Twitter’s dilemma: stuck with the 140 rule

One of the first things you pick up when learning how to draw is to be careful about what you put in the foreground. Add a large object with little in front of it and you quickly understand that you can’t draw what is behind it. It completely dictates what the rest of the picture contains.

In a way, Twitter has done this with its 140-character rule. What was once an excellent differentiator as well as an easy way for people to put out small blogs, tweeted links have become a bit of a bind.

If you have heard talks from company executives, one common request from brands is to find a way to get beyond  140 characters. And to some extent, Twitter has been attempting to oblige. But it can only go so far.

Watering down of the rule has allowed people to add images or page views of content which include more text. The problem is its wiggle room is limited. 140 characters is ultimately what makes the side. If you take that away you take away Twitter.

More changes 

So Twitter has made another effort to dilute a rule that makes it what it is. From now on .@names in replies, attachments such as photos, videos and calls and, perhaps most importantly, quoting tweets will no longer be counted as part of your 140 characters.

These changes were announced in May but have just been confirmed by Twitter and are being rolled out now.

Another change is dumping the .@ symbol that is used when people want to refer to a specific user in the first characters of the tweet. For the non-initiated, the full point means the tweet goes to all of your followers rather than just the named person.


The problem for Twitter is that it has struggled to make money in the same way as Facebook and LinkedIn. Content marketing has played a key role in the growth of both companies, especially LinkedIn.

Earlier this year it was estimated that Twitter has lost $2 billion since 2011. It has been able to generate revenue from sponsors’ tweets and partnerships but these appear to have stalled. The argument being that its structure has left little room.

The issue for brands is the limitations on what you can put out through Twitter. It’s great for distribution, but actual blogging? Yes, there are some brands that just want to put out images and smaller pieces of content, but it has failed to find a content marketing niche in the same way as the other two networks have.


The strange thing is that many companies do use Twitter to distribute content. In fact they say it does significantly better than some of its rivals. Research from the Content Marketing Institute shows 94 per cent of B2B content marketers used LinkedIn, while 87 per cent used Twitter. Facebook and YouTube followed behind on 84 per cent and 74 per cent respectively.

Moreover, Twitter came across as the second most effective distribution platform behind LinkedIn with 66 pert cent of marketers saying they found it effective. Facebook, on the other hand, was rated as effective by only 41 per cent of respondents.

The key difference is that you can do so much more Facebook all linked in. You can perform small updates, blogs and video (yes, LinkedIn is also looking at this).

Final thought

It is curious that one of Twitter’s strengths – that you can read and create content easily and quickly – maybe works against it. For example, the lifespan of a sponsored tweet will be limited on a page where someone has followed 800 or so people. Maybe it’s easier to use it organically?

In a way, Twitter has drawn the picture to match the foreground. Yes, it is a nice picture and we all like it. But there are other parts of the page that it needs to paint while making it fit with what is currently in place. In less than 140 characters: it will either do this or need to come up with an entirely new sheet of paper (63).

Twitter’s dilemma: stuck with the 140 rule is part of Content24, the blog for London content marketing agency FirstWord.


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