What’s in a (Twitter) Name?

A few years ago, a Twitter user from New Jersey called St. Chris kindly reminded his followers that he was not a Saudi telecommunications company or a shopping mall in Jakarta. After receiving a large number of tweets, mostly in Arabic, and 4,000 new followers, he had realized that having the Twitter handle he wanted—@StC—had a downside.

The scenario is far more frustrating if you look at it the other way. For Saudi company STC and STC Senayan in Jakarta, Indonesia, every interaction with Chris was an interaction they lost, even if some of those interacting users eventually realized their mistake. Because of Twitter’s real-time (and sometimes hectic) nature, tweets are often posted hastily and then buried almost immediately under torrents of other tweets. Put simply, there’s no guarantee that users would realize their error.

The British retailer John Lewis might have been more bothered if its own Twitter handle problems hadn’t generated so much press attention. @JohnLewis, a man from Blacksburg, Virginia, has found internet fame for his pithy responses to the numerous people who mistakenly contact him. “Love love live the new @JohnLewis Xmas advert!” read one tweet that came his way. “I love love live it too,” he replied. “Wish I could take credit for it.”

But John Lewis is the exception. In almost all cases, failing to have the handle most associated with your brand (even if that’s a personal brand) can lead to confusion, low engagement and lost business. And Twitter doesn’t permit handles to be bought and sold. But there are other options.

Add something

If it’s clear that you won’t get the handle you want and you don’t want to change the name entirely, you can compromise by adding something short and relevant after the handle. The retailer John Lewis uses @JohnLewisRetail, but you can choose something even shorter. Businesses can add Ltd or Plc to the end of their handle, for example: oil and gas company BP uses @BP_plc. Or you can use your location in the way that Samsung (@SamsungMobileUS) or MTV (@MTVUK) use theirs.

Change something

If you don’t want to tack anything on to your existing handle and the current user doesn’t want to give it up, then there are ways you can adapt. Some internet-based businesses include the word “dot” in their handle, such as @wordpressdotcom and @VoxDotCom. Individuals with unusual names can use that name by itself. Look at the accounts of Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah), Marc Benioff (@benioff) or Beyonce Knowles-Carter (@Beyonce).

Just ask

It might not occur to individuals or businesses to just ask whoever has the Twitter handle if they want to give it up. But it’s always worth trying. Many Twitter accounts are “graveyard” accounts and haven’t been used for a long time, and many are simply personal platforms for self-expression. For a lot of users, the handle chosen just seemed like the simplest and most obvious choice and may not be very important in their eyes.


It’s worth remembering that if you have a trademark and you can show that the handle user is knowingly misleading other users and bringing your brand into disrepute, you can ask Twitter to enforce its trademark policy and have the user give up the handle. This wouldn’t work in the case of John Lewis, for example, because John Lewis (the man) makes it clear that he is not John Lewis (the business). But if John Lewis (the man) claimed to be or represent the retailer, the retailer could ask Twitter to enforce its policy.

In short, your Twitter handle matters. It’s a fundamental part of your Twitter identity and it plays a crucial role in allowing others to find you and engage with you—so make sure it’s working for you.

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