The below graph is derived from over 25,000 tweets sent by Presidential candidates over an eleven-month period. It shows the average number of retweets per tweet for each length from 0 to 140 characters. You’ll notice a dramatic drop-off in retweet count under 85 and over 130 characters, with a real sweet spot around 120-130.
This data reveals how difficult it is to make compelling, retweetable statements with fewer than 85 characters. A look at tweets this length reveals a surprising number of the dreaded status-updates, and even more tweets that are blander than oatmeal. Remember, Twitter is social and tweets should be entertaining. Adverbs, in particular, increase retweet count. Adjectives, on the other hand, decrease retweet count. So the goal is not flowery language, but rather descriptive actions.
There are exceptions. Notice the spike at 60 characters. This is from Obama announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden. With 9,763 retweets to date, this proves sometimes an idea speaks for itself. Without this tweet, the average for 60 characters is 13.7 retweets per tweet, which is in line with the rest of the data.
While you probably need at least 85 characters to make a tweet that will go viral, you should avoid using over 130 characters. Many people know the 140 character limit of tweets came from text messaging. That isn’t the whole story. Cell phone texts actually allow 160 characters. Twitter shaved 20 off to leave room for the users’ screenname. You should do the same, or at least 10 characters. Many third-party applications display retweets by placing “RT @screenname: ” before the tweet itself. If you don’t leave room for those characters, the end of your tweet will simply be shaven off. Even Tweetdeck sometimes has problems showing the end of a tweet, especially when capital letters are employed.
If you find yourself struggling to reduce the size of a tweet, chances are you’re trying to fit too many ideas into one message. Remember rule 3: limit tweets to a single idea.
If you are under 85 characters, ask yourself whether your tweet is really interesting. If you are over 130 characters, try to make your message more concise.