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Twitter’s Identity Crisis Just Got Interesting


I love Twitter. Whether using it as a brand or for my own personal use, it’s my go-to social platform. Sure, it doesn’t have all of Facebook’s shiny bells and whistles, and it doesn’t see engagement numbers like Instagram, but for what it does, it’s perfect. That is, right now it’s perfect. Concise statements. Chronological order. No social platform does current events, news and conversation like Twitter.

But recently there have been indications (like here and here) that Twitter is going to change its formula, and from a marketer’s perspective, I understand. At the end of the day, it’s about positively affecting the bottom line, and Twitter needs more users.

So to attract these new users, Twitter has already expanded by creating its Moments section, partnering with Google to intersperse search results with relevant tweets, and curating featured tweets on the homepage.  However, it hasn’t moved the needle enough. So now, Twitter may increase the character limit from its iconic 140 to 10,000 and even add an algorithmic timeline feature.

The 10,000-Character Expansion

Twitter lifting its 140-character limit is not surprising. Even though 140 characters has become the 21st century benchmark for being able to describe anything well, this is not the end of people using Twitter. I mean, how great would it be to not have to sacrifice your perfectly punctuated tweet with an extra character or two?!

That, though, is likely not the reason for expanding the limit. Rather, Twitter wants to keep its users engaged longer and on its own platform. And as an avid user, I’m genuinely looking forward to consuming the content I want directly on Twitter, instead of being directed to a publisher’s site via shared links.

Publishing directly to social platforms has been trending upward, and there’s little doubt Twitter is trying to keep up with Facebook’s Instant Articles feature.

While publishers may not like this change due to complications in ad revenue, others, like BuzzFeed, aren’t as concerned if you’re not going to its site, and many consumers embrace this benefit to the user experience. Now there’s no need to leave the app. A win for users and Twitter alike.

The Algorithmic Timeline

Changing from a chronological to an algorithmic timeline would change Twitter’s entire essence. Twitter is a leading source for breaking news events; following live sporting events and conferences; and partaking in Twitter chats. An algorithmic timeline would not support what has made Twitter great. Even Facebook tried to get in on trending news topics with its Trending section, but it’s nowhere near Twitter’s lead on trending stories.

Twitter has already introduced a small algorithmic feed with its “While You Were Away” feature, and toward the end of 2015, it beta tested the algorithmic timeline on unsuspecting users. As with any change it seems, it caused confusion and backlash, but rightly so.

Twitter’s growth is not going to come from emulating Facebook’s algorithmic feed. Conversation, breaking news, and live events are Twitter’s niche, and they’re best supported by a chronological, real-time timeline.

An algorithmic timeline would also likely spell dwindling brand engagement, forcing brands to pay to reach their current followers, just as brands on Facebook must pay to reach over 90 percent of their current fans. It’s not that social media advertising is a new or absurd concept, but allowing brands to reach their audiences is simply another one of Twitter’s strengths.

There is change in Twitter’s future—that is certain. However, instead of disruptive, platform-altering change, let’s hope it’s more of a natural evolution. Increase the character limit, add additional features that support a real-time, social environment, but don’t give an algorithm the power to select what users see.