What to do when your Twitter handle is already taken

Nowadays almost every username on Twitter seems to be taken. Even Taylor Swift had to settle for @taylorswift13.

Let’s break down what to do about it.

  1. How much does it matter?
  2. Inventing alternatives
  3. Things to avoid
  4. Asking for the name you want
  5. Buying a Twitter handle
  6. Taking an unused Twitter handle
  7. Paying hackers to steal a Twitter handle
  8. Waiting for a handle to become available

1. How much does it matter?

JK Rowling may be a billionaire with 8.7 million followers but she still had to add an underscore to her name (@jk_rowling) because someone else uses the original one. You may think that adding “real” in front of your Twitter handle sounds bad, but it worked for the current US President-elect, @realDonaldTrump. Chipotle uses @ChipotleTweets, and they don’t seem to mind:

“It really isn’t a big deal to us at this point, as we’ve got well over 600,000 Twitter followers, so people certainly don’t seem to have any trouble finding us”

Chris Arnold, Communications Director of Chipotle

Before we look at options, it’s worth asking yourself how much does your perfect name matter? Increasingly your username won’t stop you from succeeding, as long as what you use instead isn’t really bad. If we look at what people actually do when they search for someone online, is that they don’t search for usernames anymore — they find users by directly searching for them:

This isn’t to say your perfect Twitter handle doesn’t have value. Just don’t think of it as essential for Twitter success.

2. Inventing alternatives

If you’re going to invent an alternative Twitter handle, there is a wide range of tricks to consider:

  1. Use a part of your name

Nothing forces you to use your full name.

2. Abbreviate your name

Chop out letters, use abbreviations or shorter words.

3. Use your initials

Swap any of your names for initials, or add your middle initials.

4. Make it official

Add certain words (“the”, “real”, “official”, “this is”, “we are”) to make your name look like ‘the real one’.

5. Add a call to action

For companies and products especially, ask people to “try”, “use”, “get” or “ask”. Or welcome them with “hello”.

6. Add a descriptive word

Add words that describe what you’re about, like “app”, “news”, “PR” or “hotels”. This might even help your Twitter account get found.

7. “HQ” or “Inc” — if you’re a company

Companies can easily add “HQ” or — where appropriate — “Inc” to their name.

8. Get creative

Clever wordplay, nicknames, and just plain randomness.

9. Spell out your domain

If you’re all about your website, spell it out.

10. Add a title

Add Mr, Mrs, Miss or whatever title suits your best. Doctor, perhaps?

You can check whether a name is taken with a free tool like Namech_k.

3. Things to avoid in Twitter handles

  • Underscores. It’s bad because they’re hard to say — try spelling out “my underscore company” instead of “my company”. They can also become illegible when linked (it’s not easy reading an underlined underscore). Many other social networks don’t allow underscores, so you won’t be able to use the same username elsewhere.
  • Numbers. Adding a number on the end says “I’m not the original” and “I’m too lazy to care”. You’re much better off being @realYourName than @yourName23.

Stick with pure letters. If you’re worried about legibility, use capital letters like ThisIfYouNeedTo.

4. Ask for the name you want

Sometimes the current owner of your ideal Twitter handle might be willing to give it away. It sounds unlikely. It does happen though:

  • The owner of @workable “took it for a new business venture which he didn’t end up following through with … a couple of friendly emails were exchanged and he was, very kindly, happy to give up the handle and let us take it.”
  • The owner of @rickymartin — a young woman, and definitely not a popular singer — said in an interview “Honestly, if he ever asked for it, he could have it. I’m not trying to hold it hostage.”

You never know unless you try.

5. Buying a Twitter handle

Twitter forbid the sale of accounts, but it does happen. You should know that if Twitter catches you buying an account, they could ban you from using it afterwards, so be careful.

There is a way around this “no selling” rule — used famously by CNN to acquire @cnnbrk: they hired the owner as a consultant on contract, and included the transfer of the handle as part of his services. It was sneaky, but worth it for what was then the fastest growing account on Twitter.

If you decide to try and buy a handle, expect to barter. There isn’t a lot of information available on pricing, but to give some idea on premium names:

  • @chase offered $20k, refused, later took the account for nothing by claiming trademark infringement
  • Unnamed “three letter handle” was given opening offer of $15k
  • @drew received a public bid for $1m, but was never sold
  • @seancombs offered $210k, was declined in hilarious fashion (see below)

6. Taking an unused Twitter handle

Often, the Twitter handle that you want looks like this:

Even if you ask nicely, or even made an offer, it might get you nowhere.

If you can prove you own a trademark for the username, and that the current owner does not, then you can attempt to take the name from them. Some people have registered a trademark especially to get a Twitter handle, a process that may take some time, but is relatively cheap (around $250 for a US trademark application).

According to Twitter, Trademark violation means that an account is using a “company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation”.

Your case will be easiest if you have a US trademark. If the current owner has their own trademark for the same name, your claim won’t get you anywhere. For up-to-date details, see Twitter’s trademark policy and fill in this infringement form.

7. Paying hackers to steal a Twitter handle

Just kidding. Don’t do this.

If you’re curious read this true story of blackmail and deception by someone who did. (It didn’t work though: Twitter returned the stolen handle to the original owner).

8. Waiting for a handle to become available

Even if your ideal name isn’t available, there’s still a chance that one day it will be. The free service Tweet Claims monitors up to ten Twitter handles every day, and emails you if they become either free or inactive. (You can pay them to have more checks, more often).

Twitter say that users who are inactive for 6 months or more may be deleted, but this is not currently the case. In 2011, Twitter said “We are currently working to release all inactive usernames in bulk, but we do not have a set time frame for when this will take place”, and it is still is not the case in 2016.

However, if that day ever comes, you will be grateful that you were watching.

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If you like this you might also like an article on “How to name your startup” :)