Twitter, the social media platform known for its short messages and furious “tweetstorms,” started testing 280-character tweets with select accounts in September.
This change was met with shock and horror from the community, which had long ago embraced its 140-character prison in a serious case of digital Stockholm syndrome. As the test continued, and Twitter saw promising results, resistance to the change to the Twitter 280-character limit mounted.
And then, in November, Twitter did the unthinkable. It gave everyone using Twitter in languages including English, Spanish, Portuguese and French access to the 280-character tweets.
The Controversy Behind the Controversy
Snark aside, there is a real problem in the Twitterverse.
There are several, in fact. Twitter is becoming a toxic shark tank of the worst sort for regular users. When the test was announced, Engadget touched on some of the major issues in this article, but to summarize, it comes down to these things:
- Abusive content
- No really good way to manage either
Users have been pleading for better tools to deal with these issues and more policing as harassment spirals out of control, seemingly unchecked. Wired reported on Twitter’s improved efforts in July, but even with all the big talk they were lackluster at best.
To its credit, Twitter did take down Breitbart’s man Milo Yiannopoulos after months of hate speech was distributed across the network. A particularly racist tirade against Leslie Jones of “Ghostbuster” fame was the final nail in his Twitter coffin, in July of this year. He had already been penalized by losing his blue verified checkmark in January, so clearly something different should have happened in the seven months in between.
What Really Sparked this Move
Financially, Twitter is drowning.
Its stock is down and has been for a long time. Four years ago, at its Wall Street debut, Twitter came out strong at $44 per share. Today, it lingers at $16 because it can’t turn a profit and is hemorrhaging users. Marketers and investors alike hoped it would become another Facebook. It was always more hope than anything, because it was difficult to figure out how to properly interact with the interface to really gain traction with the user base.
This last-ditch effort to attract users who may have tried the platform and found it confusing or intimidating may spark short-term interest, but if those problems that are fundamental to the reason the average person is leaving Twitter remain, it’s just a very poor seal on a slowly sinking ship.
In a world where #MeToo’s “Silence Breakers” are Time’s People of the Year, the toxicity present in the Twitterverse isn’t likely to be fixed with an extra 140-characters for those angry people to scream more complete thoughts. Twitter users want more accountability from the company, they want more transparency and they want it yesterday.
It’s not much to give in exchange for profitability for the first time ever.
Is it Good for Marketers?
Twitter has always been a mixed bag for marketers.
Those who have done well there have seen pretty good success, but the product and the execution have to be in line with very narrow demographics in order for the whole thing to be worth doing. If the 280-character limit does actually attract new blood, it could be worth giving it another go, but it might be better to wait and see if Twitter can get a handle on its cultural problems first to ensure that the audience won’t leave before campaigns are fully executed.
However, if a digital marketer has some discretionary spending in the budget and feels like Twitter is a good fit, getting in while Twitter’s under so much financial pressure could be a good way to get a lot of value with paid engagement. If Twitter survives the current climate, those brands that were there during the low points are going to make a bigger impression with regular users than Johnny-come-latelys.
It’s a tricky line to walk and right now, not an easy outcome to predict. Twitter leadership has to get more of a backbone to ensure long-term stability and start punishing offenders with something beyond a time-out that can be overcome by creating a new account minutes after a permaban. Not only that, but they must do it publicly so those Tweeters who fled because of harassment know it’s safe to return to their former social media home.