You can still do a lot with 140 characters

Twitter is testing an extension of its character limit to 280 but this week continued to demonstrate the massive power of the existing platform, whether it is President Trump or Russian operatives trying to influence the national agenda.

There’s nothing quite as mesmerizing as viewing the ticker scroll round on the Like and Retweet buttons when President Donald Trump posts one of his regular missives on Twitter.

It's like watching a coin slot machine in a Vegas casino and, love or hate his messages, Trump has certainly cracked the viral engagement code that brands and organizations spend countless hours trying to understand.

Every utterance is delivered directly to his multitude of followers and produces maximum impact. They also get picked up by media across the world and elicit significant external coverage.

In the world of paid, earned, shared, and owned media we live in, Brand Trump has doubled down on the latter three elements and doesn’t need media budgets to get his message across.

Just a few of the Trump tweets that dominated the global news agenda this week included:

The President recognized early on the value of building a direct audience on social media with whom he could communicate directly and in an unfiltered way. And he very cleverly uses that reach to advance his agenda and poke the bear on issues he knows will get a rise out of his core followers but also prompt a reaction from Americans with more mainstream views.

On the NFL #TakeTheKnee issue, Trump knew this was a hot-button topic for the majority of fans who attend football games. Whatever the justification of the protests, Trump knew the crowds would likely respond negatively to any implied criticism of the American flag, whether that was the intended target or not.

He knows it mobilizes support for the agenda he is promoting and he knows exactly what buttons to push to get a reaction. Let’s just hope he is judicious on all the occasions in which he might be required to "push a button."

There are those who – quite correctly – point out that he kept much more silent on social media when neo-Nazis were parading through Charlottesville waving the swastika and other extreme right-wing regalia. Apparently that isn’t disrespecting the American flag enough for the President. It doesn’t meet his ideological agenda to weigh in on this and it wouldn’t appeal to his core supporters to be seen to be doing so.

From a branding point of view, Trump understands his consumers implicitly and knows exactly how and when to engage them.

Politics aside, Trump - and his team - have also mastered the art of getting across their message in 140 characters, which is particularly relevant in the week Twitter started testing a 280 character limit with a select group of users.

Personally, because I tend to retweet a lot of articles and other pieces of content as well as simply tweeting statements, the 140-character limit can be restricting. But if your social media habit typically revolves around simply tweeting opinions then 140 characters is usually enough.

One brand – marshmallow sandwich snack MoonPie – declined to be part of Twitter’s initial group that is testing the new 280 character format because its fans "most enjoy traditional tweets with brevity."

It was a strategy devised by the brand’s agency Tombras designed to build a distinctive voice on social media that resonates with millennials and is a little ironic and fun – part of the irony being that MoonPie’s statement saying it wouldn’t be involved in the test ran to exactly 279 characters rather than 280.

We'll see how this one plays out but, separately, Twitter is certainly going to need some serious public affairs chops over the coming months given its less-than-optimum performance this week in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill.

Senators on the committee expressed skepticism about whether Twitter is reacting robustly enough in the face of attempts by Russia to use the social network to circulate propaganda within the U.S. – and they also have Facebook in their sights.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) called Twitter’s presentation to the closed-door meeting "deeply disappointing" and "inadequate on almost every level," adding that it "showed an enormous lack of understanding" about the seriousness of the issue at hand and the "threat it poses to democratic institutions."

It is some time since Microsoft became one of the first big tech companies to get caught in the crosshairs of politicians in DC, and most Silicon Valley ventures learned the lesson and significantly beefed up their public and government affairs chops in the nation’s capital.

It seems there may be a need for that resource to be redoubled and invested in if the likes of Twitter and Facebook are going to survive the increased scrutiny upon them over issues such as fake news and foreign interference in U.S. affairs.

Either way, it underlines the continuing power of Twitter as a platform – whether that is in chunks of 140 or 280 characters, or just 18 characters in the case of one of Trump’s most-liked tweets this week.

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