Earlier this year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey hinted that Twitter would soon change the character limits on tweets, explaining (through a tweet) that the company was “not going to be shy about building more power and utility into Twitter.” As of last week, they’ve made good on their promise.
New character count rules mean changes for entrepreneurs and mobile app developers alike.
Twitter’s blog recently announced that the social media platform will soon change its policies on replies, hyperlinks, and media attachments. Starting sometime in the next few months, media attachments, hyperlinks, and @usernames in reply tweets will no longer count against the 140-character limit. While the limit remains in effect for the actual text of the tweet, these elements will be exempt. This has major implications for startups, businesses, and mobile app developers who use or integrate with Twitter.
For startups and businesses, enhanced tweeting capability is a good thing. The new rules allow you to attach up to four images per tweet without impacting your character limit, which means a single tweet can showcase four times as many products, offerings, or brand images as before. This means you can get more leverage out of each individual tweet and your social team won’t have to spend as much time cutting down on characters.
Furthermore, the scrubbing of the “@username” from the reply tweet character count means you can stay true to your brand’s voice when replying to customers. You can take advantage of this to bolster your customer service, which is absolutely critical for early stage startups.
We can also say that for the most part, link shortening is a thing of the past. Instead of a bit.ly or goo.gl link in your tweet, you can showcase your branded website URL. You can use this to help bolster brand exposure and familiarize your audience with your brand’s website.
With all of these changes, you’ll likely no longer have to use protracted – and often confusing – multipart tweets. This means saying goodbye to the familiar “1/4” prefix and using the new guidelines to say more with every tweet.
While the new rules bolster businesses’ ability to interact with customers, they have the potential to cause problems for web or mobile app development that relies on Twitter’s API. The central change for developers is that certain tweet elements will no longer count as text within the tweet itself. Instead, they’ll be classified as display elements or metadata.
In particular, the @usernames at the beginning of reply tweets will occupy a hidden prefix region that renders as metadata instead of display text. Media elements like hyperlinks, GIFs, videos, or images will occupy a hidden suffix region and also be rendered as metadata. The 140-character display text region of the tweet itself, however, won’t actually change.
If you currently have a mobile app or site integrating with Twitter’s API and have hard-coded display limits, it’s imperative that you change these as soon as possible. If you’re planning on or currently in the process of building one, you’ll need to avoid hard-coding these limits. It may mean changing your UI, but it’s the only way to ensure Twitter integrates seamlessly with your app.
Twitter has already released a briefing on how the new changes will affect its API, but the company is likely to release more information as time goes on. You’ll want to check Twitter’s blog regularly to follow these and ensure that your mobile app or website plays nicely with Twitter’s new and improved character regulations.
Twitter has struggled for some time now, and this feature change is likely part of its overall strategy to reverse the downward trend. So far, the effort has been an uphill battle.
Twitter’s market cap valuation currently stands at around $10 billion. While this number may seem astronomical, it’s humble in comparison to Twitter’s 2013 high of $40 billion. Even worse? It’s less than that of Pinterest or Snapchat, who stand at $11 and $16 billion respectively – and both of those are private companies. Twitter’s IPO was almost 3 years ago, and so far it only has a 75% drop in valuation to show for it.
The sad story of Twitter’s stock price.
So why is Twitter having such a hard time proving itself? The problem is simple, and it applies to any mobile app company, big or small: it’s failing to attract and retain users.
In the mobile app development world, we can almost invariably equate users with customers. At the very least, the volume of users has a direct effect on the app’s revenues, and consequently, it has an effect on the valuation and viability of the business. To succeed as a mobile app, the law is simple: you must attract, retain, and monetize users.
While Twitter’s problem is clear, the reasons behind it aren’t so clean cut. Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, argues that Twitter “was built by, and for, its ‘power users’ – the type of people whose tweets always get responses, and who are comfortable navigating its unspoken conventions.” While it’s a paradise for its disciples, it’s an unfamiliar, lonely, and often scary place for newcomers and normal citizens.
Another problem? Usability. A 2015 Twitter announcement to shareholders acknowledges the “broken windows and confusing parts” that “inhibit usage and drive people away” (although, in fairness, the recent update smooths out some of those wrinkles). A quick search on Facebook, arguably Twitter’s largest competitor, shows at least 1,000 people asking why Twitter is so confusing.
So how can Twitter’s pitfalls help you create a mobile app that succeeds? For starters, leave the rulebook for developers. Using an app should be an effortless experience, and while in-crowd codes and etiquette rules can sometimes help in establishing a dedicated community, they often alienate new users and do more damage than good.
Second, lowering barriers to usage is critical. We’ve talked about this subject before, but it’s hard to overstate: getting started on an app, mobile or otherwise, should require as few steps as possible. The shorter the distance between searching for, signing up for, and using the app, the better.
The real lesson here, though, is to listen to users and iterate. This is something we work hard on during Rootstraps, and it’ll ultimately decide Twitter’s fate. Whether a startup or an international tech giant, any company that can’t effectively learn from its users and implement those lessons is doomed to fail. We’ve seen it time and time again, and it’s the mantra we tell all of our clients from the moment they come through the door.
At the end of the day, your customer is the real boss. Heed their warnings and greatness awaits. Disregard them and you’re headed for trouble.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30478819@N08/