Social Networking 101

In this series of articles, we are going to explore how to get started in Social Networking. There are a lot of approaches one could take, and this is just one of them. My goal is to help those who are just getting started with social networking, as well as to introduce some new ways of managing your social networking presence for existing users. Think of it as Social Networking 101.

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Lesson 5: Make A Google Profile

Welcome to Social Networking 101! In this series of lessons, we are going to teach you how to establish your presence in the vast world of social networking. Whether you are just starting out, or if you are a social networking maven, we hope to share some unique methods and tools that can save you time and give you a more visible web presence.

If you missed the first four lessons, you might want to go back and read them now.

Why Make A Google Profile?

Google makes our online experience better by making it easy for us to find stuff online, so why shouldn't it make it easier to find out more about ourselves, too? If you have ever Googled yourself, you may have been surprised at what you found. For instance, the first page of results displayed after Googling "Chuck Rogers" includes entries about a guy who builds guns, an auto dealer, a photographer, one of Will Rogers' grandsons, a Wikipedia entry about the guy who supposedly shot JFK from the grassy knoll (who knew?), ME, and a couple of other people. Strangely, former Detroit Lions receiver Charles "Chuck" Rogers has no presence on the first couple of search results pages. Why? Because he probably doesn't have a Google Profile.

According to an article in Time magazine, a team of social scientists published a study in 2008 that concluded "ego surfing" can partly be traced to a rise in narcissism, but (and more importantly for this lesson) it is also used by people to shape their personal brand.

Google created its profile service to help it do a better job of connecting the dots when it comes to all the stuff you do online. Building a Google profile page also allows you to provide some input on the type of information Google indexes about you. Finally, establishing a Google profile means your result will rank higher when people search for your name.

Protecting Your Personal Brand

Perhaps the best reason to create a Google profile (at least for our purposes) is to help establish and protect your personal or professional brand. Once you have created a profile, Google makes it easy to add links to web sites where you have established a presence. This goes back to lesson one, where we talked about establishing your brand. It all leads up to this: as you start exploring the various web sites and establishing a presence on them, you are going to need a place to store the links to all those profiles you are creating. 

This is where having a Google profile really comes in handy. Not only does it provide a great place to keep track of all those social networking links, but in doing so you tell Google more about the sites on which you have profiles. This, in turn helps increase your ranking when someone searches for your name on Google.

Remember, a key component to establishing and protecting either your personal or professional brand is to get your name out there — register for everything you can under your chosen user name(s). Protecting your "brand," means you will accumulate a lot of site registrations, and most of these sites will allow you to create profiles. Why not store them somewhere that is easy for both you and others to find, AND helps increase your search ranking?

To get started, you are going to need one thing before anything else: a Gmail address. You don't have to use it for email if you don't want to (that's a subject for another article), but you do need one before you can establish a profile. If you don't have one already, go to the Gmail home page to sign up.

A Sample Profile Page - Mine

Let's take a look at a sample profile page. Not just any page, mind you. We are going to take a look at mine. Let's do this the way you would normally do it: by searching for it. So create a new page in your browser and type "Chuck Rogers" (WITH the quotes) into the search box. (If you use something other than Google, then go to http://www.google./com first.) Here's a link, so you can compare your search results with mine, if you want:

Search for "Chuck Rogers"

Once you cease to be amazed at how many people there are whose name is "Chuck Rogers," scroll all the way down to the bottom. The last search result on the page says "Profile results for Chuck Rogers." As of this writing, the first listing is someone who is a medical student in Chico, CA. That's OK - he only goes by "Chuck Rogers"whereas my profile is under "Charles Rogers," but I use "Chuck"as my nickname. My profile appears second. Go ahead and click it.

Here is what you should see:

Charles Rogers - Google Profile

There it is in a nutshell: my picture, what I do, and where I live. But there is one other thing. That green box with white lettering that says "Verified name." 

Verify Your Name

This is important. It means Google has verified the information in your profile was edited by you, and you alone. It does this in one of three ways: by calling a phone number you designate and having you enter a PIN that it gives you; by having you enter some credit card information, which it will verify with the institution that issued your card (no charges are made); or by verifying your Social Security number.

Other than verifying you are who you say you are, Google does not verify the information you enter. Verifying your name lets the viewer know that what you have written about yourself was written by you — not that it is accurate or truthful (that part is still up to you).

Here's what you need to do to verify your name:

  1. Get a Gmail account if you don't have one already.

  2. Go to Google's Knol site. If you aren't signed in already, click the "Sign In" link in the upper right corner and enter your gmail address and password.

  3. Click the "Preferences" link in the upper right corner, then click the "Name Verification" tab.

Choose the verification method you prefer and follow the instructions.

It may seem strange that you have to go to Google's Knol site (their version of Wikipedia or Answers.com), but it happened that way out of necessity. Since information in the database is being presented as factual, sometimes it may be necessary to do some fact-checking. Especially when someone else disputes what has been written. So Google needed to make sure they had a way to contact the authors of the material being submitted to Knol. Once the verification process was created for Google Knol, it was easily implemented in profiles. (BTW, you don't have to contribute to Knol to verify your name, and it does not cost anything to go through the verification process.)

Verifying your name tells people who view your profile you are who you say you are, so make sure you do it.

Enter Your Information

Your personal information is entered in three areas: "About me," "Photos," and "Contact Info." You can choose how much to enter, and before you are finished you will be able to choose who is allowed to see some of the information. Let's take a look at each section:

About Me

Google asks for typical information such as name, nicknames, where you grew up, where you live now, and other places you lived. It also asks about the schools you attended, companies you have worked for, what you do. Entering where you grew up, where you live now, and other places you have lived puts markers on a Google map, which is embedded in your profile. (That's cool!)

You are then asked to enter a short bio. Make this something descriptive, that helps identify you as an individual. There are also some fun fields: "Something I can't find using Google," "My superpower," and "Interests." You don't have to fill these out. In fact, all of the fields are optional, so you can fill out as much or as little as you want. As far as I can tell, whether or not you fill in the fields doesn't (yet) affect your ranking when people search for your name.

Photos

Here is where you can enter your user name for Picasa or Flickr, or enter information about another photo service you use, and Google will automatically display photos from the album of your choosing. (I have my Flickr account, with recent photos chosen as the album). The photo stream will appear right below the header of your profile.

Contact Info

I put links to my web sites in the Short Bio part of the About Me section, making it as easy as possible for people to find me. But I also use the Contact Info section to for my email addresses, snail-mail addresses, phone numbers, and IM addresses. You can also indicate your birthday, as well as who is allowed to see the contact information on your profile. Finally, you can create a co-workers group — people who you probably don't mind having your work info (since you work with them) but who you may not want to have your home or mobile information.

Links - The Fun Part

Here is where things get interesting. If you have already viewed my profile, you may have noticed I have well over 100 links for sites I belong to. This is part of protecting my "brand." I may not actually use all these sites - some I will eventually get to, while others I may never use - but my personal or professional brand is protected on each. So should I choose to become more involved with one, my presence there will already be established, which means those who interact with me will have a more consistent experience doing so across different sites.

Here's how to enter links: Once you are done entering your personal information, make sure you are back on the "About Me" page and you will see "Add custom links to my profile" with two fields: for URL and Link name.


Edit your profile-1

Notice the small type: "Examples: Online photo albums, social network profiles, personal websites." This is what you are going to use to keep track of all the web sites you belong to. The only thing you need to do is find the unique URL that will take visitors to your public profile page on any given site. This is because you don't want to send a viewer to the page on which you edit your profile. On some sites, this can be hard to find. Doing so is beyond the scope of this article, but I'll included it as I start taking you to different web sites as we continue our Social Networking experience in Social Networking 102: The Sites. (Coming Soon!)

Enter the public URL for your profile and provide a name for the link, then click the "Add" button. Do this for each site on which you have established a profile.

There are other sites you can use to help manage your profiles, and I will cover them in a future article. Even though I use some of them too, none have provided the simplicity of entering them in my Google profile. It is the one place I know where all of my profile links can be found.

Summary

In this lesson we covered how to use a Google profile to be the one repository people can visit to get the latest information on you, including all the sites on which you have profiles. Having all your site affiliations listed in one place helps you, helps those interested in you, and it helps Google help others find you.

  • Get a Google Gmail address (if you don't have one already)

  • Create a Google Profile

  • Verify your name through Google Knol

  • Enter links to your profiles for the sites you join in your profile.

Assignment: Perhaps not surprisingly, this lesson's assignment is to create your Google profile and start populating it with links for your profiles on the sites to which you already belong. Don't worry if you make a mistake, as everything can be edited later.

This concludes Social Networking 101: Establishing Your Brand and gives you all the tools you need to create a strong personal and professional presence on all those social networking sites out there.

Next up, in Social Networking 102: The Sites we will start exploring those sites, starting with the 800 lb. gorilla of social networking: Facebook.

Lesson 4: Photos and Avatars

Welcome to Social Networking 101! In this series of lessons, we are going to teach you how to establish your presence in the vast world of social networking. Whether you are just starting out, or if you are a social networking maven, we hope to share some unique methods and tools that can save you time and give you a more visible web presence.

If you missed the first three lessons, you might want to go back and read them now.

Why Use a Picture?

A while after Twitter became popular, former Mac Evangelist Guy Kawasaki started a thread about which of his pictures people liked better. It was interesting - even ground-breaking in a way - because Guy was using the power of the micro-blogging service to allow his followers choose what they thought was a better representation for his personal brand.

Why is this important? Because your picture really does say a thousand words about you. When choosing a picture to go with your online persona, it is important your choice reflect the content your brand is intended to represent.

That last sentence was a mouthful. Let's look at it again:

When choosing a picture to go with your online persona, it is important your choice reflect the content your brand is intended to represent.

Simply put, when you assign a picture to your profile on a web site, you should make sure the impression it gives is appropriate for the content of that site. If you are trying to get more clients or provide advice in a blog, that picture of you wearing the Groucho Marx glasses probably isn't appropriate.

Likewise, for a personal blog or on more informal social networking sites, a businesslike pose may betray the more fun aspects of your personality, so maybe a more playful picture is in order.

Choosing the Right Image

Here are some guidelines for choosing just the right picture.

Make sure it is of you, and you alone. People want to see who YOU are. They don't care about Cousin It if they are looking at a page about you.

Use a head shot. If you're hot, there will be plenty of opportunity to post your full body pictures later. If you're not, no one wants to see your entire body anyway. ("Oh look, he's put on 20 pounds since I saw him last.") People want to see your face. Remember, we are talking about social networking here, and absolutely nothing establishes one's social identity better than their face.

Make sure you can crop and resize it. Many web sites have different requirements when it comes to the size of a picture, both in pixels and in file size. So you are going to want to have a hi-res photo you can crop or resize while making sure people can still recognize it's you. (This is why head shots are so important, and another reason why full body and group shots don't work well.)

Use a background that contrasts with your picture. There's a reason professional photographers use backdrops: so they can control the lighting and emphasize the subject. The thing that should stand out is your head. If you have brown hair and were photographed against a brown wall, you won't stand out.

Use proper lighting. If I have to squint to make out your facial features, your picture is too dark. Get a good photo editing program and brighten it up a bit, or better yet, have a professional photographer take your picture. If you really intend on having a web presence, it will be worth it. (BTW, I strongly recommend Pixelmator for image editing. It has all the features most of us will ever need at a fraction of the price for Adobe Photoshop®.)

Use it everywhere. Your picture needs to be as ubiquitous across sites as your user name. When someone sees your user name on a social networking site, they will look at the picture to see if the page belongs to the same person. So if you use different pictures on different sites, your followers might get confused. The one exception to this is when you are establishing both personal and professional brands. For them, it would be appropriate to use two images if you want, but make sure you use them appropriately. A good place to start would be to choose one for linked and another for LinkedIn. (More about that in a minute.)

Make sure it is content appropriate. I can't stress this enough. When choosing a picture to go with your online persona, it is important your choice reflect the content your brand is intended to represent. So much so, in fact, that I am going to give it it's own special section…

What is "Content Appropriate?"

In Lesson One we talked about the possibility of creating both personal and professional brands. If you are looking to establish one identity on the web, then no worries - choose a picture that is "middle of the road." Not too business-looking, but also don't make it look like all you do is goof off.

But if you are interested in building both personal and professional identities on the web, here is where you can really let your personality shine. For instance, I have two distinctly different pictures I use for my online identities:

Chuck (biz)  Chuck at Jazz Fest 200px

Pretty easy to tell which one is for professional use and which is for personal use, huh? Heck, some people have even said it doesn't look like the same person. The one on the left was taken by a professional photographer several years ago, and the one on the right was taken by my wife last year at Jazz Fest. But that's OK - I am showing off different aspects of my personality. When you see one of these pictures associated with my profile on a social networking site, you immediately know how I view that site.

Someday I will get another professional head shot done, but until then, the one above will work just fine for my professional web presence.

Using an Avatar

You might notice I have used the word "picture" or "image" throughout this article so far, but the article's name is "Photos and Avatars." Just what is an avatar anyway? While some people call any picture or image used to visually identify a person in a public profile an "avatar," I think that usage is inappropriate. I mean, you are using a photograph, let's just call it a photo, OK?

According to Wikipedia, "An avatar is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego, whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon (picture) used on Internet forums and other communities, or a text construct found on early systems such as MUDs. It is an 'object' representing the embodiment of the user.l The term 'avatar' can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user."

For our purposes, I am going to suggest that an avatar is a "stylized" version of the image you want to use, or even a characterization of your personality unrelated to your actual appearance. If you think your photo is not distinctive enough, consider using an avatar to convey your image.

There are several services that will assist you in creating avatars. DoppleMe doesn't even use your photo. You start by choosing whether you are male or female, and then add characteristics to your avatar to make it uniquely yours. 

Meeze allows you to create a 3D avatar. The basic stuff is free, although to really dress your avatar up you will need to spend buy what they call "coinz" - the currency of the site.

My favorite, however, is BeFunky, a very well-designed site that allows you to turn any picture into a cartoon or any number of other effects. Here's the avatar I created using my "Chuck at Jazz Fest" picture above:

thechuck

I like that so much, I just might start changing my personal picture over to it.

Other Uses for an Avatar

If you want to hide your true identity online, but nonetheless build a web brand, an avatar is the perfect way to go. After all, it doesn't have to look like you - you just need to use it consistently on all your profiles.

Consider using an image that says something about you, but can still be uniquely yours. For instance, a custom avatar you create that looks nothing like you might be one way to go, but you could also use your favorite food, the building where you live, or a pet.

If you decide to use a photo, make sure it is one you took yourself, or one that you are sure you can use. Stock.xchng, Stockvault.net, and FreeStockPhotos.com are all great places to find pictures you can use for free. But if you grab one of those, make sure you edit it in some way to make it uniquely yours.

For more information on creating an avatar check out this great article on webupon.com: Get Creative: 10 Fun Websites to Create Your Free Avatar.

Updating Your Picture

Some web sites suggest updating your picture in your online profiles. I've even seen it suggested that you update your picture every 6 months. Before you update, think about the purpose of having your picture there in the first place. Is it so people can recognize you if they see you on the street? If so, it is probably a good idea to keep it updated.

For most of us, however, the picture we choose to associate with our online profiles is more to establish our image, and reinforce our personal or professional branding. If that's the case, then the less you update it, the better.

Of course, if your situation changes in some significant way, and your previous situation is reflected in your avatar or photo, then you should probably change it. If you are using the Seattle Tower in your avatar and you no longer live in Seattle, for instance, it might be a good time to change it.

Avatar and Photo No-Nos

  • DON'T use full body shots 

  • DON'T use suggestive or provocative pictures unless it is content appropriate for that particular profile.

  • If you are a woman, DON'T use more makeup for your photo than you would normally. The point is so people will be able to recognize you.

  • DON'T use photos or artwork belonging to someone else without their permission.

  • DON'T use "generic" pictures that say nothing about you.

Summary

  • Choose a picture that says something about you personally.
  • Choose a picture appropriate for the profile(s) to which you are posting.
  • Use a different photo for your personal and professional profiles.
  • Unless you are trying to hide your true identity online, use a good headshot of yourself.
  • Use the same picture EVERYWHERE, in every similar profile.

Assignment: Choose a photo for use when you start creating profiles on social networking sites. (Choose two if you are doing both professional and personal branding.)

Extra Credit: Stylize your picture using BeFunky.com, or create an individual avatar.

Next Lesson: Get a Google Profile.

We are almost done with Social Networking 101, where you learn all the tools you need to brand yourself when establishing your web presence. One more lesson and you graduate to Social Networking 102: The Sites.


Lesson 3: Passwords

Welcome to Social Networking 101! In this series of lessons, we are going to teach you how to establish your presence in the vast world of social networking. Whether you are just starting out, or if you are a social networking maven, we hope to share some unique methods and tools that can save you time and give you a more visible web presence.

If you missed either of the first two lessons, you might want to go back and read them now.

A Word About Passwords

Now that you have a user name or two, you might think you are all set. But not so fast. Equally important, if not more so, is the password you choose when you sign up on a web site. 

It is tempting to use the same password everywhere, but don't do it. You don't want someone who figures out your password hacking into every site to which you belong. Likewise, do not use any part of your password in your user name. If your user name is pizzaboy2009, you might think it is clever to have your password be "9002yobazzip" but it isn't.

Remember, you are creating a brand for your web presence. Once it is established, it will be fairly easy for people to find you on various sites. So having good password security is an absolute must.

Your password should be easy to remember, yet difficult to figure out. This isn't as hard as it seems. Lifehacker has a great article on how you can create unlimited passwords with one simple rule set. The article gives you several tips for creating great, easy to remember passwords.

Most sites require at least six characters, one of them a number, as part of the password, and I have even run across a few that insist one of the characters be upper case.

Have Mac OS X Create A Password For You

Mac OS X has a great password generator built into it. Here's how to access it:

  1. In the Finder, select Utilities from the Go menu. (The Utilities folder will open in a new window.)

  2. In the window that just opened, locate "Keychain Access" and launch it by double-clicking its icon.

    NOTE: The Mac OS X Keychain stores stuff like passwords for web sites, your wireless networks, and a variety of other things. When Safari auto-fills information for you, some of it comes from your Keychain. Keychain Access lets you view and edit the contents of your keychain. You can also create multiple keychains, and store secure notes right in the keychain application. Since you need a password to access the keychain, it can be a great place to store sensitive information, such as credit card numbers.

  3. Select New Password Item… from the File menu.
  4. Don't worry about the fields in this window for now, just click the icon that looks like a key on the right side of the window. I've reproduced the window below and drawn a circle around it for you:

    Keychain Access

  5. You should see a window that looks like this:

    Password Assistant-1

    You can control the length of the password with the slider, and the Quality meter will tell you how strong that password is. You can select different types of passwords from the Type pulldown menu, or even type in your own passwords to see how strong they are.

  6. Once you have a password you like, simply copy it and paste it somewhere you can find it later. Better yet, write it down so you are not storing your passwords in clear text where someone can find it later.
You can find more information about the Mac OS X Keychain, including its evolution from a discontinued Apple technology called PowerTalk in this Wikipedia article.

Use 1Password

There is a great piece of software called 1Password from Agile Solutions that I strongly recommend. It will do all the dirty work for you by both creating a unique password for each site to which you become a member, and then it will remember those passwords and fill them in for you when you revisit the site.

I use 1Password myself, and can't recommend it enough. Macworld recently did a video podcast about it, which serves as an excellent intro to its many features and benefits:

Password No-Nos

  • There are some things you DON'T want to do when creating a password. 

  • DON'T use personal information, such as names, birthdays, addresses, and telephone numbers.

  • DON'T use passwords considered to be "defaults" like "admin" or "root" (or - do I even have to say it - "password"). You can find a list of "default" passwords used for various devices here.

  • DON'T use all number passwords, and when you use numbers, don't use them in sequence or duplicate more than two at a time ("1234," "666," "0000", etc.)

Another Great Password Idea

I found this one on LifeHacker.com. It is a great idea, but one you might not want to use around a lot of people. When you need a new password, look for some electronic device you always have with you, such as your cell phone or computer. You should be able to find several unique numbers on that device. These would include a model number, serial number, FCC ID, and/or a MAC address (Media Access Control address, not related to Macintosh computers). If you can remember which one you used for what purpose they make great passwords: they are always with you, and are almost always over 6 characters.

Summary

  • No matter how you ultimately decide to create your passwords, here are three simple rules to remember:

    • Make it at least six characters
    • Use at least one number
    • Make at least one character UPPER CASE.
  • Create strong passwords using Mac OS X Keychain Access or 1Password
  • Try to create passwords that are easy for you remember, but hard for others to figure out.
  • Don't use "default" passwords
  • Get 1Password

Assignment: Decide on a method for creating passwords (use one of the tips in the LifeHacker article, use Mac OS X Keychain Access or 1Password) and use that method the next time you need to create a password.

Extra Credit: Go to any web sites for which you already have a password and change the password using your chosen method.


Next Lesson: Photos and Avatars


Lesson 2: Choosing a User Name

Welcome to Social Networking 101! In this series of lessons, we are going to teach you how to establish your presence in the vast world of social networking. Whether you are just starting out, or if you are a social networking maven, we hope to share some unique methods and tools that can save you time and give you a more visible web presence.

If you missed lesson one, Establishing Your "Brand," you might want to go back and read it now.

Choosing a Unique Name

In the last lesson I discussed the importance of establishing a personal "brand" and mentioned how some people may even want to establish two brands: one each for their personal and professional web presence. That is what I did, establishing "thechuck" for my personal stuff and "macchuck" for my professional web presence. 

Or at least that is what I tried to do...

In this lesson, we are going to look at how you go about choosing a user name. This is where things can get messy. The more memorable your user name, the better your brand. "TheChuck" or "MacChuck" are pretty easy to remember, and once you start seeing one or the other on a variety of sites, you rapidly start to build an impression of the person belonging to the name. User names are one of the most important things that contribute to the first impression you give to someone online. (There is even an article on how a good user name can improve your online dating success!)

With so many Internet savvy users out there now, however, the more recognizable your user name is, the more likely has already been taken by someone else on at least some of the sites to which you want to belong. I ran into this myself on more than one occasion. So here are a few tips to help you choose a good user name (and what to do if it is already taken).

Context

Consider the context in which user name will be used. We have already divided it into two groups: "Personal" and "Professional." For instance, you may not want the first impression you give someone on a professional site to be cuteasakitten99 or headbanger007

Also consider how much you want to be associated with the user name. For me, I prefer to be known and I want my user name to reflect that. But you can just as easily build a brand while keeping your real-world identity hidden. If that is what you want to do, make sure you don't use your real name or initials as part of the user name.

Variations

Using a variation of your name and adding characters can also help make a user name unique. Try spelling your name backwards, or adding special characters such as an underscore ("_") or periods. Make sure you do not start or end your user name with a special character, however, and don't use the at sign ("@") as that is reserved for email addresses.

Use special characters sparingly. When you stray from standard alpha-numeric characters, the result can be unattractive to look at and hard to remember. It is unlikely anyone would want to interact with §mar†∑∑¶an†$ (and you probably don't want to interact with those who do). Some sites also restrict which characters you can use, or how many special characters can be in a user name. So best to stick with simple ones, like the underscore ("_"), hash mark ("#") or period, which s especially useful when separating a first and last name — "firstname.lastname@mydomain.com" for instance.

Different Languages

If you really want to be adventurous, consider translating all or part of your user name into another language. A quick Google search will reveal web pages that can translate words from English to just about any other language, including Latin, Esperanto, and even Klingon! Just for kicks, here is how MonkeyBoy translates in those three:

Latin: MonachusPuer

Esperanto: MakakoKnabo

Klingon: tlhIngan_HolloDHom

The underscore used in the Klingon translation is where a space occurs in the Klingon word for "Monkey." The underscore is used because most web sites won't allow spaces in user names. So if your name is "Mary Jane" you might want to use "Mary_Jane" instead.

Compound Words

Other ways to create variations on your user name would be to create a compound word with something associated with you. My professional username ("MacChuck") reflects my work with Macs, for instance, and one of my AIM screen names ("nolamacchuck") reflects both my interest in Macs and my location (New Orleans, LA). 

You need to be careful, however, as it can also be limiting. Choosing "StarWarsMikey" may show your affinity for the George Lucas film series, but could cause prospective employers to not take you seriously (and raise the ire of others should you participate in online forums at startrek.com).

The bottom line is, don't give up on your desired user name just because someone else has it. You can use the techniques above to create a unique variation or two.

Online Tools for Generating User Names

If you are having trouble coming up with a user name, or if you just want to have a little fun, try out generatorland.com. This is a really fun site. They have a bunch of name generators, some of which are actually useful. If all you want is a nondescript but memorable user name, this site will create one for you. What it seems to lack is a way to create user names based on a word or phrase you input, however.

For a more personalized approach, try the Screen Name Generator from Make Words.com. This site gives you three fields into which you can put words that relate to you in some way. The site then generates 99 potential screen names for you. Many of the names may not be particularly interesting (or desirable), and some may already be taken, but it is a great tool to help you get started choosing a user name if you are having trouble coming up with one on your own.

Add A Suffix

No matter how hard you try, it is very likely someone will beat you to the punch on at least some of the sites to which you want to belong. When this happens, you can either choose a different user name, or you can add an easy to remember variant to it.

Some people make their user name unique by tacking numbers on the end. The number should be easy to remember, but you don't want to use important info from bank accounts, credit cards, or your social security number. You may not want to use birthdays, addresses, or phone numbers either, as such information might be a bit too revealing.

When this happened to me, I started using MacChuck instead of TheChuck on personal sites, and vice versa on professional sites. Obviously, this has the potential to create a small amount of confusion. So lately I have started tacking "2237" on the end of either of those when the original form is already taken. So far, my chosen name with "2237" on the end has always been available.

("2237" btw, is the last four digits of my very first cell phone number. It isn't in service any more, and it is very easy to remember, making it perfect at the end of a user name.)

Check Availability

Now that you have some user names to choose from, let's see how available they are on various social networking sites. You could, of course, visit each site and manually input names to see which are available, but that would take forever. 

Fortunately, there is a better way.

There are several web sites that will help you determine whether or not your desired user name is being used by someone else. Here are seven that are easy to use and cover all the popular social networking sites:

Friends call me… checks a huge number of web sites for your desired user name, so it is a great place to start. There are two cool things about this site: they group the sites they check into categories, allowing you to focus on particular areas of interest; and they offer a free service to notify you whenever a new site comes online so you can register on it.

Knowem will check your desired user name on 120 web sites. If you are busy, for a one time charge of $64.95 per user name it will also register your name on all of the sites it supports. That's about 50 cents per site, and well worth it if you don't have the time to spare to register on the sites yourself.

Namechk is a quick and dirty checker that tries your desired name on 72 different sites.

Usernamecheck is another quick and dirty user name checking service that checks 68 sites.

Wakcoopa also checks for your user name across 68 different sites.

Usernamez is another quick and dirty site that checks 66 sites.

Dialusername checks 62 sites for your desired user name.

When using the above resources you will notice they check many of the same sites. That's OK. They may use different methods to do their checking, so their results may differ slightly. As you try different user names, keep track of how many sites list the name as available. When you are finished checking all your user name choices on all the name-checking sites, choose the user name with the most availability on all of them.

Why Bother?

Is all this really necessary? Do you really need to see if your user name is available on 200 or so sites? That depends. This is where we get back to branding. As I said in Lesson One, if all you want to do is register on a couple of sites, you don't have to worry much about branding, and remembering different user names for those two sites (if necessary) will be no problem.

But if you want to establish a strong web presence, either socially or professionally, having a user name that is consistent across all the sites on which you register is an absolute must. It makes it easy for others to find you, and, more importantly, makes the task of remembering which user names go with what sites a LOT easier for you.

Summary

  • Choose a user name easy to remember for you and those with whom you will interact.
  • Use special characters to help make your user name unique without making it hard to remember.
  • Don't start your user name with a special character. Use letters or numbers only.
  • Consider translating your desired user name to a different language if it is not available in English.
  • Use compound words to better describe you and increase the likelihood your user name will be unique.
  • Tack on an easy to remember number when your chosen user name is taken.
  • Use one or more name checking sites to see where your desired user name is already registered.

Assignment: In lesson one you were asked to come up with 5 user names (or 10 if you also wanted to establish a professional brand). Select your best favorites and modify them (if necessary) using information from his article. Run them through the services listed above. Modify again if necessary until the majority of sites show the username as available.

Extra Credit: What compound word is represented by "§mar†∑∑¶an†$"? Post your answer in the comments.


Next Lesson: Passwords


Lesson 1: Establish Your "Brand."

Welcome to Social Networking 101! In this series of lessons, we are going to teach you how to establish your presence in the vast world of social networking. Whether you are just starting out, or if you are a social networking maven, we hope to share some unique methods and tools that can save you time and give you a more visible web presence.

In this lesson, we are going to look at what makes something a brand, and how a personal brand differs from a national or corporate brand.

I am sure you already have a pretty good idea of what a brand is, and whether you know it or not, you also know the importance of branding. Every time you go to the grocery store the stuff you purchase is influenced by how well companies have established their brand in your mind.

You are probably familiar with the famous Coke vs. Pepsi taste tests. Number 2 soda maker Pepsi wanted to prove their cola tasted better than their competitor's. So they filmed people tasting both without knowing which was which, and (of course) showed people choosing Pepsi in their commercials. What they didn't show is that the actual split was very close to 50/50 when the taster has no idea which cola they are tasting. (This has been verified in independent tests.)

But here is what is interesting: when researchers told people which was which FIRST, 75% chose Coke over Pepsi. I am not going to get into the subtleties of brand imagery here, but both Coke and Pepsi spend oodles of money on branding. To be sure, they are both well-known and successful brands, but, for whatever reason, Coke seems able to out-market Pepsi for the all-important mindshare of the consumer.

More importantly, however, if I were to ask you to name other brands of cola, could you? (Kudos if you immediately thought of "RC Cola." For a list of many different brands, go to this Wikipedia link and scroll all the way to the bottom.)

Personal Branding vs. National or Corporate Branding

Corporations depend on branding to establish themselves in the mindset of their consumers. In the case of Coke and Pepsi, the two companies fight hard and spend lots of money for even a fraction of a percentage of market share.

Your personal brand establishes how others see you. It can involve everything from how you dress, to the places you go, the car you drive, etc. People "brand" themselves in order to help their careers stand out. In some cases, such branding can blur the line between the individual and the brand they create. Such is the case with Donald Trump, who uses his last name on the skyscrapers he builds and the products he endorses. For what it's worth, the term "Personal Branding" is thought to have first been used by Tom Peters in a 1997 article.

For our purposes, however, we are only talking about your online presence. If all you want is to have a Facebook or MySpace page, then all you need is an email address. In that case, move along, there's nothing to see here. But if you want to explore the vast array of opportunities other social networking sites offer, then you should establish a "personal" brand, which starts with the user name you choose.


Why Establish a Personal Brand?

Establishing your "brand" is the single most important thing you need to do before you delve into the world of social networking. First, think about who you are. What defines you as a person? Is there any one word or short phrase that describes you? If so, consider using that as your personal brand.

Years ago, while working for Apple, one of the developers with whom I worked coined the term "The Chuck" in reference to me. It stuck, and I started using it for a variety of things, including my Mac-dot-com (now MobileMe) email address. As social networking sites became popular, it was only natural to use that as my online identity. (For more on how I became "The Chuck," Take a look at the Home Page of my personal web site.)

User Name = Brand

Your user name is like the front door to a business or the headline of a newspaper. Your web presence will be partially defined by the name you choose. People will form a first impression based on the name you choose, so it's gotta be good.

Choose something easy to remember (for both you and those who will be viewing it), and, if at all possible, descriptive. But be careful: choosing something like "pizzaboy2009" might seem cute and descriptive now, but might that moniker be just a bit too limiting? What if you decide to participate in an online community of people trying to lose weight? And in 2015 that "2009" on the end of the name is going to seem pretty dated. 

Personal, Professional, or Both?

As I started becoming familiar with more and more social networking web sites, it became apparent that I would be interacting with people on both a personal and professional level, and the tone of those interactions were likely to be distinctly different. Its not that I didn't want business associates, clients, or potential clients seeing my personal site, I just needed a place where business communications could take place without the distraction of my personal life.

My personal interactions would be with either people who already knew me, or people with shared personal interests, such as New Orleans, Jazz & Blues, and good food. My professional interactions would be with clients, or those who shared my career interests in Macs, iPhones, Internet, and being more productive in their work environment.

For most, this isn't an issue. If you have a regular "9 to 5" job, your professional life is probably defined by that, so all you need is one user name for your personal online presence. But if you make part of your living in the virtual world, consider having two online brands: one for your personal life and another for your professional endeavors.

That is what I did. I use the "MacChuck" for my business stuff, and "TheChuck" for my personal stuff. I even have two distinctly different web sites to support each: macchuck.com and thechuck.me for my personal stuff.

Summary

  • Your online personal brand defines how others perceive you, and as Tom Peters said, "Perception is reality."
  • Your user name is the prime access point to your personal brand. It is like the front door to your business, a web site's home page, or the headline on a newspaper.
  • You may need different "brands" if you want to share both your personal and professional lives with others online.


ASSIGNMENT: Come up with at least 5 user names for your personal brand. Don't worry about whether they are available or not, we'll cover that and see how you did in the next lesson.

EXTRA CREDIT: If you want to separate your personal and professional identities on line, create 5 more user names for your professional persona.


Next Lesson: Choosing A User Name


©2009 Chuck Rogers Consulting