Twitter - Features, Pricing, Alternatives, and More

Matthew Guay
Written by Matthew Guay · Last updated September 27, 2016
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The social network that has come to define the global conversation started out with a fascination with courier services. Co-founder and present CEO Jack Dorsey loved the system behind couriers, the quick messages they'd send each other via CB radio or phone to report where they were and find out where to go next.

One thing led to another, and in July 2006 Dorsey along with co-founders Evan Williams and Noah Glass launched twttr, which was soon changed to Twitter. It was a simple social network designed around SMS messages; you'd send a 140 character message to 40404, and it'd be broadcasted to everyone who followed you. It was a quick way to send group messages and make social networking mobile in the days before smartphones took over the world.

Twitter is more than just SMS messages. Today the main focus is and its apps, where you can follow people and brands from around the globe, post your own public status updates, and reply to anyone with a public Twitter profile. It's that latter openness that makes Twitter so unique—it's one of the few places you could reply to presidents, CEOs, and celebrities and possibly start a real conversation with them.

Tweets—as posts on Twitter are called—are now capped at 280 characters, double the original length of a Tweet. Today, you'll likely post Tweets from an app. Links take 23 characters each, thanks to Twitters link shortening. And in a recent change, images (up to 4 per tweet) and links to other Tweets don't count towards your character count.

Want to share a longer post? Just write it on your blog—or perhaps in Medium, started by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams—or write text in another app and screenshot it. Or, you could break your text into multiple Tweets, adding each subsequent message as a reply to the previous ones, for what is known as a Tweetstorm. Want to categorize your messages? Add hastags such as #tech or #friday, something Twitter users started using on their own that was later added to the platform. Mention other users by adding an @ symbol before their name, such as @maguay. And for private messages, you can send Direct Messages (DMs) to anyone who follows you or who's enabled DMs from anyone without Twitter's normal character length.

Twitter's main feed typically shows new Tweets as they come in, though Twitter now also offers a curated view that tries to push the most popular Tweets to the top of the page. You can see how many people are looking at your Tweets using Twitter's built-in Analytics, which show your Tweet engagement, follower growth, and other marketing-focused stats that can help you measure how well you're doing on the network.

To grow your network and spread your products, you could just post updates to Twitter and encourage customers to follow you. The problem is, unless your followers are using Twitter at the same time you're posting, they'll likely not see your messages. That's where Twitter Ads come in handy. You can target people with Tweets that are turned into ads, to make sure followers see your message or to try to get people who are interested in specific topics or Tweeting from a certain location to see your message. Twitter Ads can share links, signup forms to add people to your email newsletters, or just promote a Tweet that you'd shared before, and can be a simple way to dip your toes in social advertising.

Jack Dorsey was quoted in the book Hatching Twitter saying “I see Twitter as a utility, a broadcasting system for the Internet.” And in many ways, that's what it's become. It may not be the most popular social network, but when there's breaking news, it's where the action happens. For tech fans, news addicts, and many other groups, Twitter is the social network where you'll be able to jump into the conversation and make your voice heard.

Twitter Resources:

Originally published September 27, 2016; updated December 12, 2017 with Twitter's new character limit.

Have any feedback on this overview, or something we should change? Let us know!

Twitter Features

  • Post public updates with 280 character messages
  • Communicate privately with Direct Messages
  • Use hashtags and trending topics to see what the world is talking about
  • Twitter analytics let you see how your posts perform
  • Twitter Ads let you target people talking about specific topics with your ads
  • iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows apps available

Twitter Pricing

  • Free
  • Ad pricing varies based on audience

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