know all too well the difficulty of trying to explain complex concepts in shorter Tweets. 140 characters isn’t always enough space to get your message out without sacrificing tone, details, or valuable context!
Twitter didn’t necessarily expect that expanding its character count would be a feature that most people would use – but it’s one that makes using Twitter a more rewarding experience for brands, and for the people connecting with those brands.
(And when brands like using Twitter, and they use it successfully, they might do things like pay for advertising.)
280-character Tweets are great when you need them – but neither users nor Twitter itself expect you to regularly use them just because you can.
me after reading a tweet longer than 140 characters pic.twitter.com/4ePirSy4DK
— antonio (@antoniodelotero) November 9, 2017
This all makes even more sense when you remember one of Twitter’s most noticeable habits:
Sometimes, Twitter makes changes that sound a little unnecessary.
The 280-character update is a perfect example – it’s an update that didn’t get a lot of use in testing, but has very specific applications in which it’s incredibly helpful.
(Applications you’re probably VERY familiar with if you use social media professionally!)
Want another example? Here’s one from just a few days after the 280-character update.
In November 2017, Twitter increased the character count for users’ display names from 20 to 50:
Starting today, your Twitter display name can be up to 50 characters in length! Go ahead, add that middle name or even a few more emojis. https://t.co/QBxx9Hnn1j
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 10, 2017
While they marketed the change as something that everyone could take advantage of, the fact that not everyone needs that many characters to spell out their name made the update the subject of some ridicule.
Just like the increase to 280 characters, it’s an update that can easily seem unnecessary to anyone who doesn’t need it – but for the people who did need it, it was a welcome and long-overdue change:
Even if Twitter acts like an update should be exciting for everyone, it might not be.
Sometimes, an update’s usefulness might be so far removed from your own experience that its very existence seems strange!
That doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable, though – just that it isn’t valuable to every user, all the time.
That’s exactly how you can think about the 280-character update: it’s something you can be glad for when you need it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change what you already do everyday!
Now that plenty of time has passed since Twitter launched this change, what do you think of it?
Do you still tend to stick to 140 or fewer?
Has it been a major game-changer for your Twitter use?
Or is it something you hardly ever think about at all?
Sound off on this update in the comments!