Tweets consisting of over 140 characters demand greater attention from Twitter users – contrary to the widespread belief that brevity is the key to engagement – according to new research.

The project, spearheaded by digital marketing agency theEword and Manchester Metropolitan University, used pioneering eye-tracking software to test the hypothesis that users of Twitter skip longer tweets in favour of short messages.

However, the findings reveal that while mobile users of the popular social platform linger on tweets for an extra 0.5 seconds if they contain over 140 characters, there are still far fewer long-form tweets published on Twitter overall. It also suggests that people spend up to 0.7 seconds more ‘time-on-tweet’ if it contains an image.

Michael Palmer, head of marketing at theEword, said: “The idea for this project came out of a conversation between me and a colleague about our feelings towards the tweet length extension. We were of the opinion that short, sharp bursts of news were best to capture the attention of users – so, naturally, we wanted to test this theory.

“We were surprised to find that this theory was wrong – regardless of whether the tweet includes media, bigger is in fact better across the board when it comes to capturing and maintaining user attention.”

The test involved the use of a lab facility at Manchester Metropolitan University, which is designed to test human behaviour when using computers and mobile devices. Ten volunteers were hooked up to eye-monitoring software while browsing their Twitter feeds.

Dr Rabia Khan, senior lecturer of computing, mathematics and digital technology at MMU, said: “Both static and mobile eye trackers from our usability lab were used during the test. The trackers can accurately measure where a user is looking on a screen over time, capturing very fast eye movements as well as fixations. This allowed us to analyse how long users spent looking at individual tweets and investigate how people consume messages on Twitter.”

Since the decision to increase character length from 140 to 280, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey has claimed that the expanded tweet length hasn’t impacted the average length of messages users are sending out.

Michael added: “The results of our project suggest that people have a greater attention span than commonly assumed, so marketers absolutely need to start harnessing the power of the long-form tweet.

“Visual content was also found to grab the most attention, so if you want your brand’s content to be heard over the noise of the average Twitter feed, using captivating images, videos and GIFs, as well as making the most of the character count, will be pivotal to garnering success on social.”


By Daniel Hunter, Digital Marketing Magazine

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