Quick Take: What The New 280 Character Limit Really Means For Twitter

Photo of Karol Severin
by Karol Severin

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Twitter announced this week that it started trialling an extension of its established 140-character limit to 280 characters.

This is largely about trying to improve engagement and, concretely, time spent. Time spent on platform is a vital metric for ad-supported companies. The longer users stay, the more ads they can be served.

A study by Mediakix (using Comscore 2016 data) shows that Twitter users only spend average of 1 minute per day on the platform, compared to 40 minutes on YouTube, 35 minutes on Facebook, 25 minutes on Instagram and 15 minutes Snapchat.

Only a handful of digital properties capture most of users’ digital time. As the battle for attention continues to intensify, keeping users in an active session becomes increasingly challenging.

Twitter hopes that doubling the character limit will drive a higher average character count per tweet. This will increase users’ time spent on the service. Creators will take slightly longer to type their tweets, but, more importantly, users will take longer to read these lengthier tweets. Even if users only take one second longer to read an average tweet, this can escalate quickly when catching up with a Twitter feed. If users take one second longer to read 15 tweets in a session (i.e. take 15 seconds more), it is already 25% of Twitter’s current average time spent.

The success of this move really comes down to how much longer an average tweet will become and where. Twitter points out in its blog that different languages have a varying degree of character limit necessity. While only 0.4% of Japanese tweets (often able to express meaning with just one or two characters) reach the 140-character limit, the figure surges to 9% with English language tweets. Therefore, the effect of increased time spent will be most prominent in the English-speaking markets. With the US being the largest ad market in the world, the move could bring a notable boost to Twitter’s future commercial performance.

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