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What are social media handles? [And how to claim yours]

Social MediaCategory
12 min read
Ashley Grant

It seems like every day a new social media platform is being announced. Is that just me? We’ve got Threads, Mastodon, Bluesky, Lemon8, Supernova, and so many others. And, you need social media handles on all of them, don’t you? It’s exhausting!

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Let’s pump the brakes for a second, and discuss whether or not you really need to be on all of these social platforms, or not. When I first wrote this post, I said this:

Whether you want to start a business, are planning on becoming a social media influencer, or just hope to have a really nifty social media handle, you should grab your coveted name now — even before you create your business, launch a website or even register your domain.

Is this still true in 2024 and beyond? Are you already behind if you haven’t grabbed your desired handles yet? Let’s get into it.

But first, here’s how to nab your handles on the platforms you want to be on:

1. Decide on your desired social media handles

Keep in mind that there is a limit of 15 characters on X (formerly Twitter). If you want your handle to be the same on X, Instagram, Facebook, etc. (and you totally should), you’ll need to keep it to 15 characters or less.

Also, it shouldn’t be too “clever” (ahem be careful of puns), too long or hard to spell. When you’re interviewed on a podcast or featured in a guest post, it’s easier if you can just say a handle that is easy to remember and spell. Trust me!

It’s also worth noting that if you hop onto a platform like Mastodon or Bluesky your username will be @username@mastodon.social or @username.bsky.social. Bluesky gives you the option to have your username be “@” your domain as well. Mastodon also has an option for running your own server for their social media platform for what they call “absolute control over your own voice on the web.”

2. Check each social media platform and see if your desired handle is available

If it’s not available on one platform, you might want to go back to step one. More on why in a moment.

Ideas for handles if you can’t get the exact name you want:

Since this article was first published in 2018, even more coveted handles have been scooped up. This isn’t surprising considering more people are jumping on X, Facebook, Instagram, etc… every single day. There are 1.4 billion Instagram users expected to be on that platform alone in 2024! And there are 3.05 billion monthly users on Facebook. Yep, that was a billion, not million.

Of course, the growing number of users across the various platforms is making it even more difficult for people to grab unique names, let alone the same unique name across all platforms. With that in mind, I scoured the web for some ideas you can use to create handles that still work, even if they aren’t the exact name you were hoping for. Here are some of the hacks I found:

  • Use an acronym or initials - John Brown Law could be @jblaw or @jbrown
  • Add “Real” to the front of your name - @realjohnbrown
  • Make it an “Ask” account - @askjohnbrown
  • Use a descriptive word for your account - A craft seller making homemade gift they sell online could use a handle like @suzymakescrafts, for example
  • Put the word “Try” in it - If your company sells essential oils, perhaps your handle could be something like @trysamsoils
  • Only use your last name - If your last name is unique this could be the perfect option for you. Then again, if it’s hard to spell, you may want to use one of the other hacks on this list for your handle
  • Shorten your name or use your nickname - The most famous example of this I saw over over was @jlo for Jennifer Lopez
  • Simply add HQ or INC to your company name - @mycompanyhq; @mycompanyinc
  • Add mr, mrs, or miss - @missjackson
  • Use the word “daily” or “official” - @johndoedaily; @officialjohndoe
  • Include the words “I am” in your handle - @iamjohnbrown

Pro tip: If you use any of these “spins” on your name, make sure you add pertinent details to your bio to be found in search.

When using variations on your business name, it’s all the more important to add your official name or business name as well as your website to your profile. This way, if you don’t have the precise name people are expecting, they can still find you when searching for your name/company name on the various social media platforms.

I have personally found having my desired name in my bio has been incredibly helpful over the years. I added “FamousAshleyGrant” into my bio on all of my own profiles because I was unable to secure that handle across all platforms.

3. Create an account with your handle

These suckers get snapped up faster than a Wonka Bar during a golden ticket rush — if you get my drift — so get ‘em now!

4. Post a profile picture on each platform along with a brief bio

Why do this now, even when you aren’t ready to move forward with it? First, it’s a great place to include a backlink to your website and start building (or continue building) your domain authority.

Tips on social media guidelines

Each social media platform has its own rules and community guidelines, but there are a few common guidelines that you’ll want to follow. Check out the best practices below. 

Beware the squatter label

Social Media Handles Squatter
Sitting on a handle you don’t plan to use could only cause issues down the road.

Sitting on a handle you don’t plan to use could only cause issues down the road.

If you grab social media handles and don’t ever use them, it’s called squatting, and it’s actually a no-no on most social media platforms. In fact, it’s a violation of the rules of X and Instagram (if you read their fine print like the nerd in me totally did).

What’s a squatter exactly? Well, the direct answer varies on each social media platform, but essentially a squatter in the confines of social media is a person that:

  • Creates a lot of accounts on a platform/many platforms(sometimes just to prevent others from grabbing those social media handles)
  • Never posts anything to their profile(s)
  • Attempts to sell usernames (Don’t do this! It is a violation of all social media platform policies I’ve read)
  • Uses third-party content feeds to update and maintain accounts under the names of those third parties (looking at you chatbots and AI content curators)

Squatting on a handle that you never use can get your handle removed from you, and in the worst cases get you banned from the platforms entirely.

So, if you grab a handle, post to it once in a while even before you’re ready to make it something you regularly use so you don’t get flagged as a squatter. You can always delete all your posts later.

Be consistent with your social media handles

I’m a blogger, and I should know better. I say this way too often, actually, but alas, I messed up my own social media handles game.

Unlike some of the smartest bloggers I know — who have one handle that works for every social media platform — I have a different one for Instagram, X, Facebook ... and, well, you get the idea.

I should be FamousAshley across the board, but I’m not. This makes it harder for some people to figure out who the heck to follow on the various platforms. Therein lies the first clue as to why you need to get your social media handles ducks in a row stat!

Social Media Handles Consistency
In this instance, it pays to be the same across the board.

Having a handle that is the same on every platform makes it easier for people to find you, and it makes the marketing of your handle much simpler, too. Think branding and consistency — when you do what I did and have different handles like FamousAshleyGrant, FamousAshley and AshleyisFamous, you get annoying DMs like these:

“Hey, before I follow this person, I wanted to make sure it’s actually you.”

Or even:

“Why do you have so many weird handles on social? Aren’t you supposed to use the same one everywhere?”

Ouch! Can we say, embarrassing?

Luckily, I don’t really get these kinds of messages since adding my desired handle into my profile bios.

SmartInsights seems to agree as they did research on 50 startups and found “Only 20% of these companies use exact match social media handles across all platforms.” Overall, their findings indicate that the business name and your reputation matter more than your handle. Still, it’s still a good idea to try and maintain consistency where you can! Okay, let’s get back to your social media game!

Grab it before it’s gone

Let’s say you’re considering a company name like All Things Social and you want your social media handles across the various platforms to be @AllThingsSocial. Unfortunately, on X, it’s already taken, although it appears to be an inactive account.

So, now you have to go back to the drawing board and create a handle that you can use everywhere, or fight to try and secure the handle you want. Keep in mind that new social media handles are snapped up every single day, so you need to pounce on the ones you want today or you risk it not being there tomorrow.

Fun fact: Moms-to-be are even securing social media handles, profiles and email addresses for their children before they are born just to ensure they can have those names when they’re grown up! The same can be said for personal domains, too.

Note: If you are trying to secure social media handles for someone under the age of 18, you will need an adult to create the account! Most platforms don’t allow minors to sign up for accounts.

Social Media Handles Names
Photo: chuttersnap on Unsplash

But wait, with billions of users and dozens of platforms, do I really need an account on all of them?

I understand that feeling of FOMO that creeps in when a new platform comes online. You feel that you have to rush and scoop up social media handles on all of them. The same thing happened to me when Threads became a thing. I worried someone would scoop up my desired handle, but here’s the thing - I never use it anyway.

In fact, I only shared my very first post to Threads today, and grabbed accounts on BlueSky and Mastodon because I was writing this article! In all likelihood though, I know I won’t really be active with these platforms.

Now for some more good news - I’ve spoken to dozens of bloggers, business owners, podcasters, and social media influencers over the years and the one common theme is that none of them are on every platform. You don’t have to be either!

Collective sigh of relief anyone?

Here’s what you should do instead:

Decide what platforms your business should really be on

For example, if you’re thinking about sharing mostly images, Instagram is probably at the top of your list. Sharing images is perfect for photographers, artists, foodies, and even personal trainers who want to share before and after shots.

If you’re planning to focus on short video clips, however, TikTok is a must for you. Musicians have landed record deals, podcasters have found new listeners, even coaches sharing tips and hacks score new clients on the platform.

Consider where your audience will be. Look at websites like Statista or even the platforms themselves to see what their user base looks like. In 2024, Snapchat’s largest group of users is aged 18-29, but that’s the smallest user base on Facebook. When you go where your intended audience is, you’re more likely to actually connect with them.

Sign up for the platforms you choose to be on, and don’t stress about the others.

Though you may decide at a later date you want to be on some other platform, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t get your desired social media handles. Yes, consistency is important for branding, and it would be better if you could get the same handle on every platform. However, the good news is consistency with your brand doesn’t come down to social media handles alone.

The more important thing is that you have your desired business and domain name because again, you can always add your details to your bio on whatever platform you end up on so you can still be found online. And, the content you post can also help lend to your brand’s consistency.

That said, if you have a trademarked business name, you may have a case for securing social media handles whenever you are ready to obtain them. Of course, this may vary depending on the platform in question.

A quick recap on social media handles

So now you know everything about social media handles, right? Right. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Secure your desired social media handles, ASAP, on all platforms you plan to use, even if you’re not ready to use them. I’ll reiterate here that you should try and get the same name across the interwebs for consistency and branding purposes. But, I also don’t think you should freak out if it’s taken (unless it’s Trademarked!)
  2. Don’t just squat. Add a profile pic and brief bio.
  3. Post regularly. Show that the account is active so you don’t risk losing it.

That’s about it for what you need to know for how to claim your social media handles. Now, I’m off to figure out what my next steps are for my own social situation. Until next time, bloggy friends!

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