Get Online: Naming Considerations
Previously, it was relatively simple to select a company name. There wouldn’t be much that you had to check. Mainly, it was more of a business check to see if the name was an established business and set up with necessary business licensing requirements. Today, you also have to look everywhere online and consider how a name will work on all the social platforms in existence – and what might exist in the future. Some of these considerations are below. It’s a multi-step process that can’t be ignored, and which should ideally be completed before even purchasing a domain.
Before you make any decision, however, review everything I’ve listed here and do some research. If you already have a business name but haven’t yet set up any websites or social platforms, you should still review these items I’ve listed below. It’s important to look at as much as possible and think about the future before making a decision.
This is something you really can’t ignore. You need to get your name out there and establish yourself online before someone else does. If they have a similar name and complete all the social media research I’ve listed below, and you’re not there, guess what? They may set something up and essentially be able to claim names everywhere. You’d end up being the one that has to adjust your name in social media platforms instead of them. That would limit you, no doubt. I’d like to clarify: I’m not advocating name-squatting. I’m suggesting that you be proactive and establish your existing company in various online platforms. Be ready to go, and once you set up accounts everywhere, start using them.
If you don’t already have a business name, you’ll need to come up with one and research it to see if it’s in use or not. Then you have to get business licenses. Also, think about trademarks and companies with the same or similar names. Check legal requirements first. There’s no sense going to the trouble of setting up accounts online everywhere if you can’t get a business license because the name is already in use. Find out if multiple checks are needed along the way, in case the name might be thought to be available and gets approved but then ends up rescinded for some unknown reason. Remember, too, that you usually have to obtain state and local licenses, and perhaps others. Check everywhere.
Look it up. If there’s already a company with that name that also has an extensive online presence, you’ll want to know that before making your decision. See what their company provides. You also need to know if it’s something very different from your product or service, which would confuse any potential customer looking for what your company provides. You also need to see what another company’s online reputation is. In this day and age, with the danger of social media mistakes very high and potentially extremely damaging to a company’s image, you need to know if someone else has a similar name or the same one in case it might reflect poorly on your company at some point in the future. You absolutely need to be proactive here.
- Check in Google and the search engines.
- Type in a URL with that name in the browser. Try .com, .net, and .org. Type in a similar name. If you don’t purchase all those domains, someone might swoop in and use your name under a different extension.
- Check WHOIS. Even if a domain doesn’t have a website, it may be taken. Always check WHOIS for current information, and to see when a domain might expire. WHOIS is (pronounced Who-is) is the ICANN domain record. ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It’s the ruling body of domain names.
This is one of the more important social platforms, I think. There are also some important considerations to keep in mind.
Character limit: 15
Considerations: Make the name as short as possible to make it easier to include on retweets. Longer names take up much more space in a tweet. It’s not always possible to go with a short name, but do the best you can.
There are two parts to Twitter names: the username and the name. The username is the @name listing. The name is the listing that accompanies it. For example, here’s my Twitter profile. The username is @2moroDocs. The name is also 2moroDocs. While both names are the same in my account, they don’t need to be. There are many accounts where the username and name are different. Just remember: the username (@yourname) is the one used in tweets. Make it as short as possible, but not so much that people don’t know who you are.
Tip: when you craft your Twitter bio, consider packing it with keywords. For businesses in particular, it’s not a good time to try and be creative and cool with some unique phrase. People run searches for keywords. They won’t find you if you don’t have the keywords in your bio. Hashtags are another good item to add. A couple of years back, I was at a WordPress WordCamp and was pleasantly shocked when my Twitter account showed up in someone’s presentation. There it was, listed on the big screen along with others from the Seattle area. I almost fell out of my chair. Good thing I had used keywords in the bio! Lesson learned! You never know where something might show up in social media.
There’s an ongoing great debate in the Twitterverse about what name to use where. For example, if you’re a small business, the question is this: do you put your company name as the name, or your own? Do you put a picture of yourself there, or a logo? An argument you’ll hear from one side is that people think it’s impersonal if there’s a logo and not a picture. The thinking is “I want to do business with a person, not a company logo.” I think it’s fine to use a logo and company name. It depends on the situation, IMO. I’ll explain with a few examples.
My 2moroDocs Twitter account
I set this up with the same name in both places. I use a logo instead of a picture of me. So, over time, I’ve built a brand. It’s for my blog and company, not me personally. (Originally, 2moroDocs was my blog name, but I rebranded my business to that name in 2015.) While people came to know me as the person behind the account, I elected to keep the logo in place and use it for both the username and name.
Other situations and examples
How you set up your social media accounts depends on your intended use. Here are some examples and options.
- It’s just you. Your social media accounts are one piece of your personal online presence.
- You’re a one-person business that provides services geared toward individuals.
In this case, it might make more sense to use your name and photo. If you are your business, then by all means, go with that. Think about business people that are considered experts in their fields and are well-known speakers. If you’re building your own presence outside of your company, which might not be a bad idea if you think you might change jobs at some point, then use your name and photo. In this situation, you probably would want to add a disclaimer such as “these tweets are my own and don’t reflect my employer’s opinions.”
- You have a company that you’re building a brand for.
- You might hire employees at some point.
- You plan on expansion at some point.
- You’ve designed a snazzy logo that you want people to recognize at a glance.
In these situations, I’d definitely go with a logo and company name in both places. Why tie your brand and social media accounts to one person when you’ll likely expand? There are also examples of people that established quite a following and reputation while tweeting for a company. When they left the company, they took their huge number of followers with them. In one situation, this even went to court. Would all the trouble have ensued if that person had tweeted under a company logo and name instead of their own? Who owns the account? That’s a very serious question you need to answer. Remember: it can take a very long time to build a following in social media. So determine your plan before you set up the account. Make sure that your brand’s online presence doesn’t walk out the door when an employee does.
Tip: Search for existing names in each online platform itself. Then you can search and see if the name is in use. This is critically important, as there may be a similar name in use (or a variation of yours) that differs in values from your own. Of course, if it’s your business name or your personal name, there’s not much you can do, but it’s best to check anyway. If you have a business name already which is fairly long, you can perhaps abbreviate it somehow. If the name is taken, you can create one with an underscore.
It doesn’t work as well to search in a third-party app such as Hootsuite, as a list of accounts with potentially the same name as yours, or one similar, isn’t possible to see.
Changing your Twitter Names: Unlike Facebook, you can change the username and name at anytime. However, a username change could cause much confusion with your followers. You retain all your followers, but you’d need to let them know of the change.
Facebook makes feature changes continually, often without notice. However, over time, I haven’t noticed any major changes in page name requirements. Assume nothing, though. Be sure to do your research, as noted below.
Character limit: None that I can find
Name requirements: Facebook has many rules for page names. For instance, at the time of this writing, you can’t use symbols. There are also capitalization rules and requirements regarding use of acronyms. Because requirements can change, as can page links, I advise you to look it up in their Help system before setting up a page. Just type in “page names” or something similar, and you’ll see topics listed.
Research Required: See if the name is taken. Facebook displays a list of pages and groups that have words in use on existing pages. Check that, and always check See More Results at the bottom of the list, and then select Pages from the list of options on the left.
Warning: There are also two page names in Facebook. One is the username (used in the URL). The second is the page name (the name on the actual page). You can’t change the username. Be extra careful when creating your page. People have been know to misspell it when entering it, or you might just change your mind. Be sure of the name before you set up the username.
For further research, go to the Facebook help and type in “page username.” Then read everything there. Do the same for “page name” and review everything. Be sure you understand the requirements and differences between the two before you set something up.
It also may not be possible to claim your exact name for your username, as it may already be taken in Facebook. You won’t know this for sure until you try to claim it. You may have to select one with a number appended, or use hyphens, or something similar. So even after all the research, your username might differ slightly from what you intend. However, the correct page name should be Ok for searches. It might not be perfect, but you do what you can.
Note: rebranding or merging a page in Facebook is next to impossible for small businesses. You can’t merge two pages unless the names are similar. You can’t change the URL, so you have to set up a new page. (10/28/15)
I can’t find any information about character limits or any kind of similar requirements. If the name is already taken in some form, you might have to use an underscore or similar convention. However, I recommend seeing what pictures are posted for the account with a similar name (if there is one). Are the photos something that would reflect poorly on your company or name if a potential customer were to find it and think it was you? This is a very important platform to check for that reason.
Definitely research here and see what’s there already. As video becomes increasingly important, YouTube is something you’ll need to have at some point. YouTube generally ranks high in search results, too. If you have a fairly common name for your business or online presence, you might want to set up an account here as soon as you can. Check the requirements note below before you do so, though.
For current information, search for Username Policy in the help section.
Character limit: None of which I’m aware. I’ve seen some very long YouTube channel names, though.
Considerations: Use the full name if possible. Google owns YouTube, so it’s best to use the same name if possible. The name is longer, though, as “channel” is appended to each name.
Requirements: There are basic requirements such as no profanity and that sort of thing. They also prohibit what they call “namesquatting.” Basically, you have to use the account once you set it up or risk closure. If you have a fairly common name for your business or online presence, you might want to set up an account here as soon as you can. If you do so, be prepared to upload videos periodically. You don’t have to make your own. You can add some from other channels.
LinkedIn has company pages. You’ll want to set one up for your company. This is another place to research your company name. See if there’s a company page already set up. Also, run an advanced people search, and type in your potential business name. If there’s a company in existence with that name, people may already have that listed on their profile. Might that be confusing? Or does it even matter? Only you can determine that. Definitely check it, though. Definitely see if your competitors are in LinkedIn. This is a business network, and is very important. You want your company listed in LinkedIn, for sure. Once you have a name selected or have one in existence, create a company page for your company.
There are two names: username and your page name. Like Facebook, the username is the URL. Depending on your business, Pinterest may be a very important platform to consider.
Username character limit: 15 characters
Do your best to use the same name in all platforms. Focus on your domain first. Social platforms may come and go, but your domain and site should be your mainstay.
While it may be Ok to abbreviate in Twitter some, try and be consistent in username in Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and others. You want people to be able to search for you and find the same set up as much as possible in as many places as possible. If you’re late to the online and social media game, this may not be easy or possible. Just do what you can.
Like anything with getting your business online, research name choice from all angles. It could save you much time and work in the future. Get it right the first time. Once you start building your brand and presence online, it can be tricky to change and require some effort and time to transition. Not just in terms of changing account names here and there, but in the time it takes to rebrand your company or image and have all your followers aware of the change.