Going beyond 140


Well, in between watching the shenanigans surrounding a giant puddle, plenty of people have been getting excited about the news that Twitter looks set to call time on its most unique of USPs – the 140 character limit. It’s been widely reported that, possibly as soon as this Spring, the new character limit will be boosted to a whopping 10,000 characters. But what might that mean for the Higher Education social media sector? Here are some hastily thrown together thoughts…

Invitation to waffle?

An understandable gut reaction to this news is that the extra characters is that Twitter is simply giving people a licence to talk, talk and talk some more. Could this welcoming of the long form be the tipping point that welcomes waves of academics to Twitter and clogs up our timelines with wonderful research/academic waffle*?

*tongue firmly in cheek here, I should add

Well, probably not. For a start, the new character limit won’t actually change how your timeline looks. Twitter is likely to still only show 140 characters, with a call to action button for people to click for any longer posts.

But the subject of research dissemination is certainly an interesting one. If the longer character count means you can have a better experience with long form content while still staying within the Twitter app (like you now get with Facebook’s Instant articles) then you’d expect more people to engage with such content. That means we have an opportunity to get more people engaging with our research content.

The challenge is still, of course, to make that content interesting in the first place. However, assuming you can tick that box, this feels like it could be a great opportunity to massively boost the ROI when it comes to using Twitter for research stories.

Better analytics

I’ll admit, I love dipping into data and analytics. If more of your content is going to stay within the walls of Twitter, then you’ll have even more stats to pour over. Even better, and similar to my first point, you should get a far better idea of how your content is performing, and give you even more insight into how you can make it better.

This is surely a good thing.

The chance to experiment

Universities (although often tentatively) like to experiment with social media. Whether it’s changing your style of content or jumping on new platforms to test them out, there are always institutions out there willing to give it a go. If they get it right, they are usually rewarded with plenty of street cred points, as well as building more trust amongst their followers.

Now, the chance to nail something ‘new’ on a platform we’re all as comfortable with as Twitter? That’s something to welcome I reckon.

(Psst, for more great reads on Universities experimenting on social media, head over to the Pickle Jar blog)

Better conversation

For me this is perhaps the most interesting part. Being freed from the old character limit could really improve the conversational element of Twitter, particularly when we’re dealing with customer service type enquiries – it’s something we’ve already seen in Twitter’s direct messages since last summer, when the DM limit was lifted to 10,000 characters.

In an environment where a big organisation such as a University is being watched by hordes of onlookers for how it behaves online and how it interacts with other people, it can be all too easy to come across as blunt or aloof when the character count is ticking. If this impending change means we get the room to breathe and have better conversations with those people who want to talk to us, that could be really powerful.

More reading

You’ll find plenty of tweets about this news on the #Twitter10k hashtag (including lots of calls for the ability to edit a tweet) and there will no doubt be plenty more blog posts written about it. Most of them will be far better than what I’ve just fired out, so thanks for coming this far! As a reward, here’s a very good take on this news by Will Oremus at Slate.

What do you think about the change? Excited? Angry? Just want an edit button instead? Let me know!

Oh, and if you’re wondering, this blog post has barely passed 4,000 characters.


That’s really quite a lot.

(Pic by Maryland GovPics licensed under Creative Commons)


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