Whether you’re an aspiring business owner, entrepreneur, or just someone who wants to start building your own personal brand, you really owe it to yourself and your future audience to secure a few key social media user names and domain names right now. Building a strong online brand is what has helped people like Marie Forleo, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Tim Ferriss build a huge audience.
Updated July 2021
Why you should do this today
Now, you may be thinking, hang on Joseph! “I’m currently working full time, and I’m not even sure I want to ever start my own business.” Or maybe “I have started my business, but I have no interest in being on every social media platform out there.”
Even if you think there’s a 1% chance you want to create your own personal brand or become a thought leader in your field, you should secure your social media real estate right now.
Please do NOT delay doing this. Trust me.
I can speak from personal experience. Back in the day, when I was working full time in the corporate world, I never imagined I would ever start my own business, nor did I ever think I would want to build an online social media presence. Far from it. I actually wanted to stay as invisible as possible so my current employer couldn’t take issue with anything I was doing online. And increasingly, employers ARE using social sites to research CURRENT employees, not just prospective employees. So I get how you might want to keep a low profile.
However, you never know what the future holds, and securing your key social media assets and profile pages will not hurt you. Most are free, and only take a few minutes to set up.
Think about it like this. If someone offered you a free house you could keep forever, you would grab it before someone else does, right? I’d recommend you follow the same principle with securing your social media URLs (aka web addresses).
The idea here is to secure your FirstnameLastname domain and username. So if you set your username on Twitter to @FirstLast, you will also get the Twitter.com/FirstLast URL. For example, if your username is @JohnSmith, your URL will be set to Twitter.com/JohnSmith. Why is having your FirstLast URL important?
- Search engines like Google tend to favor accounts where the person’s name is in the website URL, allowing them to rank more highly in search results, thus being more visible, according to BrandYourself.
- Having your FirstLast username often means you can also secure that /FirstLast URL.
- FirstLast usernames & URLs just look much more professional.
You can see an up-to-date list of the most popular social media sites at Statista. I’m going to focus on the ones that are both popular and useful in building your personal brand. I’d recommend you secure the following sites right away, in order of priority, although it does depend on your industry & professional sector.
Website (ideally .com or .co)
Get your FirstLast.com. This also allows you to have your own email using that domain name as the end of the email. For me, I went with josephliu.co that also allows me to use the email @josephliu.co. (josephliu.com was taken! Learn from my mistake!). If your .com is already taken (likely if you have a common name), you could get a .NET, .ORG, .ME. However, the word on the street is that these aren’t indexed as favourably or treated as seriously as .COMs.
.CO is another solid option, and one I recommend to my clients when .COM is not available. In 2016, when I secured josephliu.co, .CO was still somewhat unconventional, especially because people had a tendency to mistype .CO as .COM purely out of habit.
However, since then, .CO has really taken off, so I’m glad I secured josephliu.co when I did. According to the W3Techs domain usage statistics, .CO usage has been steadily increasing since. In Namecheap’s 2020 Domain Insights & Trends Report, .CO was the #1 most popular ccTLD (country specific Top Level Domain) in 2020 (up from #2 in 2018). They stated “.CO has become increasingly popular because it’s short, easy to remember, sounds like ‘company,’ and is often available for registration when .COM is not.” However, .COM is still king.
I recommend using Namecheap to register your domain. That’s what I now use for most of my domains, and it’s the provider I recommend to all my clients based on service, price, and ease. I used to use GoDaddy because their initial, first-year pricing is competitive, but their ongoing renewal fees are higher, so you’ll save in the long run if you go with Namecheap. By going with Namecheap, you’ll also avoid the issue with GoDaddy’s annoying habit of constantly trying to up-sell you additional services and products.
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Secure your Facebook.com/FirstLast page if you can. A “Page” is typically publicly facing, something a business or brand might use. A “Profile” is for personal use as an individual person (you probably already have this). You can read more about the difference between Pages & Profiles on Facebook.
If you’re not already on Twitter, you can sign up here. If you’re already on Twitter, and want to change your username to be @FirstLast. Even if you don’t have ANY interest in tweeting, it’s okay. You can still secure your username then make your Tweets private. This way, you at least have your username in case you ever want to use it in the future.
Grabbing your LinkedIn.com/in/FirstLast URL is optional, but I still recommend it because it just looks more professional and polished. Here are instructions on how to set your personal URL on LinkedIn.
You may also want to set up a LinkedIn.com/Company/FirstLast company page just in case you ever decide to use it in the future. Here are instructions on how to create a Company page or change your company page URL if you’ve already set up a company.
If you’re in a visual or creative business, you’ll want to be on Instagram. Claim your Instagram.com/FirstLast by either signing up for an account and selecting that username or changing your username following these instructions (currently must be done from mobile app).
If you plan on creating & sharing videos, be sure to grab your YouTube.com/FirstLast URL. This one’s a bit trickier, and Google seems to to continually change the steps needed to set a custom URL, making the process as convoluted as it gets. Here are the latest YouTube instructions on how to set a custom URL.
Pinterest is the virtual pinboard of the internet. Again, if you consider yourself part of a creative or visual industry, be sure to grab your Pinterest.com/FirstLast URL. You can either create a personal board or business page, which provides more analytics.
If you intend to publish articles or long-form posts, consider creating an account on Medium, securing your FirstLast.medium.com URL. You can create your account at Medium and select your username (which becomes your URL) when you join.
- Feb 2020 update– In February 2020, Medium ranked within the top 100 most visited sites globally and now gets more traffic than the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Guardian, which is pretty incredible since it just launched in 2012.
- Mar 2021 update- I’ve become increasingly disenchanted by Medium’s paywall model they rolled out in 2019, and I’ve since stopped proactively publishing as often to the platform. Interestingly, this paywall doesn’t seem to have affected their popularity. As of this update, Medium ranked as the 80th most popular website in the world according to Alexa.com, so publishing on the platform is still worth considering.
- July 2021 update– Earlier this year, Medium shifted from the medium.com/@username URL syntax to username.medium.com. You can adjust this setting here.
In early 2021, Clubhouse took off like a rocketship, after launching on iOS in early 2020 and later on Android in mid 2021. While stats don’t yet exist on its popularity compared to other platforms, as of this writing in the first half of 2021, Clubhouse was the 5th most popular app in the “Social Media Network” category of the App Store, behind Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Discord. Whether it goes the way of now defunct platforms (e.g., Meerkat, Periscope) that were initially hugely popular initially is hard to say, but with 10 million weekly active users and growing, securing your @FirstLast username on Clubhouse is worth considering.
To change your username, after you’ve joined (you’ll need an invite), just click on your username under your profile image and change it there, but be careful because users have reported you can only change your username once. Instructions here.
Whew! Those platforms are the important ones.
You may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all these social platforms, but I strongly recommend you secure each of your personal URLs right now. This way, you have them in case you ever want to use them in the future. It means people Googling your name will more easily find you. By grabbing your desired URL, it also means someone else with your name CAN’T grab it.
What if someone has the username I want?
Welcome to the club. This happened to me too. You would be surprised how many early adopters named Joseph Liu exist out there. If fact, by the time you read this, your desired username or website domain will already be taken unless you’re VERY lucky or have a very uncommon name.
If you’re domain name is taken, you could try to contact the owner directly, work with a domain purchasing service, or wait for the ownership to expire and hope the owner doesn’t renew (very unlikely). Namecheap, my domain registrar of choice, has a great article walking you through your options in Your Ideal Domain is Taken–Now What?
Unfortunately, if your desired username is taken, you’ll most likely need to pick something else. However, on Twitter, sometimes, you can still get it by using a process that worked for me and I outlined in this article on How I Secured a Twitter Username Already Taken.
If your desired username is taken, alternatives can include (depending on the platform):
- Add a middle initial (I’ve done this across all my profiles)
- Adding a special character like an underscore “_” or hyphen “-“
- Add a number (I know this isn’t ideal)
- Add a short modifier (e.g., coach, comms, tech)
- Add a relevant abbreviation (Co, Inc, Biz)
Avoid using numbers or weird spellings. Ideally, you should still have your FirstLast in there somewhere.
Here are a couple handy tools to make things a bit easier for you as you build your online personal brand.
- See which usernames are available: NameChk scans across all major social media platforms so you don’t have to check each one individually.
- Find out which domain variations are free: Namecheap’s Beast Mode search– see if your desired URL is available across various TLDs (Top-Level Domains like .net, .com, .org, etc.)
- Find out owner of taken domain: Namecheap’s WHOIS Lookup shows you the owner, address, and expiration date of taken domains (if info is public)
- Attempt to purchase taken domain: I recommend GoDaddy Domain Broker, which charges a small fee and commission to attempt to negotiate the purchase of a taken domain. I’ve successfully secured taken domains using this service, although it’s not always successful. Never hurts to try though! I’ve found GoDaddy to be more effective and personal than sedo.com, another popular buying service.
If you found this helpful, please let me know in the comments below. I’d welcome your thoughts on other platforms you’re on or tips that helped you stake out your social media assets online. Good luck staking out your personal brand online.
Learn how to build a strong personal brand
Once you’ve secured your usernames, learn more about how to build a strong personal brand using social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Medium by joining my course on “Building a Strong Personal Brand to Land Your Next Dream Role.” In the course, you’ll learn:
- Powerful principles of branding
- A simple branding framework to build your own unique personal brand
- How to create a focused summary of your professional strengths
- Ways to reinforce your personal brand in your social media profiles and job hunting.
I offer this course at a special price to my website visitors, giving you lifetime access to the course for $149 (25% off regular $200). Preview the course and join today if you want to learn how to build your professional reputation and stand out to land your next dream role.
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