Following months of speculation about whether Twitter might significantly expand the maximum number of characters allowed in posts, recently the micro blogging network formally announced some more modest changes than initially rumored. Rather than establishing a new character cap, Twitter will soon change the way it counts. In the coming months, not all characters will remain equal. Notably, @names and links to web pages and media will be freed from the 140-character limit.

There is inherent risk anytime a business makes a substantial change to its core product. Just consider that more than 30 years after the launch of New Coke, its spectacular failure still strikes fear in any communicator contemplating anything beyond a simple packaging tweak.

Twitter has seemingly learned from the mistakes of those who have treaded before by opting for a meaningful, yet modest approach to change. As a result, the company is demonstrating respect for its brand.

The imposed 140-character limit has become a defining brand attribute for Twitter. What initially may have seemed arbitrary has become anything but capricious. Raising the character limit to 10,000, which would be the functional equivalent of doing away with limits altogether, would likely have had serious ramifications for Twitter’s brand. What, then, would have separated Twitter from any other existing or future social media platform? Such an approach would also have had a significant impact on the user experience, one that is defined by brevity and simplicity.

Today, social networks are becoming multimedia hubs, which can present challenges for a business, like Twitter. After all, the business was founded around characters, not pictures. By adopting a sensible change in how it counts allowable characters, Twitter has demonstrated a creative approach to making its platform more visually friendly, while maintaining its unique brand identity.

By resisting the temptation to replace a successful, classic formula with an untested and radically different one, Twitter is underscoring the importance of nuance in product branding. If successful, it will yield an important lesson to future brand communication strategists: when implementing product changes that could impact the way a brand is differentiated in the market, it’s best to choose evolution over revolution.

Mike Riley

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