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Telling stories through tweets

There was a time when fitting your thoughts into 140 characters seemed virtually impossible, especially if you wanted to squeeze in a hashtag or five.

Slowly but surely we weren’t just able to fit fully formed thoughts into a tweet, but we were able to add images and links with ease.

Our adaptation to Twitter as a user base has been remarkable, considering that we were once revelling in the freedom of ‘unlimited’ characters on Facebook – but what happens when what you want to share simply cannot fit into one tweet?

No social media platform can avoid user-driven change, and Twitter is no different. But if you were to see what The Marketing Heaven can do for you, that could be partly compensate for what you might be losing as a social media inclined team. We’re experiencing a consumption shift away from condensed tweets and seeing a growing demand for long-form content in a landscape we thought was defined by the opposite.

Twitter is entering an age of storytelling, and I’m captivated by the way users are fuelling the shift.

While platforms like Facebook and Medium allow for long-form expression, they are somewhat less accommodating to conversation threads.

This is where Twitter excels: being extremely conversational and making trending content accessible. However, this environment has always seemed impeding to users who feel restricted by the character limit. This has seen many users split their thoughts into one or two tweets, but of course, this split of content is hardly deserving of being called a ‘story’.

Storytelling on Twitter is not new – many journalists and reporters use the platform as a way to ‘live-tweet’ current events like we saw on the timelines of Barry Bateman and others during the Oscar Pistorius trial. As we all know, though, social media turns each and every one of us into content creators and finding ways to curate new content for your audience is at the top of our lists.

Lately, I’ve seen some ‘tweeple’ trend by posting entertaining stories in a series of tweets; sometimes in as many as 30, and ranging from wild tales of nights on the town to sobering stories of heartbreak and betrayal. The interesting insight from the reaction to these stories is that communities we’ve labelled as being almost exclusively drawn to short-form content are spending between 10 to 20 minutes reading. Many of us have spent years perfecting how to condense what we want to say in a single tweet, but there are users who’ve worked around the restrictions to sharing their content fully- with amazing results.

An ever-present challenge when sharing first-hand accounts on social media (or at least what may seem like one) is how quickly fictional content can spread as being an eyewitness account. T

his was glaringly evident with the most recent story trend on the hashtag “#RIPKamo”. Twitter user @JustKhuthi shared a story about a girl named Kamo who was abducted, raped and left for dead in a series of over 50 tweets which went viral. The Star subsequently published an article about the event only to find out that the story and victim were fictional – a revelation to the publication and the thousands of Twitter users who were shaken by the news.

The consumption of long-form content packaged in 140 character snippets will increase steadily in 2016 but could change drastically if the rumours are true. Looming on the horizon is the potential Twitter character limit increase- which could be a ‘make or break’ feature addition.

If executed well, it could cater more intensively to the demand for storytelling content that is so popular at the moment. This possible landmark moment could usher in a new wave of storytellers in 2016, uninhibited by character limits on a social media platform perfect for conversations, but if implemented in an obtrusive way, could affect the landscape and experience of tweeting away from the familiarity we’ve grown to love.

By Atiyya Karodia, NATIVE VML social media manager

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