THE BLOG

What Twitter's Change Means for Them, Brands and You

26/05/2016 08:48 | Updated 26 May 2016

Twitter's latest announcement relating to its character limit commandeered the usual fuss in the media industry - probably a lot more than among those of us actually using it.

This time, it's the news that images will not be counted towards the 140 character Tweet limit. The same thing happened last year, albeit, that was a more fundamental proposal in actually removing the 140 character limit entirely.

At the time we suggested that, despite what you might think, removing the character limit entirely was unlikely to have a profound impact. After all, Facebook once had character limits and practically removed them by increasing the limit to 5,000 because they were deemed arbitrary. While Twitter's brand is more closely aligned with the limit, user behaviour didn't alter dramatically after Facebook made their change so it shouldn't change what people do on Twitter.

Although that move didn't come to pass and the image-exclusion one will, they both raise questions about how Twitter sees its role in the communications space - and whether it's the right move.

Why the move should be applauded

You can easily argue that Twitter's changes should be seen as positive because they're merely evolving to compete with the various other publishing platforms available to everyone (such as Facebook and LinkedIn). Furthermore, particularly in the case of removing the limit, it's extremely brave to take down a strong legacy feature.

In the current case, removing images from the word count frees up 23 characters extra for you to use, that's 16% more space for content on top of any imagery. So, given the rise of native advertising - advertorials as you and I more commonly know it as - taking more ad spend, one can see a logic in adapting their environment for people who like including lots of images. In marketing speak it keeps users like this more "sticky" and makes Twitter more competitive as a destination for the inevitable increase in native advertising spend.

Also, being more image-conscious indicates Twitter may have stopped focusing on the vanity metric of how many of us use it, instead, moving to increasing the value of the platform for us users. Certainly, it's likely to increase the amount of content that people share and Twitter could do with some help in this regard - the Po.st URL shortening tool reveals that shared Twitter URLs are among those with the smallest audiences.

Why Twitter should stick to its guns

However, despite this, I simply can't shake the feeling the latest move is an own goal and could be the start of the end for what was a great instant communications tool. Twitter needs to get some self-confidence. It needs to become more like itself, not its competitors.

If people want to post pictures, videos, and unrestricted text, they already have Facebook. If they want whatever Snapchat does, they have Snapchat, if they want whatever Instagram provides, they have Instagram. If they want instant communication to large groups they have WhatsApp.

Twitter's the victim of 'first mover' in the rich Instant Messaging ecosystem but their lunch is being royally scoffed by the brands I mentioned above as well as the likes of WeChat.

Thus, I think they should try to appeal to the more serious, business and media-minded audiences, where they're most appreciated - think LinkedIn vs Facebook - to carve out their own identity.

For example, Twitter is the perfect home for Vanity URLs - an online 'blind spot' that goes unharnessed millions of times every day by companies. Vanity URLs, useful for a whole host of reasons, are a unique short form of custom URL, branded for marketing purposes, which help users associate shortened sharing links to a brand.

Also, the "buttons" or sharing widgets that appear around online articles that link to a Twitter page or enable people to Tweet content generate hugely valuable audience insight about what people share and engage with, who with, on what devices, and how often. It's a data goldmine, with various benefits, that also remains scandalously under-employed by brands.

Just a couple of reasons why Twitter, in its current form, is still so valuable to brands, so my message to them is #havemoreconfidence.

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