Twitter’s Growth Problem: Communicating with its biggest fans
I love Twitter. Twitter is like that friend you have who is brilliant, engaging and fun to be round, but who sometimes has trouble getting out of their own way.
Many would argue that Twitter has become a (qualified) success mostly because of its users. Many of Twitter’s most recognized concepts–the retweet, the hashtag, even the @ reply–were invented by users, not Twitter itself.
By creating a platform where users feel so central to the growth and development of the ecosystem, Twitter is in a situation where any change is greeted with great skepticism by its biggest fans. While having such engaged users is a great problem to have, it also presents a challenge when trying to communicate new concepts and changes to the hardcore users.
All of this makes today’s leaked news from Re/Code that Twitter is preparing to increase the character limit from 140 to 10,000 a massive problem.
Without any context, increasing the character limit to 10,000 is clearly a bad idea. It undermines the core concept of Twitter–brevity. However, if you dig a little deeper into the rumoured plan, it’s not to allow giant walls of text to invade your Twitter timeline. The idea is to enable a kind of expandable, embedded article, an alternative to a hyperlink really, into tweets to allow them to display longer text only when needed.
This means that tweets would remain 140 characters in your timeline, and only be expanded to full size if actively clicked by users. Of course the greater context for this move is Facebook Instant Articles which partner with publications to host content directly inside Facebook rather than linking to an external website. This allows Facebook to capture more advertising dollars directly on their platform rather than sending users elsewhere. Twitter wants a piece of this action.
Devoid of this context, many users on Twitter are mildly outraged. OK, massively outraged. Ten thousand characters in your timeline is clearly not a great user experience. However, an embedded article concept, much like Twitter Cards, that retains the core 140 character experience while providing room for more content, if needed, is an interesting idea.
Which circles back to the main problem–communicating with your hardcore base. This is something Twitter is notoriously bad at. The problem is: How do you move forward to expand your audience while not alienating your biggest fans?
Whoever leaked this information, and it was likely someone very senior, has to understand how to communicate properly the value of this new feature to Twitter’s user base, which is notoriously change-phobic.
Which sounds better? “Twitter launches Embedded Articles” or “Twitter increases character limit to 10,000”? One communicates the value of the new feature, the other smashes away the core concept of Twitter itself. Companies who don’t know how to communicate their value not just to their core users but also to potential new users, run the risk of paralysis.
Twitter launches Embedded Articles. vs. Twitter increases character limit to 10000 Which sounds better?
— Spencer Callaghan (@Senturion) January 5, 2016
If rolled out correctly, this new feature has the potential to increase significantly the value of Twitter as a real-time news and engagement platform. The challenge is: can Twitter evolve without losing its biggest evangelists?