Social media handles, just like the names of movies, can make or break your internet presence. The term handle has been in use since the 1970’s when users of CB’s (Citizen’s Band radios) identified themselves by unique and colorful nicknames. When the internet became popular in the 1990’s, the term migrated online as a way for users to identify themselves. It was thus natural for users of social media to continue to use “handle” for their public username. (See a full definition and history of the term handles here: https://techterms.com/definition/handle )
The primary purpose of this blog post is to lay out a systematic approach for a new business to select outstanding social media handles that will serve you well over the entire life of your business. Changing a handle once you have been using it for a while is a long painful process that should be avoided.
* Some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. All opinions expressed and research done is my own and I only recommend products and services that I either use myself or would feel completely comfortable using myself.
Once you have a solid idea as to what your business is going to be about, it’s very important to pick a name for your business and grab your social media handles and website domain names as soon as possible. The truth is that social media handles go very quickly. During the moment that it took you to read this far, 400 new users have signed up for Facebook. Twitter and other social media move at similar speeds and the names they selected during that moment are now unavailable. ( Click here for all kinds of interesting facts about social media: https://www.socialpilot.co/blog/social-media-statistics )
Another excellent reason to choose and claim your social media handles as quickly as possible is that you can then begin to build an audience for your product or service before your business is even fully established. ( for example, this is my first official blog post and I already have 19K monthly viewers on Pinterest at the time this is being published.)
So now that we have established that time is of the essence and the benefits of claiming your social media handles ASAP, let’s move forward.
Brainstorming initial ideas
The best way to start coming up with ideas is to make a list of the emotions and impressions your ideal handle should convey to your audience. Then prioritize that list by importance. If there are two or more of you working on this project, then everyone involved should make their lists separately before coming together to share and prioritize. This avoids the dreaded groupthink and opens the door for the greatest creativity.
Next, you should do some keyword research in your niche using this list as a starting point. For keyword research, here are some suggested tools
- Google Keyword Planner – This is the original keyword tool directly from that top search engine and best of all, it’s free to use.
- Long Tail Pro – This is a paid tool, however, it’s well worth the money. It has lots of extras that will save a ton of time and effort over doing it manually. Once you have a website and a blog set up, one of its really nice features is the competition score, which will give you an idea of how difficult it will be to rank for a specific keyword. This is helpful in staying away from keyword phrases that are to difficult to target in the beginning and focusing on those that are within your range where you can add value.
- Google Trends – This is an awesome tool which allows you to see the trends ( thus the name) for your keywords. Ideally, look for keywords that are trending up or that are at least holding steady over time.
Besides keyword research, here are some additional tools to generate more ideas.
- http://www.spinxo.com/ – you can input the keywords you generated so far and this tool will use them as the basis for some random names
- https://www.shopify.com/tools/business-name-generator – This is another tool that you can enter your keywords into and it will generate possible business names. It also has that added benefit that it will check domain name availability for you.
- https://www.thesaurus.com/ – Use this internet thesaurus to look up synonyms for the keywords you’ve found to generate even more ideas.
Next, you should look over social media handles you like for inspiration. What is it you like about them? Here’s a few to get you started that have the added value of being good accounts to follow if you are serious about business.
@Forbes – The official account for Forbes is a wealth of business information and news. It’s also a good example of a single word brand name.
@WSJ – The official account of the Wall Street Journal. They have made excellent use of an abbreviation for their Twitter handle.
@ecommercefuel – This account focuses on very high-quality information about e-commerce. Their private group consists only of 7 figure e-commerce entrepreneurs. This is a great example of including the keyword in a username
@PiaLovesYourBiz – The Twitter handle for the author of “Badass your Brand”*. Not only did she write a great book, she picked as excellent Twitter handle that conveys what she wants her brand to be about.
@TimFerrissBlog – This is the second account of Tim Ferris, author of “The Four Work Week”*, dedicated strictly to his blog and podcast material. The “Blog” qualifier makes it distinct from his other account at @tferriss
Now is the time to get some feedback from other people on your research so far. When talking to other people, keep in mind how close they are to your target market. Someone who hates your ideas who is not part of your target market had given you good feedback that you are on the right track to keep the wrong person away from your brand.
Apply some constraints
Now that you have created the largest list of ideas possible, it’s time to pair it down using objective criteria. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Names should be 15 characters or less if you want them to be same on all platforms ( Twitter has a 15 character limit)
- Shouldn’t be too long to easily remember
- Should be too clever or punny. Your name represents your business. Have fun without going over the line
- Should be easy to spell – if it’s too hard to spell and thus remember, people won’t use it.
- Strive for a name you can use across all platforms. Consistency is important for branding
- Keep in mind the purpose of the name when choosing it and select names that will stand the test of time.
- Keep your ideal customer in mind when selecting a name.
- Stay away from using numbers. While this is acceptable for personal use, you want your business handle to stand out as unique.
- Check the internet for positive or negative associations with your chosen name.
By now, you should have a short list of name that are good candidates to be the social media handle for your business. Your next step is to check to see which ones are available. Of course, you could go to each platform and search for each name. That will be time-consuming and error-prone so I would suggest speeding up the process with one of the tools below.
- https://knowem.com/* – a Complete tool to check for your name on over 500 social media websites, 150 domain name possibilities, and the USA trademark database. For a fee, they will automatically sign you up for from 25 to 300 social media platforms. A real time saver if you are looking to be thorough.
- https://namechk.com/ – This tool checks for names across social media I haven’t even heard of. Will also check for web domain names.
- https://www.namecheckr.com/ – Another useful tool to check social media names and domain names.
- https://www.namemesh.com/ – This tool strictly checks domain names, however, it adds some interesting abilities such as automatically searching for synonyms and misspelling of your search term. Useful if your main term isn’t available.
- https://brandchecker.com/ – Has the ability to check for brand name across multiple categories of sites, not simply social media and domain names. Examples include blogging platforms, business sites, and news. Well worth a look.
- https://namevine.com/ – Allows you to search the top ten most popular social media, plus domain names.
If you find that your desired social media handles aren’t available across all your desired platforms, here are some ideas to create variations that might work.
- Add a period
- Add an underscore
- Use an abbreviation or shorten it
- Add location information such as USA or Bos for Boston
- Use a nickname
- Use the term “official” as part of the name
- Use “real” as part of the name
- Put a “The” in front of the name
- If your product is an app, you can add “app” to the name which helps in understanding your business
- Use your website domain name with “dot” in the middle
- You can put “ask” in front of your brand name
- You can add HQ, CO or LLC at the end of the name
- You can add any other qualifier you can think of to the name.
Even if you can’t have the same name across all platforms, strive for consistency to maintain brand awareness.
Legal Issues and Terms of Service
Sometimes despite your best efforts, you run into serious crossroads about the name you want. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one in the movies, on tv, on the internet or anywhere else. Please consult your own lawyer for legal advice on the following situations. As best as possible, the following is a compendium of issues and solutions found googling the internet.
- The name you really, really want is taken. – If the account is legitimately active, then your best course is to pick another name. If the account is inactive, you might be able to get positive results by simply writing the owner and asking for the name. One caveat, do not offer to purchase the handle. Buying and selling usernames is explicitly against the Terms of Service of most social media platforms.
- If you are concerned about accidentally infringing on someone else’s trademark – check the trademark database at https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-application-process/search-trademark-database
- If in the process of doing this research, you discover someone has infringed on your trademark – run, don’t walk to see your lawyer.
- If you have grabbed a handle that you find is using a trademarked name – go see your lawyer immediately and do whatever he says. It’s also a good idea to change your name by whatever means necessary.
- You discover that someone is impersonating you on social media. – Inform the social media platform immediately and contact your lawyer about legal action.
Claim your social media handles
Now that you have successfully jumped through all the hoops and selected a name, it’s time to go to each social media and claim it. After you have grabbed your desired social media handles, be sure to put up a brief bio and a picture. After going through all this effort, you don’t want to risk being flagged as either a squatter or inactive. Start posting material to show the account is active. Some ideas for what to post are :
- Appropriate curated material that will appeal to your desired audience
- Turn your social account into a journal of your efforts to build a business
- Any news or press releases about your business
- if you get a significant following right off, survey your audience
- Tease your product or service. Movies do this all the time to build interest
As quickly as you have claimed your social media handles, you wish to claim the outstanding domain name as well. While many hosting companies provide the ability to claim your domain name, it exposes your business to a risk if you find the need to switch hosting providers. ( This has happened to both me and my clients in the past. It’s not uncommon) As a result, I recommend keeping your domain names hosted on a different platform then your actual website. This way switching providers is nothing more than changing a pointer.
The service I recommend is namecheap.com*. They are reasonably priced, have a good reputation and I trust them enough that I use them myself. Also If you wish to take care of your hosting now and intend to use WordPress to set up your website, I would recommend WPEngine*. I currently use them for my own hosting, recommend them to my clients and I am a member of their Agency Partner Program.
After you have claimed all of your social media, you will benefit by verifying your profiles. Verification is a step you can do after you have established your business so you can provide the proper documentation. Where available, it provides an additional layer of social proof. The rules for each platform are different and change occasionally, so check with each platform. Here is a link to an article about verification on the most popular social platforms.
That’s it. You’re done and should now have a killer social media handle! I know this has been a lot of work just to string up to 15 characters together, however, your social media handles and your website domain names carry the weight of your business on its back.
Now that you’ve finished the article, I would love to see what everyone comes up with. I invite you to leave your new name in the comments below.