Apparently Twitter only just got the memo that fashion’s had for ages: One size does not fit all — especially when it comes in extra small. The snack-sized messaging platform is testing a new message limit that doubles its narrow 140-letter restriction, expanding it to 280 characters.
The company’s goal is to prompt more usage across the network: “When people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people tweeting,” Twitter wrote on its blog.
Clearly, for a company beset by declining growth rates, usage matters. Although the network may get plenty of press as President Trump’s social media service of choice, the attention hasn’t translated into continued user acquisition. The network, which serves 328 million people, followed up its nine-million-user growth in the first quarter of this year with zero additions in the second quarter.
This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence! https://t.co/TuHj51MsTu
— jack (@jack) September 26, 2017
Too bad the announcement lands with something of a thud for an Internet whose focus has moved from text-based experiences to visual media. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fashion sector. Twitter, which once inspired Burberry to hold a Tweetwalk in 2011, as well as Tweetcam in 2015, has taken a backseat in the age of Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.
For visually artistic sectors like fashion, appeal hinges on the power of images. For instance, fashion influencer Sky Ferreira posted three times on Twitter versus 23 shares on Instagram. Fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein did a little better, with 11 tweets this month, mostly short messages with links to her blog. Her one text-based share was a plug for Snupps, another visually oriented social app. Meanwhile, so far, her Instagram tally for September comes to 75 shared images.
It’s hard to fault her. Bernstein’s 37,400 Twitter followers can’t touch her 1.7 million Instagram fans. For Hanneli Mustaparta, another fashion personality, her Twitter account’s 59,500 count also pales in comparison to the 253,000 people who track her Instagram shares. Mustaparta’s Twitter presence essentially sums up her Instagram feed, with short shares such as, “Officially missing Sicily @ Modica” and “This place is a dream! @ Scala Dei Turchi” and a link. The fashion personality hasn’t tweeted in more than a month, and only four times in all of August.
Twitter has dabbled with moving images, with varying degrees of success. Although it shelved Vine 6-second videos last January, the company maintains its Periscope live-streaming service, and spearheaded various efforts — including a partnership with IMG to livestream shows during the latest New York Fashion Week. But that couldn’t save the network from its flatlining growth rate — or the hangover from the record lows in its share price last year, inability to find a buyer or anemic advertising business.
The company clearly hopes the extra character capacity can move the needle. While that’s not likely for people like Bernstein and Mustaparta, it could mean more for editorial brands, people who use the service like a newsfeed, and other Twitter users who lean toward long-windedness.
The test will run for “at least a few weeks” and users will be chosen at random, said Twitter spokesperson Will Stickney. “Anyone tweeting in languages outside of Japanese, Chinese and Korean could be in the test,” he added, referencing Asian languages that tend to pack more meaning in less linguistic real estate. Speakers of those languages presumably won’t need the additional space. If they do, well, they’ll have 140 characters to tweet their complaints.