About Those Twitter 280 Character Metrics

There were lots of pretty metric charts released in the official Twitter blogs that spin a good tale on why increasing the tweet count to 280 characters is no big deal.

These are the questions a good product manager would ask though:

We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often. But importantly, people Tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained.

What “people” were included in the test? This is important because much of the noise the Twitterverse produces comes from bots, marketers and advertisers. If anyone questions this, think about the types of Twitter accounts that pop up in your new follower notifications at random times and what their bios and timelines look like.

“We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often” is concerning because bots, marketers and advertisers are exactly the types of accounts that would need more than 140 characters. So measuring real usage patterns that fail to take this into consideration will lead to flawed interpretations.

Does the data identity a problem large enough to support altering the Twitter Brand?

Historically, 9% of Tweets in English hit the character limit. This reflects the challenge of fitting a thought into a Tweet, often resulting in lots of time spent editing and even at times abandoning Tweets before sending.

So 91% of tweets fall into what J.K. Rowling calls Twitter’s USP (unique selling point), who is also convinced that this is a bad move by Twitter. After all, brevity is the Twitter brand experience and altering a brand image is no small matter for a company.

Of the 9% of tweeters hitting the limit, how many didn’t mind editing their tweets? Brevity takes skill. Ask anyone who writes good headlines. Editing though is what writers—and thinkers do. Even when we are talking, we are hopefully editing our words before they leave our mouth.

So again, how many tweeters who hit the 140 character limit actually minded editing their thoughts? Did anyone at Twitter ask? I would wager that most who love Twitter, don’t even see that as a problem, but let’s see the data.

I find the “even at times abandoning Tweets before sending” the more interesting and valuable data point. What exactly was that number? Twitter’s product manager didn’t disclose it, but considering the way it’s worded, the number might be small. That number might reflect genuine friction at hitting the 140 character limit. Where’s that data?

What is clear is that 9% number is not really identifying the problem that Twitter wants us to believe it is. Flawed interpretations are being made from it.

With the expanded character count, this problem was massively reduced – that number dropped to only 1% of Tweets running up against the limit.

Again, there is a lot more to that 9% number than Twitter even asked about or disclosed. So why is it labeled a problem? As people adjust to 280 characters there will likely be an increase in average tweet length. It’s like the garage that ends up getting filled with junk and offers less and less space for a car to fit.

Since we saw Tweets hit the character limit less often, we believe people spent less time editing their Tweets in the composer.

Is less time editing good? If you do a Twitter search for \#280characters, you’ll see a lot of garages filled with junk.

Twitter built a reputation on brevity. Within that brevity is a lot of quality due to the need for editing. Scanning through that quality was also easy.

The timeline now gets pockmarked with these long tweets that make Twitter less scannable. Eyes have to adjust to the different tweet lengths in a way that I think will just make it easier to pass over longer tweets completely without reading them.

What does the eye scanning data show from the test? Was that even measured?

Only 5% of Tweets sent were longer than 140 characters

Tell that to my TL. Okay, there’s a novelty factor to consider, but here’s a couple of questions.

Were bot, marketing and advertising accounts separated within the test group? How many of those tweeted over 140 characters?

Again, I’d wager that the 5% number jumps up significantly for this group that produces the most noise.

In addition to more Tweeting, people who had more room to Tweet received more engagement (Likes, Retweets, Mentions), got more followers, and spent more time on Twitter.

You do spend more time writing 280 characters than 140 characters.

Who was doing the Liking, Retweeting and Mentioning?

How many actually read the full 280 character tweets?

How many read just the first line of a 280 character tweet?

Twitter says longer tweets got more Likes as they showed up in people’s timelines (got more impressions), but how much of this was influenced by the novelty factor as more people were searching out 280 character tweets to observe the new feature?

Through the rigorous experimentation described above, we were able to determine that longer Tweets are high quality and that the timeline reading experience remains the same.

No, this interpretation is not proven.

There are just too many conclusions being made by Twitter on faulty assumptions.

I believe this roll-out was probably driven from the executive team (maybe a pet project, likely a nod to advertisers who benefit the most from this). The data is being presented in a way to show how well researched this was. However, there are just too many questions that weren’t addressed by Twitter.

Maybe, this is the best question from a fellow tweeter:

With the \#280characters I read fewer tweets, but write more text than ever. But whose tweets do I read, and who’s reading mine if we all write more and read less? 🤔 @twitter ~ Pieter 🤔 on Twitter

Extra reading:

Quotations from Tweeting Made Easier

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