After years of tests and speculation about new character limits on Twitter, the platform has formally announced that the famous (or infamous) 140-character limit is no more. Now, tweets can include up to 280 characters, doubling the amount of content that can fit in each tweet.
Twitter’s previous limits have made it difficult for pharma to use the platform, due to restrictions on space for fair balance and important safety information (ISI). An increased character count may allow pharma marketers more freedom to use the platform while remaining FDA-compliant.
This update significantly changes the way users and marketers will engage on Twitter. This POV will highlight some of the benefits and considerations for pharma marketers and include recommendations for leveraging Twitter with more opportunities for messaging moving forward.
Twitter was not designed to be a 140-character platform. 140 characters was an arbitrary limit imposed by the 160-character limit of SMS when Twitter launched in 2006. Twitter was built to be a messaging company and it has evolved to become a media platform. This evolution and the changing behavior of Twitter users means the 140-character limit is not as necessary as it was more than a decade ago.
Over the past few years, Twitter has slowly softened the strict 140-character limit. Last year, Twitter stopped counting characters in replies and media and it tested increasing the limit to 10,000 characters. While the 10,000 character test was never rolled out, it shows Twitter is open to giving users more control over their messaging.
- More relevant search results. Users wanting to post more than 140 characters in the past had to rely on one of a few workarounds. Popular methods include uploading an image of text or using “tweetstorms,” a style of tweeting that breaks up one large message into shorter, successive tweets. Neither of these workarounds allow Twitter or search engines to index the messages properly, so tweets using these workarounds were often not surfaced in search results. Marketers leveraging this new feature may see a boost in the number of impressions on their tweets, since tweets can now include context to be more meaningful and the message will be indexed in its entirety.
- Better classification and organization through hashtags. Hashtags allow brands to annotate their tweets with relevant keywords. These tags are searchable and aggregate similar content for users. With more space to add tags, brands can share messages and add any relevant tags, expanding the reach for those tweets. Brands should be wary of spamming hashtags that aren’t applicable to the tweet, but the added room should be especially helpful for any event or conference tweets with multiple hashtags.
- More robust customer service. We’ve already talked about why pharma should jump on board with Twitter customer service. More characters allow brands to create more human and helpful responses, without requiring a redirect to another website or direct message.
- Extra real estate for fair balance. The FDA’s draft guidance on character-constrained messaging only allowed for messages that provided a less than optimal user experience. Now, brands can use all 280 characters for any sponsorship disclaimers or fair balance. Unlike previous tests that truncated long tweets after 140 characters, this update will allow all 280 characters to be seen in a user’s feed. Brands that are unable to fit all the elements of full product promotion into these characters should still avoid using Twitter for branded messaging. The increase in characters is helpful but does not guarantee that there’s room for compliant messaging for every treatment.
The increase from 140 to 280 characters provides an opportunity for many brands to expand their interactions with users while remaining compliant in this highly regulated space.
This update may be particularly helpful for disease awareness or “lightly branded” assets with a branded component. Brand name and indication should still never be seen together in tweets without proper fair balance.
More freedom does not mean that every pharma brand should now be on Twitter, but marketers may now be able to participate in a space that’s historically been hostile for the industry.