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Twitter may end its distinctive 140-character limit and double the maximum allowed characters for tweets. The micro-blogging service is testing a 280-character limit with a small group of users.

The character limit is a major cause of frustration for people tweeting in English, writes Twitter Product Manager Aliza Rosen, on the company blog. Its research shows that 9 percent of English-language tweets reach the limit. While providing greater flexibility, the 280-character limit will simultaneously keep Twitter’s brevity, its main strength, Rosen maintains.

Confident in its Data

Rosen implies it will likely move forward with the decision, saying the company is confident in its data.

The product manager also seems to anticipate a backlash. Some Twitter users feel an emotional attachment to the 140-character limit. “We felt it, too. But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint,” she writes.

Perhaps predictably, Twitter users criticized and mocked the longer limit, mostly with fewer than 140 characters. Some say Twitter’s real problem is not its 140-character limit, but its inability to control the large number of bots and trolls.

Twitter hopes that lifting the limit will lead to more tweets and more users. Its user growth has been flat, and its advertising revenue has declined.

What Longer Tweets Space Mean for Brands

With more space, brands will be better able to promote their marketing and advertising messages. More space doesn’t necessarily mean they should fill it. Brands able to use the longer limit seemed at a loss. Some seem to fill the extra space just because it was there. For instance Burger King repeated “fries” over and over.

Brevity can be a challenge. It takes more time and effort. As Blaise Pascal wrote in The Provincial Letters [translation]: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Condensing an opinion or promotional message to an ultrashort 140 characters can be really nerve-racking and time-consuming, but the result is usually better with greater impact — especially when you’ve cleverly included appropriate hashtags.

In our corporate use of Twitter for Glean.info and its parent CyberAlert, our initial drafts of messages often exceed 140 characters. In almost every case, we are able to condense to 140 characters with no loss of message or even context. Usually, the tweet is better at <140 characters than the initial longer message. We almost never resort to using the Trump technique of follow-on tweets to complete a thought. It’s actually quite exhilarating to successfully compose a complicated idea or promotion in less than 140 characters. (Please do follow us on Twitter at @GleanTeam and @CyberAlert. You’ll find we offer lots of worthwhile information on PR and marketing.)

The risk to Twitter of expanding character count is that more space for PR and marketing promotions is exactly what its loyal users don’t want, says Collette Snowden, senior lecturer, School of Communication, International Studies and Languages, University of South Australia. Disregarding the wishes of uses may be suicidal.

Another New Coke Debacle?

Snowden compares the decision to Coca-Cola’s introduction of New Coke. New Coke flopped, even though its extensive marketing research predicted it would successfully replace its popular soda.  Coca-Cola survived the PR crisis and restored the old formula after three months. For a time, the company was in severe danger.

The New Coke debacle shows that brands must consider other factors besides market testing. “Marketers learned about the importance of habit, tradition, brand loyalty and affinity, or more simply, the truth of the adage “‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” Snowden writes.

Besides alienating current users, longer tweets may do nothing to attract new users or satisfy advertisers.

“Twitter urgently needs to find a way to meet the demands of its advertisers, but by doing so it risks alienating users — the people who create the network that makes Twitter valuable,” she warns.

Louise Brooks wrote: “Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination.” That insight applies well to tweeting. It’s harder to make it short, but shorter almost always works better.  PR and marketing folks should largely ignore the expanded character limit. Keep it short; slam it home.

Bottom Line: Twitter hopes doubling its character limit will please users, attract new users and ultimately please advertisers. Tampering with its distinctive character limit risks angering its most loyal users – and destroying its unique formula. Twitter’s expanded character limit may become the New Coke of the 21st century.

William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.