The first step in protecting your online presence and reputation is to “secure your brand.” Not my phrase, but I’ve seen it in several places and can’t think of anything that says it better.
If you don’t already have a well established brand that you are planning to use as a username for your social media accounts, you want to think a bit while you are choosing it. There are lots of issues. Of course, you don’t want something that begs to be parodied, although you can’t really prevent that happening. Some social media sites require that names be a minimum or maximum number of letters. Likewise, on sites like Twitter where people communicate with you through your name and there are size restrictions on the messages, you want something short enough that the length of your name doesn’t create problems for your audience or community. You usually want a name that is at least 6 characters long, and preferably no longer than a dozen, but is still distinctive and very clearly YOU. Many sites restrict the use of punctuation in the names, so don’t count on being able to use hyphens. Some sites are case-sensitive, while most are not. You don’t want to force people to shift, so try to come up with something that works equally well in lowercase or uppercase.
If you already have a standard brand to use, there are different questions. Maybe your standard brand name is 5 or fewer characters. If you have money, sometimes you can pay the social networking sites to allow you to reserve the name anyway. Maybe your standard name is pretty long. Can you use a shorter version of the name and work to define it as an equivalent to your primary brand ID? Here’s a nice complicated thought. First think of Ford Motor Company. They go by Ford. This works for them because they are a major company and their identity was very well established before they entered the social media environment. For us here at the University of Michigan, things aren’t that simple.
“University of Michigan” is pretty long. UMich is short and well identified, but too short for some account guidelines. We have other names that have become part of our brand, including but not limited to UM (not distinct), Wolverines, GoBlue, Block-M, Victors Valiant, Maize & Blue, etc. Do you have sub-brands, or related identities to manage? Sticking with local examples, what about the University of Michigan School of Art and Design? Their usual acronym is SOAD, which is too short, so you could do something like UMSOAD or UM-SOAD or UMartdesign or a variety of other ideas. You need to choose one and stick with it.
If you have multiple names associated with your institution or brand, how are you going to track all of them?
If you aren’t sure you need to pay attention to all of them, stop and answer this question. “If someone else grabs the username [fill in the blank], and then does something icky, what is the cost to you?” The next question is “Has someone already grabbed your name and what are they doing with it?”
If you want to either reserve your brand name or find out who else is already using your brand, these five tools are really useful: DialUsername, KnowEm, NameChk, UsernameCheck, Usernamez. Of these, the two best known are KnowEm and UsernameCheck. Ideally, you would:
– check all your brands in all these tools (if you can only do one, use KnowEm),
– reserve your brandname as your username for all available services,
– track down who is using the ones you didn’t create and
– what they are doing with them.
Maybe it is someone who is a huge fan. Maybe it is a squatter who wants big bucks or attention to give you your name. Maybe it is a troll or someone malicious who wants to damage your reputation or bad mouth you. Maybe it is someone who is pretending to be you. You get the idea – RESERVE YOUR NAME(s).
ADDED August 10:
For more information about the differences between the tools, check this blogpost I found.
5 Ways to Check Username availability on Social networking sites Online. Technically Inspired July 1, 2009. http://computersservicing.blogspot.com/2009/05/5-ways-to-check-username-availability.html