Shona Ghosh
May 25, 2016

Twitter makes replies public and drops multimedia from 140-character count

Twitter has confirmed that it will drop multimedia from its 140-character word count and has announced it will evolve the '@' reply to become public.

Twitter makes replies public and drops multimedia from 140-character count

The company will scrap the awkward "[email protected]" convention that has evolved from users tweeting each other publicly. Usually, tweeting someone without putting a full stop before their username means that tweet is private.

Now tweets that begin with "@name" will be public to all followers, which may have implications for brands using Twitter for individual customer service.

A spokesman for Twitter clarified that users will only see the first @reply, and not the entire conversation thread.

Twitter will also stop counting @replies, photos, GIFs, videos, polls or quoted tweets as part of its 140-character count. Multimedia takes up 23 characters out of the limit, meaning users and brands are often squeezed to get their message across.

Other updates include the ability for users to retweet and quote their own tweets if they feel "a really good one went unnoticed". Previously, users were only able to retweet and quote others’ updates.

Announcing the changes in a blog post, Twitter was keen to stave off criticism that it was losing its original purpose as a short message sharing platform.

"We’re exploring ways to make existing uses easier and enable new ones, all without compromising the unique brevity and speed that make Twitter the best place for live commentary, connections, and conversations," the company said.

The changes will roll out "in the coming months" for users and developers.

Impact for brands

Observers say the tweak is a minor one, but also indicative of how the internet has swiftly evolved from a primarily text-based medium to one where swiftly creating a Gif or video on mobile is completely normal.

As welcome as the greater leeway is, the company also faces greater questions over its future as Facebook and YouTube make in-roads with live content – something that’s traditionally been Twitter’s  wheelhouse. Or is changing the character count, as one agency CEO put it, "rearranging characters on the Titanic"?

There's more to the internet than words

"It’s not a major update. It’s the realisation that there’s more to Twitter than just words," says Hannah Beesley, the social director at Iris. "They are constantly telling us as brands that richer content does better and that people communicate in Gifs now. 140 characters in words is quite limiting, based on how people use the internet now. It’s almost a hygiene thing, and a smart move."

Beesley adds: "It’s great for us as brands, it gives us more freedom. We know power of an image, but you need that copy to get message across, and this means you don’t need to be splitting it out over two tweets.

"It’s great to keep 140 characters and still good to be made to be concise, but there’s now more leeway."

This means fewer 'ugly' tweets

"Including links within the character limit always felt pretty arbitrary and restrictive," says Tom Dunn, head of futures at Maxus. "And resulted in some pretty ugly and confusing tweets – copy in a couple of people, add a link and a hashtag and there’s not much room for content."

Dunn adds: "This is a minor but welcome change – hardly going to kick up the same fuss as last year’s proposed 10,000 character limit. Technically, including images within this relaxation of the rules gives users 140 characters and 1,000 words to play with, so what’s not to like?"

Twitter's making a tactical change

"The last news on the character limit on Twitter is a very tactical change that I highly doubt will change anything from a content strategy perspective," says Florence Lujani, the social team lead and head of influencer relations at JWT London.

"The company is in a very complicated situation at the moment, they are struggling with growing their user base, which has remained steady in 320 million active users for the past two quarters, and their shares have reached an all-time low earlier this month."

Lujani adds: "At the moment it seems that the company is introducing small changes like this one to create a more engaged user-base, but I’m not sure how big the impact will be."

This means greater flexibility for marketers

"The news that Twitter has extended the 140 character limit by excluding images and links is, in principle, a good one," says Mark Varley, managing partner, Havas Media Manchester. "It will give marketers the flexibility to engage more fully with their audiences and give brands a richer canvas in which to exchange information with their customers."

But Varley warns there's a danger of "missing the point." 

"The joy of Twitter is that you are restricted and limited in what you can say or show, and good marketers have made clever, punchy comms an art form," he says. "All social channels have a different purpose and should be approached and used differently – Twitter works best with concise content, not waffle."

Twitter has bigger problems to solve

"Anything that makes Twitter more flexible and useful for users is good news and more visual content is always a good thing," says Antony Mayfield, founding partner and CEO, Brilliant Noise. "It’s not a fundamental change though - and a less charitable view would be that it’s rearranging the characters on the Titanic.

"There’s no evidence of a correlation between character count and share price."


Campaign UK

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