By Alan Keane, Account Executive
"What matters now is we clearly show why this change is important, and to prove to you it's better," he said. "Give us some time to learn and confirm (or challenge!) our ideas."
The words of Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, following the social media platform’s switch to 280 characters late last year. The change was met with the usual measured and not-at-all apopleptic response from users, but Twitter expected that.
In fact, Dorsey said he was expecting “snark and critique,” and that was exactly what Twitter got. Regular users worried that expanding beyond the traditional 140 character limit would mean Twitter lost its main attraction, brevity. There is pride in being creative enough to get your message across in 140 characters ore less.
Some criticisms went beyond the mechanics of the new update, suggesting it was just a gimmick to distract from broader criticisms of Twitter, such as the prevalence of bullying on the platform, as well as allegations of fake Russian accounts being used to influence the US election in 2016.
Ultimately however, the furore over the increased character limit, and indeed the novelty, wore off. Twitter have stated recently that despite the availability of 280 characters, a typical tweet remains around 50 characters long.
Engagement has increased however, and therein lies the rub. 140 characters was alienating to those who felt they needed more to deliver their message. In addition, the extra space allows users to mention more people in their tweets, leading to broader conversations.
280 characters meant that Twitter became a more hospitable place for brand promotion. Branded URLs could be used rather than shortened versions, the former getting 39% more than the latter according to a recent study. More brand hashtags could be utilised, and even something as simple as being able to space out the lines of text allowed marketeers to create cleaner content.
Twitter took a risk, ran the gauntlet of expected criticism, and came through the other side with a platform that drove engagement and became a major medium in the eyes of brands.
Which brings us to Snapchat…
The app recently brought in sweeping changes to its interface, and well, they haven’t exactly received a unanimous seal of approval from users. At the time of writing, an online petition on Change.org, aimed at forcing Snapchat to revert to their previous interface has over 700,000 signatures, making it one of the most popular petitions on a site that probably didn’t have first world problems such as this in mind when set up.
The update is designed to make Snapchat more appealing to an older audience, with a more accessible interface and a clear barrier between friend and publication content. However the mixing of Snapchat Stories in with messages means that it can be difficult for users to see when they have a new message from a friend. This has led to users losing “streaks,” which signify how many days in a row you have been in contact with someone. It’s regarded as a highly important status symbol among younger users, and so losing a streak with a BFF is catastrophic.
Page one of a Google search of “Snapchat update” leads to a plethora of criticisms, and articles detailing how to revert to the old design and disable automatic updates.
Snapchat predicted all of this, the same as Twitter did before them. Their messaging surrounding the update is that it is aimed at the “separation of the social and the media,” and CEO Evan Spiegel is adamant that there will be “substantial long-term benefits” for the business.
The week before the update was rolled out, Snapchat announced its best quarter ever since going public. Spiegel et al will hope that, just like Twitter, the outcry over the changes they have made to the user experience will disappear as fast as the average Snap.