Twitter grabs the low-hanging fruit

So it wasn’t really a huge suppose two weeks ago when the company announced that it was making some amendments to theway in which the platforms works.

Twitter bird ()

Essentially these are tinkering with the format, and not the large scale changes that some of the company’s critics have advocated. Nevertheless they are very welcome, and could prove to be useful to publishers.

More characters

From day one a much debated issue for Twitter has been the rather arbitrary nature of the 140 character limit. There have been ongoing calls for the company to expand this, and it’s something that Dorsey hasn’t entirely ruled out. What worked for tech geeks in 2008 might now not be appropriate for a worldwide social platform six years later.

So the company’s major tweak is to give its users a few more characters to play with. This is because usernames, quoted tweets, photos, and other media attachments no longer count against the tweet’s 140-character limit.

The rationale for the move is fairly logical in that Twitter is hugely keen for its users to share more images and GIFs, and it hopes that by enabling users to share those without impacting on their word count, they will share more.

From a publishing perspective the small change is also very useful. The accepted wisdom with Twitter is that tweets that are accompanied by an image of some sort – including GIFs – are much more likely to be seen, explored and shared, so there is effectively now no excuse for social media managers in publishing companies to not add an image to a tweet.

A second tweak that also could be highly useful to publishers is the ability for Twitter users to natively retweet themselves. This always seemed like something of an anomaly, and getting rid of this enables media brands to have the option to retweet their content as often as they like. 

The third tweak is another minor one and arguably least relevant to media companies, however it does clarify one of the strangest quirks of the platform. From now on any tweet that starts with a user’s name will be viewable by everyone. Previously it could only be seen but the two people involved in the conversation and also the people that follow both of them. There will be no tweets with a full stop in front of a person’s name any more.

Big changes to come?

The big question for the industry is whether the tweaks will broaden the appeal of the platform. The answer, in my opinion, is almost certainly going to be a negative one, but it is sure to help those already using the Twitter to get more out of it. And if that’s the case they may use it more frequently and not be enticed by emerging rival platforms. 

Ultimately Twitter’s long term future seems very much in the balance, So many media companies, to say nothing of brands, have invested so much time and effort in building up followers and engaging with them, that a significant shift away from the platform could be very problematic.

It might also have the effect of strengthening Facebook which is something that many publishers have strong opinions on. It could ultimately be that Twitter’s future will be teaming up with another media company. It was widely reported this week that the company were in merger discussions with Yahoo (although these appear to have been shelved now) and previously there were rumours that News International would consider a move for the platform.

For now though, from a publisher’s perspective, the company has listened to its corporate users and made their lives a tiny bit easier.

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