Twitter’s character limit has had huge ramifications for language. Corporations need to pay attention to these trends as they look to craft their own message with plain language.
In July 2006, an online news and social networking service was launched, called Twitter. Users were restricted to post 140 character messages called ‘tweets’ on this service. They could also follow other users. Since then, this maximum length restriction has had a big effect on how we communicate.
Twitter’s character limit has given rise to many new conventions used in everyday language. These include hashtags, acronyms, and emojis. We touched on this topic in another blog post regarding the use of clear language.
Social platforms are changing language
Twitter and related social platforms have changed language as we know it. A passage from this brief article about Twitter and Facebook’s effect on language sums it up well: “The word ‘friend’ is now widely used as a verb to mean adding someone on Facebook. The word ‘add’ is now widely used to mean sending an invite to connect Facebook accounts. ‘Likes’ are now a numerical measurement of popularity.”
The article continues: “Unless you say ‘birds’ in the same sentence, most social medias will think Twitter when they hear ‘tweet’.”
Here, we will investigate the effectiveness of Twitter’s character limit, and what companies can learn from it. The beauty of Twitter’s character limit is that it forces users to be frugal when they write tweets. The secret of good marketing and communications text is to write clearly.
By forcing users to write concisely, Twitter has become a template for corporate communication. To create the best impression, marketers and bloggers should be writing in clear English, in the active voice, with short, plain sentences. If they can do this, their chances to engage with their audience improve.
The key is to know your audience and your message. If you are clear on who it is that is reading, then you’ll have a better chance of creating articles in plain English. If in doubt, try VT Writer for your analysis. It’s a lightweight readability tool for scoring the clarity of Docs, Webpages, or Text. It flags issues at paragraph level and it’s free. There is also a paid version that generates insightful reports. For our examples below, we used the free version.
Plain language and politics
Twitter has had a huge influence on all aspects of our society. Consider the following tweets from Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Let’s forget about their politics for now and just focus on the language that they use. Is it clear language?
Former President Barack Obama tweeted this in January 2017, after finishing his second presidential term:
Thank you for everything. My last ask is the same as my first. I’m asking you to believe—not in my ability to create change, but in yours.