Getting a handle on the right Twitter names

We’ve all been there.  Someone or something has annoyed us to such an extent that we turn to Social Media to vent our frustration.  We make creative use of the 140 characters available to explain our feelings and letting the brand know exactly what we think.  But in our rage do we always check that we are directing our feelings at the right company?

The announcement last week that Google would be creating a new company structure under a new name of Alphabet.  As you would have expected, the domain name was taken (in fact it had been registered by BMW back in 1995) but so was the Twitter handle @alphabet, which belongs not to the world’s biggest digital company, but a “Dad, Husband, self-proclaimed geek” called Chris Andrikanich from Cleveland, Ohio who had registered the Twitter handle back in April 2007.  In the past week he had been forced to add “I’m not affiliated with Google or Alphabet Inc” to his Twitter profile after receiving thousands of tweets about the new organisation.

Mr Anrikanich isn’t alone in being the “victim” of brand confusion on Twitter.  The world’ most favourite toy, Lego has been a household name for over fifty years, but the Twitter address @Lego has belonged to an “Art Nerd, City Cyclist, Urban Crawler and Fun Finder” from San Francisco since November 2006.  Beanz meanz Heinz, the marketing slogan reminds us.  But not on Twitter where @Heinz has been owned by Austrian college lecturer Heinz Wittenbrink since March 2007.  Whilst John Lewis are never knowingly undersold, they are frequently mistaken on Twitter for @johnlewis who is a computer science educator based in Virginia.  Since November 2007 he has been helpfully replying to all tweets sent to the wrong place, copying in @johnlewisretail.

Major global brands such as BP weren’t quick enough to see the value of the social media network when it launched a decade ago, with Twitter handles available on a first-come, first-serve basis.  As long as there is no trademark or intellectual property infringement, there is no issue.  So British petroleum have no legal leg to stand on in obtaining @bp from Bryan Pendleton, “Googler, tinkerer, hacker, husband, father, environmentalist and chronic early adopter” how has owned the Twitter handle since October 2006.  He tweets relatively frequently to remind people that he is not the BP that people may think.


It’s not just brands that missed the boat on Twitter.  British Prime Minister David Cameron can be found on Twitter @David_Cameron rather than @DavidCameron which belongs to an individual who states he is “certainly not in the UK “ and “I am not the Prime Minister”.  That still doesn’t stop him getting hundreds of tweets a day on a variety of subjects.  The Ashes are the talk of the country at the moment but don’t remind Ashley Kerekes who lives in Southwick Massacuessettes of that who tells us at her Twitter address of @theashes that she is “not a freaking cricket match”.  She has in the past been asked to join in various media debates about the game.  Keeping with the sporting theme @chelsea is not owned by Chelsea Football Club, but by an art photographer based in San Francisco called Bordeaux.  She is in fact married to an English man so does understand football, although perhaps was a bit taken by the recent fuss about Doctorgate at Stamford Bridge.

You may wonder why organisations simply don’t offer to buy these famous social media handles from their existing users, like they would for domain names?  Well, according to the terms and conditions of Twitter, buying and selling of usernames is not allowed and if discovered can lead to the name being removed from use by any party.  The practice does happen (see New York Post article from September 2013) but is certainly not one that is practiced frequently.  Considering some of the most valuable channels to market were given away free of charge nearly a decade ago, it is unlikely that major brands will pass up similar opportunities every again.