In a quest for more users, Twitter and Snapchat are undergoing major changes.
Let’s start with Twitter: After a period of beta testing, Twitter has doubled its signature 140-character limit to 280 for most languages.
The move is intended to bring more users to the platform and drive engagement with advertiser content. However, the added length has its detractors.
The decision was met with a fair amount of controversy, given that one of Twitter’s defining characteristics is the brevity of users’ posts.
Many argued that the increase to 280 characters would make Twitter less readable, as longer tweets filled their timelines.
Others suggested that Twitter’s focus on a feature no one really asked for was diverting its attention from more critical problems – like the rampant abuse, harassment and bullying it’s become known for unfortunately.
Twitter highlighted the success it saw in the data from its trial run of the new character limit.
The company said that during the trial period, people continued to tweet below 140 characters most of the time – after the novelty of being able to use more characters wore off. Specifically, Twitter found that only 5 percent of tweets were sent out with more than 140 characters and of those, only 2 percent were over 190 characters.
It also said that many of the goofy things people did once they gained the ability to tweet more – like writing only a few characters per line to make extra-large tweets – were only a temporary effect. (Though it expects many people will do this again with the public launch.)
The 140-character limit is holdover from a bygone age of old technology, and Twitter argues the change makes the platform more user-friendly.
“We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they tweeted more easily and more often,” Aliza Rosen, a company product manager, wrote in a blog. “More space makes it easier for people to fit thoughts in a tweet, so they could say what they want to say, and send tweets faster than before.”
The 140-character limit is a relic of a previous technological era. That was the maximum that could fit in mobile text messages when the service started in 2006, before the mass adoption of smartphones.
How others gamed the system
Bloomberg also noted that many Twitter users already circumvent the 140-character limit by linking tweets or sharing links to longform articles.
Many of Twitter’s 330 million monthly active users were already getting around the limit by linking to longer pieces, taking screenshots of full stories, and sending streams of tweets called tweetstorms to complete thoughts.
Twitter hopes the longer limit will make its service more approachable for more people. It’s a popular destination for journalists, politicians and celebrities, but the company has failed to reach a more general audience like Facebook Inc. In its current form, Twitter has proved cumbersome for new users, yet each time the company tries to change an important feature, heavy users complain.
Some users responded with snark or defiance.
If there’s one thing we could ask for from 2017, it wouldn’t be “more Twitter.”
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) November 8, 2017
I will NEVER use 280 characters nor will I favorite or retweet a tweet with them. THIS IS MY FIGHT SONG
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) November 8, 2017
Me halfway through your 280 characters pic.twitter.com/l5uu6PGU3B
— Mr. It Is Our Duty (@Mr_ItIsOurDuty) November 8, 2017
Some mockingly exploited their newfound freedom.
— McDo Philippines (@McDo_PH) November 8, 2017
there’s electricity in the air tonight. the people of earth are quivering with excitement, all of them wondering the same thing: what will ollie do with his 280 characters? what issues will he tackle? what boundaries will he break? what innovation awaits us? what kind of taboos w
— Ollie MN (@OllieMcKendrick) November 8, 2017
Snapchat announces a design overhaul
Snapchat also teased major changes in its Q3 earnings call. The company has yet to produce the user engagement needed to meet investor expectations—and now the CEO is admitting the platform has intrinsic problems.
CEO Evan Spiegel announced during the company’s earnings call Tuesday that they’re working on a big Snapchat redesign to make the service less complicated.
“One thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback,” he said. “As a result, we are currently redesigning our application to make it easier to use.”
A big redesign could jeopardize Snapchat’s core users or change the overall experience the brand is known for.
Rethinking the way Snapchat works could certainly open the app to a huge audience of new users. Spiegel is right in calling out the usability complaints; Snap had to include a manual for using Snapchat in its IPO filing, which is a good indicator that it’s not the most intuitive software in the world.
But as Spiegel warms, drastic changes could also alienate some users and undercut Snap’s cool factor. If you’ve taken the time to learn every corner of the app and master its tricks, you get it. Now, all of that is likely going to change. The earnings letter didn’t give a release date for the new, improved Snapchat.
Some say the redesign seems antithetical to Snapchat’s distinctiveness.
SnapChat pushes the limits of design! It rewards you for figuring things out, and keeps old people off the platform—
— Ben Sandofsky (@sandofsky) November 8, 2017
However, many say change is necessary if Snapchat is to thrive.
Snap’s user growth is another area of concern. The company added just 5 million new daily users in the third quarter, putting its tally at 178 million, well below the 300 million that Instagram’s knock-off feature, Stories, has managed to bring in over the last year. The company also dropped out of the top 10 most-downloaded apps on Apple’s App Store this quarter, TechCrunch recently reported.
Here’s what the changes mean for content marketers and brand managers:
1. Snapchat will focus on creators and influencers.
Its CEO has signaled that the company was tinkering with how content surfaced on the platform. This included prioritizing creators who publish content for a wide viewership.
Spiegel also said Snap was getting ready to roll out new monetization options for creators in 2018. “We have historically neglected the creator community on Snapchat that creates and distributes public Stories for the broader Snapchat audience,” he said. “Developing this ecosystem will allow artists to transition more easily from communicating with friends to creating Stories for a broader audience, monetizing their Stories, and potentially using our professional tools to create premium content.”
Whenever the new Snapchat emerges, the platform will continue to be a hub for creators and influencers. With the company focusing on the community, the potential for partnership grows, too.
2. Lengthy text—and tweets—still suggest lazy writing.
Twitter might allow 280 characters, but good writing still requires editing—distilling 10 flabby words into two or three potent ones.
If you’re going to use more words on twitter, it had better be worth it. I’m already already passing over tweets I️ would’ve normally read.
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) November 8, 2017
3. Facebook and Instagram still dominate.
Twitter and Snapchat are overhauling their platforms because they are losing the battle for ad revenue. Your content strategy can include Snapchat and Twitter, but stay mindful that, for now at least, most users participate on those other platforms.
What do you think of Twitter and Snapchat’s changes, PR Daily readers?