Twitter Rule #2 Your Handle – It Matters

Twitter Rule #2 Your Handle – It Matters

By: Shelly Kramer
September 13, 2009

When I write these articles, it’s important for me to state, right up front, that I’m a prolific Twitterer. I use Twitter for fun AND I use Twitter for business. And part of my business – the things I focus on day in and day out, is teaching my clients to use Twitter and other forms of social mediums and to integrate them into their marketing tactics.

Many people, among them my dear friend Roger Hjulstrom (@booksbelow and if you’re not following him, you should be) advocate that there are and should be no Twitter ‘rules’ and no right or wrong way to do things. Roger wrote a terrific blog post on this very topic and here’s a link if you’d like to take a gander. While I agree with Roger that there are often no absolute right or wrongs when it comes to social media, in equally as many instances, I fervently believe that there IS an appropriate way to engage in social mediums when you are a business and looking to use the mediums to enhance your brand awareness and to grow your business.

In the world of Twitter, your ‘handle’ is the name you select when you open your account. Don’t worry, if you mess up, it’s not too late to change it. Just do it before you get too entrenched and have too many followers, otherwise, it’s confusing. And, once again, if you’re here for fun and friendship, you can use any darn handle you please. But if you’re here to establish your brand or to establish a presence and, thus, build a brand, use your noggin when it comes to your handle.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Use your name. Remember that whole ‘social media is about the social’ part? What’s more social than your doggone name?
  2. Remember that people often have to be able to REMEMBER your handle. So making it too long or too convoluted only lessens the chance that they’ll remember you – who wants that? People remember names. I remember when my friend @marksherrick first started out on Twitter, he used the handle @heythatguymark. He thought it was catchy and I never loved it. To me, it made him sound anonymous, forgettable and not at all professional. So, being the mouthy Twitmigo that I am, I suggested that he consider changing it. Ultimately, he did. And now he has a great handle. Easy to remember, his own personal “brand” and way more impressive sounding than his original handle. Don’t you agree?
  3. People don’t just reply to things you post with @messages. Sometimes they actually want to communicate with you and, in order to do so, they have to first remember and then type your handle. Don’t make it tricky to type, or you’ll risk losing them. Someone I know has a really cool handle but I can never, ever spell it – it’s something like @r3s3rv0ird0g and I am so exhausted each time I have to (a) remember it and (b) type it that, truly, I don’t communicate with them as much as I’d like.
  4. Don’t use all your letters! This is a big mistake and people often make it. And then it is often too late – or at least they perceive it so. If your business is called Kramer Marketing & Consulting, don’t try to cram as much of that into your Twitter handle as possible. The thing that newbies don’t often realize is that the more letters you use up in your handle, the LESS of those 140 characters you’ll have to say what you want to say. Ouch. Don’t you think there’s a reason that the Twitter founders @ev and @biz have short handles? Heck yeah, they want to have more characters to use rather than less. Short is good. Short is very, very good. And, coincidentally, easy to remember and easy to spell. Hmmmm.
  5. If you have the cojones to brand yourself creatively like my friend Owen JJ Stone, a/k/a @ohdoctah, that’s fantastic. But Owen didn’t just pick a cute name, he branded himself as @ohdoctah, his website reinforces his brand, his blogging reinforces his brand and it all makes sense. That’s the thing about handles – they are an exercise in branding, so if you’re in this social media gig to help build your brand and your business …. well, as the inimitable Aretha says, “You gotta think, think about it.”
  6. If you want to represent your company with a logo as an avatar, that’s fine, but always remember that people are most interested in communicating with the PERSON behind the brand. When the person hides behind the brand (which is what I think is the case when someone uses a logo as their avatar), they risk lessening the potential impact of and connection with their audience. Social media is about one on one communication, and no one really wants to talk to a logo — do they? I sure don’t. A great read on the corporate avatar subject is a post written by Olivier Blanchard called The Art of the Corporate Avatar.

At the end of the day, when your ultimate goal is to use Twitter or any other social medium to build brand awareness, increase interest in you and whatever it is you do, sell, provide for your customers, be professional. You wouldn’t walk into your local chamber meeting with a bag on your head that had your logo spray mounted to it — would you? And when someone stuck out their hand and introduced themselves to you at that same Chamber meeting, would you say “Hi, I’m Shelly Kramer” or would you say “Hi, I’m V3 Integrated Marketing.” We are who we are – that’s our unique ‘handle’ – what we do for a living is not the sum total of what we’re all about. So, doesn’t it only make sense that your avatar should speak to you, and who YOU are? It does to me.

So, here’s the Cliff Notes version:

  1. Use your name, whenever possible, or some sensible version thereof.
  2. Make sure it is easy to remember.
  3. Make sure it is easy to type.
  4. Short is key.
  5. Brand is good, if it works for you. Don’t force it.
  6. If you want to use your logo, do it intelligently and don’t detract from your own ‘personal’ brand.
  • Bravo Shelly. Well said. There’s a balance in there. I’ve often considered changing my handle and have several iterations of company name/personal name in twitter. But i’m sticking with @smashadv for now despite it’s bulkiness w/the ‘v’. In terms of avatar, I use one of the shots from a photoshoot we did to promote ‘’ as part of a campaign for new biz. There were a few dozen pix w/the orange as a core icon, but this one was by far the best (the *only* one that doesn’t show my face.) Anyway, people say it pops in stream, so i guess it works.

    Again, very nice article Shelly. Important stuff.

  • Hi Jim,

    I love your handle and love the brand that you’ve established for yourself. It – and you – are always recognizable, plus you’re a creative type, so all bets are off. The orange is fantastic, your site is fantastic – everything you do is true to your brand. Which is you. Which is @smashadv. I love it – and you are right – it works 🙂

    Thanks for reading, sweets – love having you here.

  • Well done, as always, and you address an issue that I have been wrestling with for some time. When I first started on Twitter, it was with the main intention of promoting my business, the selling of used and rare books. So it made sense to be @booksbelow, my business name. But as you’ve probably noticed, I use twitter for almost everything but promoting my business, it has truly become a social connection for me, and a link to the thoughts of others through blogs and their RT’s.
    The problem is that I have become so associated with the name @booksbelow by now, that I actually see that as my name of sorts, on Twitter and blogs and other online media. And I do occasionly mention that I sell books. 🙂 I’m not the type of business that needs branding or market recognition, people aren’t looking for me, I rarely have any specific book you are looking for. I have unusual books and people find me through searching for them.
    If I had it to do over again, I would probably use my own name.
    What you say makes a lot of sense for businesses and individuals developing their own brand. But at this point I think I’ll have to stick with my ‘booksbelow’ moniker.
    A thought provoking piece, and I only have one cup of coffee so far this morning! There may be no ‘rules’ for Twitter, but there is certainly some good advice out there. This is a good example of same.

  • Excellent advice, Shelly! I think I’ve managed to straddle the fence a bit with this by using @bkmacdaddy for my handle but creating a memorable, branded and personal avatar. After being on Twitter for only 6 months I know that quite a few people address me as Brian, which I think is due to the personality and interaction I put into my online presence. Whatever it is, it seems to be working. But I’m also lucky enough to have a relatively memorable brand name, I think (I hope). Still, your advice makes perfect sense and is an interesting, entertaining and informative read as well. I love your writing style! Keep it coming!

  • Roger, I think your brand identity is PERFECT – and would not suggest changing a thing. @booksbelow is a terrific personification of you, your life, interests AND your business. So if you infer that I suggest your handle is not right, that’s just not the case. Your handle is a creative way of tying everything back to your brand – which is the way it should be.

    I included you as a reference here because you are usually quick to point out that there ARE no rules and that all should do whatever they want. I agree with that point IF there is no business purpose connected with social media strategy.

    But, if the point of spending time on Twitter is to enhance your brand, I think that having a name like @smellyshelly or @cutegalfrommo or @deliciousdiva doesn’t help much. That was the true point I was making.

    You, I think that you’ve chosen your handle perfectly!!

  • Hi Brian,

    I think that you, too, have chosen a terrific handle and have done a good job of branding yourself. Not only vis a vis your handle, but by the information you share, content you generate, etc. Sometimes we creatives have an advantage in this kind of thing, because we instinctively think about branding – even our own personal ones – before we do anything. The purpose, for me, of a post like this is to hopefully help people just starting to flirt with integrating Twitter and other forms of SM into their marketing tactics.

    I love your handle, love the visual representation that you’ve done and look forward to your tweetage on a daily basis.

    Thanks, as always, for reading!

  • Hi Shelly!

    I once had a peer tell me I shouldn’t have used a underscore in my handle because it is difficult to find a cell phone while texting tweets. I still like the _ because it sets apart my name from my company name; however, it is a simple enough change.

    What do you think about the use of special characters in handles?

    Create an amazing day!

    Sundi (@Sundi_MOZ)

  • Hey Sundi,
    I have to say I agree that an underscore is not the most desired. I am not an SEO genuis (that part I leave to my partner) but I also think it might affect search. Bottom line, my advice on this would be that if it’s possible to do it without the underscore, I would. Some people, like my business partner, are forced to use it – she is @laura_lake – because someone else has gotten to the name without the underscore. But, if a variation of your name is available without it and, more importantly, if you can live with it, I would. Thanks for reading – and for taking the time to comment .. you’re a doll.

  • Hi Shelly – great post!

    I’m starting a life coaching career and my Twitter name is part of that brand and my overall philosophy, which is why I totally agree with your points here.

    For example, my name is Cynthia, I believe in synergistic living, so ‘Cynnergies’ represents both my actual person and my beliefs. When people talk to me via Twitter and shorten to Cyn/Cynn, they’re still calling me by my actual name as well. So, it’s great to personalise my brand because it really is me at the same time, and it’s all effortless – because I did the thinking of the name upfront.

    Thanks for this one, excellent stuff.

  • Hi Cyn,

    I agree! Your handle makes perfect sense and is a great branding strategy. That whole “thinking up front part” is key … and really why I wrote the post. Hopefully, it can save someone somewhere some headaches. Thanks for reading, girlfriend – and even more for sharing your thoughts.

  • Barry Peters

    Great, common-sense article, Shelly!

  • Thx, Barry. Common sense is what I strive for. All else too confusing 🙂 Thx for the read.

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  • I love all of the points that you mentioned above (well almost). I’m not sure how I feel about folks using logos as they’re avatars. This might sound wrong but the only brands I’m comfortable with in using their logos are big brands like say Coca Cola or Pepsi. Smaller brands I think should add a little personality with their actual photos. It’s more personal that way and I think that’s what people are looking for, personality and intimacy in interactions.

    Anyway, just my thoughts…

  • Wow. Was lookin’ through your archives…no idea how I missed this one…but you were totally right about the name thing. I mean, very few people take me seriously, but it’s by design – but having my name as opposed to what I signed up with on a whim has really helped. People follow me back or seem to seek me out more readily with a more standard name.

    I’m flattered you used me as an example. 🙂

  • Ok. I missed this 3 weeks ago. But the timing of finding it today couldn't be better. I've been advising a colleague and Twitter newbie to change his name— currently at 16 characters! (Your Point #4). Keep it real, short and real memorable.

    My handle is not my full name, which would be 24 characters. (kidding) Also, pick a great photo. Mine was from a really really happy moment. (My goal is to continue to look like my avatar as much as possible.) I believe it's helping to build my brand as an upbeat, joyful coach and creative director. At least that's the feedback I get. Thanks again, Shelly. You nailed it!

  • ShellyKramer

    I'm with you Warrior-Girl, I'm with you. Keeping it real is what really matters. The good thing, though, is that the longer it takes everyone else to figure it out, the more of a head start the rest of us, and the brands and businesses with whom we work, have 🙂

  • ShellyKramer

    I think your handle and your avvie are perfect, Kat and I expect that when I finally get a chance to meet you IRL, you'll look as smilingly beautiful as you do in that photo. And what a bar to set for yourself – and a good reminder to all of us to live in happy moments. Thanks, my friend, for the read and for the comment.

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