About a week ago, Twitter announced that it has removed the 140 character limit for direct messages (also known as DMs). As far as I can remember, this is probably the first time that Twitter has removed the limit on any of its features, and it seems to mark the end of an era at the company.
Recalling when Twitter first started, what drew the majority of users and brands was the speed and brevity of which the social network could be used for communicating, which was partly a result of the 140 character limit. While that’s still the case today, it somehow feels like Twitter has fallen behind in terms of general usage as compared to its oft-mentioned peers, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, and is mainly being used as a breaking news site, or for live updating at events.
In Twitter’s words, the feature removal is seen as a step towards “making the private side of Twitter even more powerful and fun”. In my humble opinion, that’s a move which is designed to appeal to the next generation of consumers, the teens, who value privacy in communication above a whole lot of other things. According to the most recent report by the Pew Research Center, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are all miles ahead of Twitter when it comes to teenage use, in addition to messaging apps like WhatsApp.
What this tells us about motivations is glaring: Public validation is no longer cool (just like how it’s no longer trendy to announce your relationship status on Facebook), and users today only seek validation from their circle of close-knit friends. That works well for platforms like Instagram and Facebook, as well as messaging apps like Snapchat and Whatsapp, where one has the ability to control the privacy aspect / element of content. On the other hand, the nature of Twitter is for it to be used as a very public platform for sharing thoughts and opinions. Hence, that’s probably one of the reasons why we’re seeing usage of Twitter decline – individuals are leaving the platform as it no longer serves their social needs. On the practical side, Facebook is just as effective a platform for getting curated news as is Twitter.
So, is this truly the end of an era for Twitter? Well, I wouldn’t go as far to say that ‘Twitter is dead /dying’ but I definitely see (and so does Twitter’s product team) a need for Twitter to evolve its raison d’etre. While still a product of the Web 2.0 boom, Twitter has been around for a while (it’s turning 10 next year!), and in a space as competitive as social networking, services need to constantly evolve or else fall by the wayside. Has Twitter been standing still whilst its peers were plugging ahead? I have to agree with that statement, as I feel that the service has not really evolved from its core offering when it was founded, with features that were added over the years being mainly minor enhancements vis-à-vis complete evolutions.
So what can Twitter do next? As a marketer, here’s a couple of announcements that I’d love to see from the beloved blue bird:
• Private circles / groups: The ability to create and share with sub-groups instead of your entire list adds a modicum of privacy and helps filter the truly meaningful conversations to the top.
• Redditisation: What if Twitter created a forum element, akin to a 140-character version of Reddit? I imagine that being able to participate in targeted and topical conversations would bring people back continually to the site, solving the active user problem.
• Buy Pablo: My Twitter news feed is mainly lines and lines of text, interspersed by images and Twitter Cards. On the other hand, Pablo by Buffer is a great way of making Tweets more visual. It would be a natural extension of the service to integrate what Pablo is doing into their native interface.
Whatever the future is for Twitter, I definitely see the service as still having a very important role to play in today’s social media marketing ecosystem. I guess the negative news over the last year or so has taken the luster off its brand a bit, but I’m confident that Twitter has every bit of a fighting chance to reinvent itself and come roaring back with more relevance to today’s consumer.