What’s In A Name?

Usernames on Twitter, and the URL this gives you (http://twitter.com/username) are becoming almost as important as regular domain names. And finding one that is meaningful, aesthetically-pleasing and available can be quite a maddening process. (Aspiring rock stars will also have experienced this frustration when trying to find a band name that isn’t taken but doesn’t suck.)

When picking a username, there are a few things you need to consider:

  1. If you’re already known to a large audience under a given name, that’s your best option on Twitter.
  2. For individuals, certainly those who operate in a professional capacity, your best option is always your real, full name – i.e., sheabennett. And even if you don’t want to use that as your primary account (I use Sheamus), it pays to register it anyway to prevent identity theft. If your real name is taken, try a combination of your initials against your first, middle and surname.
  3. If you’re a brand, it needs to be your brand name, or as close to it as possible without looking like it’s been forced.
  4. When making a final decision, consider how is it going to look on your business card? Do you want @PeterWilson, or @ladyzman69?
  5. It needs to be as short as possible. Why? Retweets. If your long username makes it awkward for people to retweet you without doing some major edit work then your retweet rate will suffer accordingly. I would propose that your username should be no longer than 12 characters if possible. (See this article for more on the importance of your number.)
  6. Avoid gimmicky names. While ‘ilovemakinbacon’ might be funny to you now, in six months time when you’ve decided Twitter is a fantastic opportunity for you to bring new clients to your business, it might not seem quite as amusing.
  7. That said, if your business is gimmicky, and your primary interest in Twitter is brand-promotion, then a gimmicky name can often pay off.
  8. Don’t stress about rich keywords in your username. The search mechanisms for tracking people down via their username are poor and people are less and less impressed by words like ‘expert’ and ‘guru’ in titles (especially when coupled with SEO, search or social media).
  9. Be mindful to avoid accidental euphemisms and double-meanings.
  10. Underscores should only be used if nothing else is available.

Celebrities naturally can get away with pretty much anything. For the rest of us, it does require a little thought, especially if we’re looking to build a relevant and targeted audience.

Of course, it all depends on your expectations. If you’re 100 per cent confident that Twitter is never going to be anything more to you than a place to hang and chat with friends, then your username really isn’t all that important. Otherwise, think about the future – where might you be in six months or a year, and what part could Twitter play in that period of your life? And how may your choice of username impact on that?

The network continues to grow in popularity at a rapid rate. Twitter’s quite ridiculous policy of allowing anybody to change their username at any time* means these tips are applicable to everybody. In six months, almost all the good usernames will be gone, much like almost all the good .com domain names are taken now. If you regret your username, and feel that it doesn’t best represent who you are, act today.

To change your username – and while there are no limits, for the benefit of your network this isn’t something I advise you do more than once, so make it stick – click on ‘settings’, enter your new name in the box, and Twitter will tell you if it’s available. And then be smart and let people know. While there are many valid reasons why changing your username makes sense, without making an announcement you might find it’s alarmingly easy to disappear.

* It’s so ridiculous, that I would expect this option to have been phased out by the end of 2009.