Twitter set to double its character limit – why? And what does it mean for your comms strategy?

NEWS UPDATE: Twitter set to double character limit – what does it mean for your comms strategy?

It could be the best possible move for the ailing social media platform, with user numbers stagnating on the platform and those who were once active are logging on less often.

Read our recent Q&A with contentgroup’s social media buff, Lydia Stevens, about Twitter’s desperate struggle to cling to relevance and what it means for content communication strategy.


Some people are saying Twitter is becoming less relevant when it comes to successful content communication. Why?

It’s interesting because when people think about social media they think of Facebook and Twitter. But actually, Twitter is now the ninth most popular social media platform in Australia. The idea that Twitter is a vital social media tool remains, but it’s actually not in terms of its user base. So there are three million Australians who use Twitter every month. And that’s really been stagnant for about two years now. When you compare that to 17 million Australians using Facebook every month obviously it’s a pretty big sort of divide.

What are some of the reasons for this apparent decline in users?

I think people are over the 140 character limit. Also, Twitter hasn’t changed at all. If you look at platforms like Facebook they’re constantly bringing out new features, new functionalities. Twitter just isn’t.

Another key thing is that Twitter failed to live up to their purpose, it claimed to be an interactive platform and a fantastic place to have a conversation. There are two key problems here. Firstly, the lifespan of a tweet – if a user isn’t online within five or ten minutes of a tweet being posted they miss it.  Secondly, online abuse is rampant on Twitter.

So if Twitter is becoming less useful, user numbers are stagnating as well as how often people actually use their Twitter account, what does that mean for businesses and governments who would use Twitter as an actual tool for communication?

It means forget it! Twitter is entirely redundant from a business and government perspective.

Users like it for breaking news, but that’s about it. If anyone is looking to engage with people there are far better ways of doing it.


What are some of the better ways businesses and governments can look to engage with the public or their audience?

Facebook is a much better investment of people’s time and resources. There’re 17 million Australians who are using it every month – that’s like 70 per cent of the population. Facebook advertising is also much more advanced than the majority of other platforms. Facebook advertising has the ability to really highly target audiences with a specific piece of content or specific message that is really valuable.

Also, when it comes to Twitter I’ve found that it’s never been a good way to direct traffic back to a website – and usually, that’s a significant goal in a communication strategy, you want people to visit the website of the business, brand or government department.

Do you think Facebook is the best option at the moment? Or are there some other social media platforms that businesses and governments should also consider?

It depends. Facebook’s good in terms of the breadth of the network and the breadth of the people that you can reach – which makes sense; it’s the most popular social media problem across the world.

I think there’s a place for Instagram, but it depends on what your objective is and what you’re trying to do. If your marketing tactic is to show your audience what a day in your life looks like, in that kind of visual way, then Instagram’s good. It doesn’t drive people back to the website though, that’s not really what it’s for. It’s more for general brand awareness.

For example, if your aim is to provide a role model for young girls in science technology and math or something with a really specific objective like that, and you want to show them what a career in STEM looks like, Instagram would be a good way to do this. It does give you the ability to tell your story in a really visual and accessible way to that younger or to that younger audience.

Research shows that the younger demographic are more likely to be on Instagram than older people.

What about LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is OK for individual branding. If you’re trying to establish yourself as a global thought leader, or something related to your specific industry, LinkedIn can be really good. But the reach of Instagram and LinkedIn for business pages is pretty much pointless, they’re just not really worth the time.

So yeah in that sense I’m quite a fan of Facebook. I think it’s the capacity to be so highly targeted in your advertising and a platform that is so commonly used or so regularly used by so many people – it does seem to make it stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

So what’s the advice for the government in terms of what their social media strategy should really focus on?

I think for the government there’s this perception that Twitter was a good move because it was seen as much less risky because you’ve only got 140 characters. It’s harder to mess it up. Facebook is seen as a bit too risky, with this fear that it just opens the floodgates to all of these people with all these issues that’ll be too difficult to manage.

So a lot of people opted for Twitter, and now they’re still doing it but don’t really know why they’re doing it. It’s not necessarily serving their objective in any way, but it’s just because they’ve historically done it they continue to do it.

I think one of the most important things when coming up with your social media strategy, is that you don’t have to do everything and it’s OK to stop and redirect your resources if it’s not working.

Which is what you generally advise. Get rid of Twitter and put that energy into Facebook.

Yes. That’s what I’d say. From an anecdotal perspective, I’ve seen so, so much success from organizations and government departments using Facebook and just such a limited amount from Twitter.

Another major issue we see on Twitter is the inability to control harassment and online abuse. Tell me your thoughts on that and how it’s impacted businesses and governments and the use of Twitter as a platform.

I think it’s a massive problem for Twitter and one that they openly admit that they’ve failed to deal with. They’ve only had the capacity to report abuse on the platform for three and a bit years. This is also an issue that disproportionately affects females online. And Twitter has not taken the appropriate steps to stamp it out.

Even if you do document all the hateful vitriol and report abuse, they may have their account suspended or deactivated. But no one cares because it’s so easy to just start another account. There are no ID checks, you don’t have to be a “real” person to have a Twitter account. Anyway, one real person can have 100 Twitter accounts, tied to different email addresses, so as soon as one account gets shut down they just make another pop-up.

You mentioned this before, but trolling is a real problem that Twitter just isn’t dealing with.

From a business perspective, it is also a deterrent – why would anyone want to invest time in a space that you know is infested with professional trolls, with the central objective in life is to spread negativity and make other people feel bad about what they’re doing. These users seek to provoke negative responses from people, and that can easily carry over to your brand and any hashtag campaign or branding activity.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I would suggest that until they adequately address that problem there’s no way that the platform will thrive.

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