Twitter as a platform is known for its character limit, born of the old days of mobile messaging where 140 characters was all you could fit in a text. Back then, carriers basically used carryover bandwidth on phone lines to for texts, and limited the available space so as not to overload the more important phone lines. Since then, bandwidth has expanded, and while telecoms are still stuck in the past like curmudgeons, the web has expanded and grown.
Twitter’s character limit is a legacy feature, but it’s also core to the identity of the platform. An endless amount of humor, creativity and thought has gone in to working within those boundaries, and yet plenty of people wish the limit was removed. Why, I don’t know; if they want longer posts, they can always just go to Facebook. Still, sometimes, you may have a valid reason to extend your posts past 140 characters, and in those cases, you may want to look at one of these tools.
Of course, all of this may become obsolete if Twitter decides to remove the character limit themselves. They were considering it back in January, but as of yet they have only relaxed the rules. Before, photos, gifs, lengthy URLs, and polls would count against your character limit at fixed rates. Now they don’t, leaving you more room for text when posting media. It’s no 10,000 character limit, but it gives you more room to play with.
Option 1: Ask.FM
Ask.FM is a website that integrates with Twitter in a way that expands the potential for dialogue. It functions as a stand-alone site as well, or as an app for mobile devices, and it can hook into Facebook and VK as well, but the Twitter functionality is what we’re really after here.
When you go to the site, you can sign up via Twitter and simply authorize the app. At that point, your Twitter info is plugged into Ask.FM, and you can start socializing. People using the app and people using Twitter can see your profile and can ask you questions up to 300 characters in length. You can then respond to those questions with as many characters as you want.
How does this wrap back around to Twitter? Well, when you post an answer, Ask.FM automatically posts the answer to Twitter as well. The tweet you post will have the question – truncated, possibly, depending on its length – and the first bit of your answer in the space remaining, along with a link to the full answer on the Ask.FM site.
In this way, you can post content longer than 140 character and foster engagement on top of it. However, it’s not strictly posting content greater than 140 characters on Twitter; it’s using an external site to do it for you. You could do the same thing by taking questions on Twitter and writing blog posts with the answers. You just wouldn’t have the same slick, automatic integration with Twitter, unless you used some plugins to the same effect.
The primary benefit of Ask.FM is not so much the ability to expand what you post to Twitter. It’s the addition of a related social network with its own users who can engage with you, without really needing to invest in an entirely new profile.
Tall Tweets is one of several apps I’ll list below, all of which work in essentially the same way. What you do is simply type the longer message you want to tweet and submit it to the site. The site will take your text and convert it into an image of text, which you then post. This is identical to posting a normal image, and frankly you can achieve the same effect using MS Paint, Photoshop, or any other image editing program. The only difference is, these sites do it for you, so you don’t have to mess around with image editing, you don’t have to worry about font choices or colors or spacing or kerning or typography.
That’s a downside as well, however, because you can do quite interesting things with typography if you want. It really depends on your message and what you want to get out of it. Marketing with an image using typography is a different sort of deal than responding to a user with a longer, utilitarian “tweet” on an image.
Other sites that work the same way include FullStory.co (website now dead, as of April 5, 2017), which is a combination of Tall Tweets and TwitPic, which is a photo-focused app. Essentially, rather than just text on an image, FullStory allows you to format that text using HTML and layer it over top of images, or post it alongside videos. Formerly known as RichTweets.
I’m going to be honest here, there were more of these, but upon checking them out, all of them have died. I see no sense in naming sites that are now parked domains or 404s, so you’ll have to be content with these two.
TwitLonger is one of the oldest still-functioning tweet extender sites, and it’s possibly one of the most elegant solutions, though it’s somewhat similar to Ask.FM in that it’s an off-site solution. Simply sign up by authorizing the app on Twitter and it works.
All you do is compose a lengthy tweet on the site and post it. When you post it, it will be automatically posted to your Twitter feed, using the first ~100 or so characters and a shortlink to the longer post on TwitLonger’s site. You can see an example with this tweet and this link. It’s a simple and elegant solution, with one exception; they have ads on their site, so they’re monetizing your traffic.
If you don’t feel comfortable with ads, you can pay to remove them from your posts. It’s cheap and costs a single British pound per month, though you can pay five to get TwitLonger to use your Twitter background, or 10 to add analytics as well.
This unique solution is made not to condense multiple or lengthy tweets into one, but rather to ease the process of posting “tweet storms” on your feed.
What is a tweet storm? I’m sure you’ve seen one. When someone posts a lengthy rant within Twitter’s confines, every 130 characters they’ll end with 1/? or 1/15 or however many tweets there are in the storm. Each subsequent tweet is made as a reply to the previous one, with a number at the end, so people can easily read longer rants in order. It’s a way to post lengthy rants and informative essays in 140-character bites, keeping it all on Twitter and also allowing users to respond to individual points along the way.
Now, you don’t need any special tool to do this. You can simply do it yourself, by labeling each tweet with its number in the sequence and responding to each in turn. However, this is tedious, and you either have to use the x/? numbering or you have to plan ahead, divide tweets, count them, and number them to get the total, which is then thrown off if you change your mind mid-rant.
Storm It is an app for mobile devices – sorry desktop users – that makes this process easier. Simply type up your long rant, essay, or sequence of thoughts, and submit it through the app. It divides it up by length, shuffling words to avoid cutting them off in the middle, with a variability that keeps sentences well-grouped. It then auto-numbers them for you and saves them all as drafts so you can preview them without submitting them. If you like how it turned out, submit it, and the app will automatically make those posts, in reply sequence, one after another.
Have you heard of PasteBin? It’s a site that essentially acts like notepad online. Paste in text of any length and submit it, and it’s hosted online to be linked to. TinyPaste works the same way, with some different features.
For one thing, you can browse PasteBin and see what other people are pasting. TinyPaste doesn’t allow this; users must have a direct link to the paste to see it. For another thing, you can include basic text formatting, embed media, and highlight code automatically. They also have a “password to view” function if you want to keep your pastes exclusive, providing the password only to approved users. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, it’s monetized. They show your visitors ads, and you earn money per view and click.
Now, this is still an off-site solution, so it’s functionally no different from using TwitLonger or even PasteBin itself. It doesn’t have the automation features of TwitLonger, but it’s more secure than either option and hey, you can earn a few cents when you post. What’s not to like?
This is a very strange and unique means of tweeting more than 140 characters. It works by “compressing” your tweet so that certain sets of two or three characters are converted into similar-looking Unicode characters of their own.
They provide a full list, so what the heck; I’ll run it through and show you.
- Here’s the list: cc, ms, ns, ps, in, ls, fi, fl, ffl, ffi, iv, ix, vi, oy, ii, xi, nj, “. ” (period space), and “, ” (comma space). (this totals 131 characters)
- Here’s the list: ㏄，㎳，㎱，㎰，㏌，ʪ，ﬁ，fl，ﬄ，ﬃ，ⅳ，ⅸ，ⅵ，ѹ，ⅱ，ⅺ，ǌ，”．” (period space)，and “，” (comma space). (this totals 93 characters)
As you can see, certain double letters are turned into single-character versions of them. It’s an interesting workaround, but it has some drawbacks, which you might even see above depending on your configuration. Some computers don’t have the right Unicode settings, so some of the conversions won’t appear. Instead, they’ll simply be boxes. Additionally, it doesn’t work if your tweets don’t contain those specific sets of characters. It can’t just compress any character sets, after all. It only works with those listed above.
No link for this one, because it’s not technically a service or even really a solution to the problem, exactly. However, when people say a picture is worth a thousand words, the conversion rate becomes one picture to a hundred or so tweets. We’ve already covered using images for your text, though, so why not go one step further and use video?
Video can come as either actual videos or simple animated gifs, either of which can be suitable for a message. This gives you options for kinetic typography, for animated backgrounds behind static quotes, or even for voiced narration in video responses to questions. Making full use of the medium will of course require equipment, video editing skills, and a voice and/or face for TV, but you don’t have to be Hollywood quality to be serviceable on Twitter.
If you want, you can even take things one step even further and get into using Periscope for livestreaming on Twitter. You can take the concept of a Twitter Chat and expand it into a live video Q&A session, discussion, interview, or other form of engaging video content. Pull that off, and you can then use the video archive elsewhere, as value on Twitter later, on YouTube, and even embeds in your future blog posts. These sorts of multifaceted value additions are what makes video so great.
Of course, video isn’t perfect for every situation. It’s overkill for most tweet storms and simple questions and answers. It’s best used as a lengthier marketing tool, but it’s understandable if you don’t want to invest in it. Video is tricky to produce well, and your brand reputation does gain or lose based on the quality of the content you produce. However, it is an option for those situations that call for it and those brands that can take advantage of it.