Published October 26, 2022
This month, YouTube announced that it will begin offering its members the option of choosing a handle for their YouTube channels. While some members already have personalized URLs for their accounts (e.g. “youtube.com/YourBrand”), handles go beyond that and also allow users to link to and comment on a member in many different ways.
If your company has a YouTube account, keep an eye out for notifications in YouTube Studio letting you know when your company can choose its own personalized handle. See https://www.youtube.com/handle for more information about YouTube Handles, and here are six things to keep in mind about social media handles in general:
- What is a “handle”?
Put simply, a handle is the public-facing address of your company’s account on a social media platform, similar to how a domain name is the public-facing address of your company’s webpage on the internet. A handle is a word or phrase that identifies a specific account on a particular platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, and now also YouTube. It often follows an “@” symbol (e.g. “@YourBrand”), and it may also be incorporated into the domain name address assigned to an account page (e.g. “facebook/YourBrand”). While companies tend to use their primary brand as their handle whenever possible, any available combination of letters and numbers may be used—provided your handle is available and does not infringe on someone else’s rights.
- How can a handle benefit my brand?
A handle can enhance your brand in a number of ways. First and most directly, a handle helps customers easily find your account on a given platform. In addition, securing your brand as your handle also functions as free advertising, since the platform will display your handle anytime someone searches for or visits your account. Your handle also may be used in the posts and comments of visitors to that platform, often appearing as a link to your account page (“You have to check out @YourBrand for the best deals!”). From a defensive standpoint, securing your brand’s handle also prevents others from claiming it for themselves—including bad-faith actors who may attempt to masquerade as your company
- When is the best time to secure a handle?
As soon as possible. In fact, it can even be a good idea to obtain a handle for your brand even before it is officially launched, or on platforms where your company isn’t active (or particularly active). Again, the goal is twofold: To promote your company’s brand and also to prevent the abuse of your brand by others. Just keep in mind that social media handles are public-facing and tend to be searchable (including via Google and other search engines). So, if you’re not careful, whatever handle you select may be discoverable by others sooner than you intended.
- Do I need to register my brand with the United States Trademark Office first?
While it will depend on the guidelines of the particular platform, it usually is not necessary to register your brand as a trademark before using it as a handle. In fact, trademark registration is never required to establish trademark rights as a legal matter in the United States. There are good reasons to consider trademark registration as an option (and you should definitely discuss that option with a trademark attorney if you haven’t done so already). But in most—if not all—cases, the only requirement will be that no one else has selected that exact same handle for a different account already.
- If someone else is using a handle that includes my brand, is that trademark infringement?
Not necessarily. Trademark infringement occurs when someone uses your brand (or something similar to your brand) in a manner that creates a “likelihood of confusion” in the eyes of consumers. While the unauthorized use of a handle that includes or resembles your brand may constitute (or contribute to) trademark infringement, that must be assessed on a case-by-case basis considering the totality of the circumstances. If you have any reason to believe that a social media account is infringing your company’s trademark rights, talk to a trademark attorney before contacting the platform or the account owner to address the issue.
- What can I do about a handle that uses my company’s brand without authorization?
It will depend on the platform. Unfortunately, many social media platforms provide little-to-no recourse for brand owners, outside of clearly abusive behavior by bad faith actors—sometimes known as “Username Squatting”—which can be costly to address. Even if you have secured a handle for your brand, that typically won’t stop others from selecting handles that resemble or refer to your brand (including in negative ways, e.g. “@AvoidYourBrand”) provided they don’t explicitly impersonate or create confusion with your company. While social media platforms generally want to deter abusive accounts, they also prefer not to get involved in disputes between account owners. Be sure to check the policies of that platform and consult with an attorney before taking any action. But the best offense is usually a strong defense based on claiming the most important handles for your company before anyone else has the chance. The recent announcement by YouTube provides just such an opportunity, as well as a reminder to double-check your company’s social media strategy to ensure that it’s doing all it can to both strengthen and reap the benefits of its brand across all the relevant platforms (see “The top 20 social media sites of 2022”, Buffer.com).
If you have any questions about social media handles, how to address the misuse of your company’s brand in the handle of a third party, or trademark protection in general, contact us for more information.