New Looks for Snapchat, Twitter in Bid for More Users

November 8, 2017 Updated: August 1, 2018    

SAN FRANCISCO—Struggling social-media darlings Twitter and Snapchat are taking on new looks as the services seek wider audiences from under the shadow of Facebook.

Twitter has rolled out a 280-character limit for nearly all its users, abandoning its iconic 140-character limit for tweets. And Snapchat, long popular with young people, will undergo a revamp in hopes of becoming easier to use for everyone else.

Both services announced the moves on Nov. 7 as they look for ways to expand beyond their passionate but slow-growing fan bases.

Twitter has said that 9 percent of tweets written in English hit the 140-character limit. People ended up spending more time editing tweets or didn’t send them out at all. By removing that hurdle, Twitter is hoping people will tweet more, drawing more users in.

German bureaucrats—notorious for their ability to create lengthy tongue twisters consisting of one single word—celebrated on Nov. 8.

Germany’s justice ministry wrote that it can now tweet about legislation concerning the transfer of oversight responsibilities for beef labeling.

The law is known in German as the
“Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz.”

In Rome, student Marina Verdicchio said the change “will give us the possibility to express ourselves in a totally different way and to avoid cancelling important words when we use Twitter.”

Others were not impressed, including at least one who quoted Shakespeare: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

And, as Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel noted, change does not come without risk.

“We don’t yet know how the behaviour of our community will change when they begin to use our updated application,” he said. “We’re willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial long-term benefits to our business.”

Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, did not provide details on the upcoming changes.

During the third quarter, Twitter averaged 330 million monthly users, up just 1 percent from the previous quarter. Snapchat added 4.5 million daily users in the quarter to 178 million, which amounts to a 3 percent growth. The company does not report monthly user figures.

Those numbers pale next to social media behemoth Facebook, which reported that its monthly users rose 16 percent to 2.07 billion.

“The one thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback,” Spiegel said. “As a result, we are currently redesigning our application to make it easier to use.”

His comments came on a conference call with industry analysts after the company posted the lacklustre user-growth numbers and revenue that fell well short of Wall Street expectations. Snap’s stock was bludgeoned on Nov. 8, falling almost 15 percent to close at $12.91. The Venice, California, company went public in March at $17 a share.

As for Twitter, the move to 280 characters was first started as a test in September.

“People in the experiment told us that a higher character limit made them feel more satisfied with how they expressed themselves on Twitter, their ability to find good content, and Twitter overall,” said project manager Aliza Rosen in a blog post.