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How to Get that Twitter Handle That Got Away
Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
There’s a Twitter username you really want, but someone else got it first. Perhaps it’s a username that matches your business or product name, or your individual name, without extra stuff such as numbers. What can you do?
For the uninitiated, in a Twitter account there are both a profile name and a username. The profile name is whatever name you desire and can be the same as the profile names used by others on Twitter.
But your Twitter username is unique. You can’t use a Twitter username if someone else has taken it. The Twitter username (which begins with the @ symbol) is the address from which someone tweets and at which someone can be followed. For example, my Twitter profile name is “John B. Farmer” and my Twitter username is “@JohnBFarmer.” The username is like your email and website address on Twitter.
Let’s look step by step at what to do if your desired Twitter username is taken:
• Is the targeted Twitter username impersonating you or infringing on your trademark?
Twitter has policies and online submission forms for attacking a Twitter account on these grounds. You’ll find them by Web searching for “report Twitter violation.”
If an account is being misused for trademark infringement or impersonation, Twitter might transfer the Twitter username to you.
Yet, Twitter rarely agrees with complaints of impersonation or infringement, so this remedy seldom works.
The rest of this advice is for situations where you can’t use an impersonation or infringement claim to obtain a taken Twitter username.
• Is the targeted Twitter account active?
Twitter reportedly sometimes, but infrequently, cancels inactive Twitter accounts and makes the Twitter usernames available for registration by others. Twitter states that it may cancel an account that is inactive for more than six months, although it doesn’t disclose whether it actually or consistently acts that fast.
Unfortunately, you can’t tell from looking at a Twitter account whether it’s inactive. While you can see whether the account holder has tweeted, you can’t tell whether the account holder is logging in without tweeting, such as to read tweets of others.
If you know the targeted account is active because of recent tweeting, your only hope is to try to buy the account from the holder.
If the account appears inactive, you still could try to buy the account from the holder, but often identifying and contacting the holder can be difficult or impossible.
Many inactive Twitter accounts are ones that were registered and never used and often have no contact information. To look for contact information, just click on the profile name or Twitter username of the account. The account holder might post contact or other identifying information there but doesn’t have to.
Twitter doesn’t provide a way to contact the account holder except by tweeting a public message that includes the account holder’s Twitter username. If the account is inactive, the account holder probably isn’t checking it for tweets. Unless the account holder is following you on Twitter, you can’t send to the account holder a private message (called a “direct message” on Twitter).
• Using a Twitter username availability service.
You could hope Twitter eventually deletes the account due to inactivity and, thus, that the username becomes available for registration.
You could periodically try to register the desired Twitter username to see if it has become available. That’s a hassle and, if the Twitter username you seek is popular, it probably will get taken quickly.
There are services that provide you with notice of when specific Twitter usernames become available for registration. One is TweetClaims.com. It offers both a free notification service and pay service that provides more robust notification.
For inactive Twitter accounts for which you cannot find account holder contact information, that’s probably your only option.
• Buying a Twitter account.
Warning: Twitter has a rule against selling Twitter accounts and claims it may suspend any account that is sold. So, if you buy a Twitter account, you’re assuming the risk that Twitter might take it away.
That said, there are ways to transfer a Twitter account that Twitter is unlikely to detect or attack, unless you get into mass account selling and make that public on the Web.
Step #1 – Identify. First you have to find a way to contact the current owner of the account. If the account holder does not provide contact information or respond to tweets, you’ll have to try cyber sleuthing to find contact information.
Sometimes a Twitter profile contains a website address. Look on that website for information on who to contact. If that fails, check a “WHOIS” directory (such as on GoDaddy.com) for registration information for the domain name used by that website, to look for an email address in the domain-name registration record.
There are other cyber sleuthing techniques that can be used. If it’s worth the cost, you might hire an Internet-savvy investigator to find contact information for the account holder.
Step #2 – Contact and Negotiate. Do you contact the Twitter account holder directly or through an intermediary who would hide your identity? Think about whether your identity might cause the holder of the Twitter account to demand a king’s ransom.
If you are concerned about that, or if you just don’t want the prospective seller to know who you are, consider hiring a third-party, such as an attorney, to make the inquiry and negotiate a deal on your behalf.
Step #3 – Close the Deal. Let’s assume you are able to contact the Twitter account holder and negotiate a deal for the transfer. How do you close the deal and transfer the Twitter account?
You could proceed on trust. You could transfer the money to the seller by PayPal and trust the seller to transfer the Twitter account afterward. Or the seller could be the one who trusts – by transferring the Twitter account and trusting that payment will be made afterward.
That’s unwise. You need an escrow agent to ensure that each side fulfills its obligation. An escrow agent holds the payment and promises to release it when the other side completes the account transfer.
Attorneys frequently serve as escrow agents. Also, Safefunds.com claims to offer social-media account transfer escrow services. I have not used its service yet. There might be other online escrow services that will handle Twitter account sales.
Step #4 – Transferring the Twitter Username.
Here you have a choice. Are you willing to take some risk that Twitter will detect the sale and suspend the Twitter username?
There is one way for you to do this that Twitter would not detect, but it presents a risk of losing the Twitter username to a third party. There is another way in which you can make certain that the intended recipient receives the Twitter account, but it’s hypothetically possible that Twitter could detect the activity and revoke the transfer.
No guarantees, but it appears you’re unlikely to have a problem with either approach unless the Twitter username was registered by someone who is openly and repeatedly trying to traffic in Twitter usernames. For example, I’d be leery if the Twitter username has been advertised for sale online.
As for the former transfer method, the seller can agree just to delete the Twitter account and immediately notify the purchaser. The purchaser would then immediately register it before anyone else gets it. The problem is someone else might snatch it up quicker.
The other approach involves the seller changing the email address (and phone number, if any), associated with the account, from the seller’s email address (and phone number) to the buyer’s. The seller would then provide the account password to the buyer. The buyer would then login with its email address and the provided password and change the password, to secure the account.
After the transfer, the buyer can change the account profile name associated with the Twitter username to whatever the buyer wants to use.
Be careful here, buyer – make certain to change the profile name and not the username. That’s set up in a confusing way. If you mistakenly change the username, you’re abandoning your Twitter username and picking a new one, so you’d lose the Twitter username you purchased.
You can’t have an email address associated with more than one Twitter account, so the buyer might have to create a new Gmail account to receive the Twitter account.
I don’t know whether Twitter would detect this second transfer method – a changed email address followed quickly by changed password. Based upon my investigation, Twitter is unlikely to intervene.
To test this, I created a Twitter account and then transferred it to a friend of mine. We were able to make the transfer, and my friend was able to change the account profile name afterward. Twitter didn’t suspend the account in the first couple of days. We were able to transfer the account back to me after that few days. Who knows what will happen later.
One final note: The buyer should revoke all third-party applications that the seller had authorized to access the Twitter account. You can do that in the “apps” tab in the Twitter account settings.
Written on November 16, 2015
by John B. Farmer
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