On an otherwise ordinary Friday night in the summer of 2009, I sat in front of my computer, eyes darting between the clock and computer monitor. It was an anxiety akin to waiting for tickets to a favorite band’s concert to go on sale. What was the cause of my nocturnal angst? At midnight on June 13th, 2009, Facebook would release the ability to create vanity URLs for all member profiles.
The clock changed to 11:59pm, and I began to refresh my Facebook home page furiously. My heart nearly skipped a beat when I saw the words, “Now you can have a username for your Facebook profile.” Having googled my name countless times over the years, I was 99.99% positive that there was no other Stephanie Drenka (at least none in North America or active on the World Wide Web). But still, the drive to be the one and only—to officially stake my claim on a piece of internet history—kept me glued to my seat that night.
It may seem trivial (especially for those of us who remember the early days of AOL when usernames often included superfluous adjectives to make the owner sound more attractive online than they may have been in real life), but being able to control the social networks affiliated with your brand is a crucial part of reputation management.
Choosing a username
Select a username as close to the business name as possible, promoting exposure and consistency for your brand across multiple channels. Usernames hold a lot of influence over search engine optimization (SEO), affecting your company’s rank in search results on Google or other search engines. If your first choice is not available, consider adding a keyword that is important to your SEO strategy.
Use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website to ensure that your name is not previously registered by another company. Many social networking sites, including Facebook, will prompt you to confirm that you are not knowingly violating anyone else’s intellectual property rights when choosing a vanity url or username.
Keep the name shorter, if possible. Not only will this help fit the url onto business cards, etc…, but it will be beneficial for a Twitter account. Since Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters, the more characters your name uses, the shorter the message must be if someone wants to retweet or reply to you.
Check for availability
Use a free online tool such as KnowEm, Check Usernames, or NameChk to verify the availability of your desired username. These programs will check your username against several social networks, and display whether they are available or taken.
Check Usernames will also indicate if your desired username does not meet with social network’s length requirement. Facebook, for example, requires at least 5 characters. The max limit for Twitter is 15. KnowEm lists variations of domain names featuring the desired username and their availability.
Although it may seem time consuming at first, it will save a lot of frustration down the road. (I’ve learned the hard way!)
Stake your claim
When you have settled on your final username (and possibly slight variations, if necessary), start registering! Begin with the most important social networks, which may vary depending on the type of business/brand. The standards would be Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. If you have time (I suggest that you make time) also sign up for YouTube, Flickr, delicious, foursquare and a blogging platform (WordPress, Blogger, tumblr, Typepad, etc).
Helpful hint: create an e-mail specifically for managing your social media accounts (firstname.lastname@example.org) to consolidate all of the confirmation e-mails that you will be receiving.
When it comes down to it, the best practice is to leave no stone unturned (no vanity url unclaimed). Even if you never visit the site again, it will help prevent infringement down the road—a small price to pay to protect the investment you’ve already made in your brand.