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.)
How many characters in a Tweet?
Ever since that update back in 2017, you have been able to use 280 characters for a Tweet. Yep, that’s right, you’ve been able to Tweet more than 140 characters for the last four years; wowwww! Did you ever see such a long Tweet?
However, one very important 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.
When did Twitter change to 280 characters?
Twitter first started testing 280-character tweets waaaaay back in September 2017, and the results of that experiment convinced them to expand the number of Tweet characters 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.
Why did Twitter even launch the 280 characters update?
One of Twitter’s biggest advantages has always been the brevity of its updates – brevity that many people worried would be threatened when this feature first rolled out.
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:
When ARE you actually supposed to use 280 characters per Tweet?
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 Twitter 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 explaining complex concepts in shorter Tweets. 140 characters aren’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:
Twitter updates don’t always have the majority in mind
Sometimes, Twitter makes changes that sound a little unnecessary.
The Twitter 280 characters update is a perfect example – it’s an update that didn’t get a lot of use in testing. Still, it 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 character Tweets, 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.
How to Tweet with 280 characters
And if you do see value in using all 280 characters for your Tweets, here are some ideas for writing great Tweets!
Step 1: Provide a tantalizing tidbit
Say you run an online tea emporium, and the article you want to share is about a legendary tea café in Kyoto, Japan. If it is an interesting article, to begin with, the simplest way to put a tweet together is to pull a quote from the article.
Perhaps you might find a quote like this: “Brewing tea in this Kyoto café is an art.” Just add your link, and you’re done!
If there’s no quote, or you want to take a little extra time, think about how you can frame the article in a way that reflects your business viewpoint.
For the hypothetical online tea emporium, perhaps they frequently get asked what temperature the water needs to be for good green tea, and your article has advice.
If so, try something like this:
How hot is too hot? This Kyoto café shares the proper water temperature for the finest green teas.
The purpose is to tie a piece of shareable content directly to something your audience wants to know and show that you’re listening to them.
Step 2: Add some personality
If you have some characters left over, you can add a bit of personality!
Here’s a shorter version of the water temperature tweet, with a slightly different flavor:
This Kyoto café shares the exact water temperature for perfect Matcha. (Yes!)
Tip: If you’re linking to an article on your blog, add click-to-tweets with pull quotes to your post to make it even easier for your audience to share.
Step 3: Proof and verify
We don’t know if tweets are forever…but your typo will be set in virtual stone unless you delete the tweet. And that’s only if a screenshot hasn’t happened first.
Streamlining your tweets shouldn’t result in missing punctuation, poor grammar, or broken links. (If you’re working in Edgar to create posts, try coming back later to proof when your eyes are fresh – and if need be, edit them in your library.)
If you’re sharing an article (especially a news article), verify the source while you’re at it – and make sure that the way you’re describing it in your tweet accurately reflects what’s in the post!
What do YOU think of the 280 character Tweets?
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 debate in the comments!