An Introduction to Social Media HandlesYou may not realize it, but choosing handles for your social media accounts can be an important and even crucial step towards establishing your online identity and successfully implementing a social media marketing strategy. What is a handle, and why does it play such an important role in identifying you or your business on a social media network?

Wait, What Exactly Is A Handle?

If you are new to the world of social media, you may be asking yourself, “What is a social media handle, and why should I care about choosing the right one?” In communication systems, a handle refers to the unique identifier assigned to each user. For many decades in America, Citizen’s Band (CB) Radio users chose handles – often pseudonyms – to identify themselves to other users. Ever since the very first casual users began sharing information over the Internet, users have often used creative handles as system usernames. When identifying users on a communication system, including social media, the terms handle and username are often interchangeable.

Unique and Diverse Handles

Every handle on a service must be unique. It would technically impossible for two users on the same system, such as an email service, to have the same username at the same time – if that were possible, how would the system know which emails should be delivered to which users? This is the reason that many computer users must create a unique username, such as “johndoe5280” instead of just “johndoe”, when they sign up for a new service or account – if you have a common name or pseudonym that you prefer, chances are a user before you has already selected it. When it comes to services with hundreds of millions or even billions of users, even uncommon names and pseudonyms are often unavailable.

How Handles Work

A social media handle works the same way as any other Internet service – it is your unique identifier. Various social media services may utilize handles differently, but most use the handle for two primary functions – to act as a username so other users on the service can identify, tag and message you (@dgalassi), and to create a unique URL or web address (https://twitter.com/dgalassi). Because both of these functions require a unique identifier for each user, each handle must be unique. Fortunately, most social media networks allow you to choose your own handle, rather than assign a handle arbitrarily to each user.

How Is A Social Media Handle Different From Other Internet Handles?

One significant difference between social media handles and other Internet handles is the public accessibility of the handle. Depending on the nature of the account in question, it may be good policy to keep an Internet handle secret – if spammers know your Gmail username, they will flood your inbox with spam, and it is a very, very bad idea to publicly identify your banking username for reasons that should be obvious. However, social networks are designed to be, well, social – even though every network has privacy controls available to users, almost all make a handles easily identifiable.

What Works For Personal Accounts May Not Work For Businesses

As with other handles, such as email usernames, different criteria should be used when selecting a personal handle versus one that will be used professionally, or for a business. For personal social media accounts, there are fewer stigmas attached to fanciful and creative usernames – if you choose a personal Twitter handle modeled after your favorite Hollywood action hero, or one that includes a nonsensical phrase or a joke between family and friends, you are pretty much free to do so, as long as your handle is acceptable based on the service in question’s guidelines and terms of service. However, a Twitter handle that will be used to identify you as a professional, or a handle for a business, could be detrimental to your SEO, your marketing strategy and even your reputation if it were to include nonsensical or immature content.

In our next post, we will review some best practices for choosing social media handles for a professional, a business or an organization.