I found myself in the midst of an interesting exchange a couple weeks ago -- it was over whether Twitter handles should have underscores in them or not. The person questioning the underscores had been told to not use them period, but was unclear on why. It occurred to me that there are many subtle forms of online branding that folks who work on/with the Internet quite a bit eventually pick up, things that are obscure to more general users.
Here are a few examples of such online branding to think about when building an online presence.
Use a good handle
So should you use an underscore in your Twitter handle? It's actually more a matter of what makes a good handle and what doesn't, regardless of underscore content. There are a number of posts out there on that, but I'll just give a few pointers:
- Try and make your handle guessable -- if you're creating an account for a project called Project Bananas, your handle should be @ProjectBananas (if unavailable, then @Project_Bananas, @ProjBananas)
- Try and start your handle with your project's name
- Avoid making your handle look like an AIM screename -- i.e. don't end it with a bunch of numbers, don't use an entirely different handle than the project's name (not @ProjectBananas7, not @BananaFan, definitely not @MonkeyLover1122)
(By the way, similar ideas apply to picking a good domain name!)
Use a good logo in the right places
It should come as no surprise that a good logo is great for online branding. But, good doesn't just mean conceptual or clever. It means your logo should work when its displayed across platforms and in different sizes -- next to your tweets on Twitter and your posts on Facebook, etc.
Also -- and I think this is important -- make sure your logo is set as the favicon on your website! Sometimes websites just won't have favicons (which is okay) -- but, often, web hosting providers will use their own logo as your website's favicon if you don't provide one. Not only is that a lost opportunity for logo exposure for you (and a gain for them), but web-savvy folks recognize those common web hosting favicons and it can read as unprofessional to leave it.
If you don't have a logo, you can use a delightful online service called Faviconer to generate favicons out of images or to draw your own.
Don't use defaults
This is mostly in regards to using one of the most popular website platforms out there -- WordPress. WordPress comes with the same default theme for all users and, often, users do not change that theme or only modify the header image. This can also read as unprofessional!
If using WordPress, choose a different theme from the default to set yourself apart from the many many users who don't. Also, make sure to change the tagline in it to something specific to your site (WordPress also comes with a default tagline - something like 'Just another WordPress Site' -- not great).
Take the time to brand your social media accounts
This is similar to not using defaults. Whatever options your social media services use for you to customize (e.g. Twitter allows you to have a logo, to change the background color/image and to change the color of links) -- do it! This is a great opportunity to inject your own brand in places where people will be connecting with you. Just like using the WordPress default theme can read as unprofessional, so can leaving the default Twitter background.
Customize email addresses
A nice branding embellishment is to create custom email addresses (i.e. if my website is projectbananas.com, I would create an email address for myself as firstname.lastname@example.org). For the email address of the general contact, don't use 'admin' or 'webmaster' -- rather use 'info' or 'hello' or even 'questions' (e.g. not email@example.com but firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you can't/don't want to use custom email addresses, use a Gmail address. Less modern email providers -- such as @hotmail.com, @yahoo.com, @aol.com -- can, once again, can read as unprofessional.
Of course, there are plenty more online branding tips out there -- these are just based around small branding fixes that I see could be used quite often. How and why these unspoken standards have come into place and why certain things read as modern/not-modern or professional/unprofessional would make for another very interesting and worthwhile post. But, I won't unpack that just yet.
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