The Two Most Important Characters on Your Keyboard

QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio laptop comp...

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On the internet today, especially on social networks, every character counts. The people who are the most efficient with characters and words are often the most followed and influential. The separating factors of the good and the great are not just what you have to say…but how you say it. Literally, communication itself is changing and is becoming a determinant factor in how much social capital someone has. Nowhere is this more visible than in Twitter and Facebook status updates.

In status updates, every character counts.

On Twitter, you only get 140 characters. 120 if you want it to be retweetable. So how do you make the most of every character? You have to prioritize them. Is it more profitable for you to use one character than another? In at least two cases, the answer is yes.

The First Case: People

If you’ve read our previous article, Dethroning Content as King, you know we’re high on valuing people higher than anything else in your online thinking and quest for branding status. In valuing people on social networks, one character stands head and shoulders above all the others. Ladies, and gentlement, I present to you the most important symbol on social networks.


Ah…the lowly “@” symbol. Used so nonchalantly in emails and to shorten an already two-letter preposition, @ has skyrocketed to the top in terms of character prioritization. Representing people online, it allows you to direct your messages to individuals, to quote individuals, to communicate with individuals, and even to mention individuals in a thought or idea you’re publishing. When in doubt, always prioritize the @ symbol above all other characters. Do you take out that great adjective or that person you’re mentioning as an aside? Take out the adjective. People come first. Do you use double quotes or single quotes, at the expense of linking to the originator? Single quotes. People come first.

Of course, these seem like silly examples…until you find yourself backspacing someone’s username in order to say what you want to say, how you want to say it. Discipline yourself to prioritize people above prose.

The Second Case: Ideas

Just because people are first, does not mean that content doesn’t matter. In fact, content runs is a clear second, only to people. Then the question becomes, how do we effectively use characters to represent ideas? Twitter has provided us an avenue in the form of a single character that we personally believe here at SB should make its way into other mediums of communication. The second most important character on the web is


the hashtag, or number sign. Normally used to express quantity, IRC channel name,  or to play a microscopic game of tic-tac-toe, the hash sign has morphed into the antecedent of a idea, allowing that idea to transcend normal content and to be instantly searchable and cataloged. Ideas such as #socialmedia and #musicmonday and #idontunderstandwhy have now become the means of categorizing of thoughts, musings, and other short bursts of profundity. The # should be used frequently (but not overused) and appear in ideas and memes across the social web.

So when writing those 140-character gushes of enlightenment, remember that ultimately its about communicating ideas to people, # to @. And when used wisely, they can increase your thought leadership tremendously. Those two characters, while the most important characters on the keyboard, are also the friendliest.

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