The world of social media was rocked last week when Twitter announced that it would allow people to increase the length of their tweets from 140 to 280 characters. The move follows a trial among a small group of users during September, in response to criticism that it was not easy enough to tweet.

During the test period, only 5% of tweets sent were longer than the original length of 140 characters, and only 2% used more than 190 characters. But the social media site revealed that those who did use the longer tweets got more followers, better engagement and spent more time on the site, according to a blog post which detailed the findings.

But soon after the announcement was made, the Twitter backlash began, with newsfeeds quickly clogging up as people tried to experiment with the new format, often using up the characters with meaningless words and jokes. Many pointed out the changes they would rather have seen, such as a crackdown on hate crime, or the introduction of a chronological timeline and edit function.

But how could this change affect those of us working in PR? Twitter is another medium that we use to contact reporters about client news, and when we’re dealing with complex reports, then the additional characters might allow us to include a different angle or additional detail beyond the headline. The change should also be useful for social media analytics, giving us the potential to track influencers’ interaction with brands in a more meaningful way.

But the move could also spell trouble for consumer-facing organisations who deal with customer services on Twitter. Public complaints made in this way could soon become more detailed and potentially damaging for brands, and to diffuse potential crises it will remain key to respond quickly and take any damaging conversations offline where possible.

Any brand communicating with their customers via Twitter would do well to remember the Twitter backlash when the announcement was made. The platform has become popular as a micro-blogging site, and succinct communication is key – so it will be important to avoid any unnecessary words, and make every character count, to retain high levels of engagement.

Twitter currently has 330 million active users, compared to 800 million for Instagram and more than two billion users for Facebook. The change to 280 characters is part of Twitter’s broader plan to attract new users and increase growth.

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