Although this article was written quite a few years ago, I still keep it up to date. I’ll put the updates at the top of this article. Last update, October 2016
- October 2016 – Media attachments & screen names in replies no longer count in 140 character limit
- October 28, 2015 – Twitter have increased their follow limit from 2,000 to 5,000
- August 12 2015 – Twitter now allows you to send direct messages with up to 10,000 characters. The limit used to be 140 (the same as standard tweets)
- May 31 2013 – Twitter updates the number of Twitter lists you can have and the number of people you can follow in each list.
- January 6 2013 – Added biography character limit & Image sizes
- January 6 2012 – Added lists and unfollow limits
You may be new to Twitter, or you may have been using it for a long time and hit the famous “2000” limit. Most social networks have limits in place for the number of people you can “friend” or “follow”. For example, Google+ currently has a limit of 5,000 people you can have in your circles, and you have a limit of 5,000 “friends” on Facebook. This is to stop people, businesses or automated programs from abusing the system.
On Twitter it used to be possible to bulk follow thousands and thousands of people in the hope that they would follow you back. This caused many Twitter accounts to abuse this and follow tens of thousands of people whilst not creating engaging content and not having many people follow them back. Not good. Twitter began back in March 2006 (in a geeky way I’m quite proud that I joined in November 2006), but it wasn’t until July/August 2008 that Twitter started imposing limits on the number of people you could follow. Twitter was having massive problems with spam (as Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone blogged at the time). There was a lot of backlash at the time, and a lot of confusion (see this ZDNet post on Twitter Spam efforts goes overboardand this blog post by Brad Williams on Twitter Follow Limits Are Jacked). It’s commonly assumed that Twitter introduced a 2,000 following limit, meaning that you could only follow up to 2,000 people. However, this isn’t strictly true.
According to the author, Rob Brown, the magic number is actually 1,819! This means if you have 1,819 followers you can break through the 2,000 limit. Below 1,819 you are capped at following 2,000 people. Above 1,819 you can follow this number +10% (or 182). At 1,819+10% this means you can follow 2,001 people and you have just broken the 2,000 limit- hurray! This (as Rob Brown mentions on this post) means for every 10 people that follow you, you can follow 11.
Update – from October 27, 2015, Twitter announced they were increasing this follow limit from 2,000 to 5,000:
Starting today, we are increasing our current follow limit from 2,000 to 5,000 accounts for all users: https://t.co/Yxx66XESMf
— Twitter Support (@Support) October 27, 2015
I haven’t tested this, but I am fairly sure that the same system will be used for this new limit. To break through the limit you will need to have more than 4545 people following you before you can break through the 5,000 limit. Let me know what you think!
Personally, I think this is a good thing. I’m a bit concerned when I see someone with a large number of people they follow- especially if they don’t have engaging content. Twitter is about engagement and networking- it is a social network after all. Having said that, following a large number of people isn’t always a bad thing. I love to follow new people, particularly those who Tweet about social media. I manage a large number of followers using Twitter lists- putting the people I find particularly interesting into my “awesome” list. Less regularly, I’ll check my main Twitter stream, and perhaps add some cool people to this list.
There is also a limit on how quickly you can follow people. Twitter have imposed a technical limit of following 1000 per day. Thank goodness for that! However as this is a technical limit, following that amount per day is likely to get you banned due to breaking Twitters Following Rules and best practices (you should read this if you haven’t already).
There are other limits, as the Twitter support pages states. You can post up to 2,400 tweets per day (this is spread throughout the day- there are limits per half hour, so you can’t just post 2,400 all at once!) You can post up to 250 direct messages per day (thank goodness!) You can change your email up to 4 times per hour (why would you want to do that anyway?)
You can have up to 20 lists (the total of the ones you follow and ones you have created yourself). As of May 30, 2013 you can now follow up to 1,000 lists (up from 20) and each list can include up to 5,000 accounts (up from 500). There are also limits when you use the Twitter API, but that’s another topic.
Twitter recently added the option of adding a header image. These have a maximum resolution of 1500×500 pixels (with a max upload size of 10Mb. You don’t have to upload your image at 1500×500, but it’s best to make it close to that to give a crisp and clear image. Certainly try make it above 640 pixels in width otherwise it will look pixelated. Finally, despite each tweet allowing a maximum of 140 characters, your biography can have up to 160 characters. How very generous of Twitter!
|Max Characters per tweet||140||As of September 2016, media attachments and screen names in replies don’t count to the character limit.|
|Max Characters per direct message||10,000|
|Tweets||2,400 per day||Spread across a 24 period. There are also separate limits per half hour periods, so you won’t be able to tweet all 2,400 in one go. The half hour limit is unknown for now. Retweets count towards the limit.|
|Direct Messages||250 per day|
|Changes to email address||4 per hour|
|Following||1,819||Above 1,819 you can follow this number +10%.|
|Number of Lists||1,000||You can only have 1,000 lists (this includes ones you have created and ones you follow) Before May 30th 2013 the max number of lists was 20|
|Number of people in a list||5,000||Before May 30th 2013 the max accounts per list was 500|
|Number of people you can follow||1,000 per day|
|How many people you can unfollow||Unknown||Twitter doesn’t state this, but you are likely to get banned if you unfollow people aggressively. I’d recommend sticking well under 400 unfollows per day.|
|Max Characters for biog||160|
|Twitter Header Image Size||1500×500||(also a max upload size of 10Mb)|
So, there you go. Remember, Twitter is a social network- these limits are for your and my protection. Do you think these limits are appropriate, or do you think they should be modified? Let me know in the comments below.
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