NOVEMBER 16, 2012

The Importance of Country Branding on Twitter

In late August 2012 the Icelandic tourism board* launched an online competition asking internet users to find an alternative name for the country. “What would you name Iceland if this was your first glimpse?” they asked on their Twitter account. Several thousand name suggestions have come in so far but no one has suggested @Iceland, the country’s English language Twitter handle. Fact is that name is already taken…

And the Icelandic tourism board is not alone: 95% of the 193 UN country names have been registered on Twitter but they are not in the hands of their government. Only nine countries officially own their English country names on Twitter. Most other country handles are currently squatted by individual Twitter users. Often the accounts are either dormant, have never been active or have been suspended by Twitter, in short, they are no longer available.

@GreatBritain, @Israel, @SouthAfrica, @Spain and @Sweden have been quite successful at promoting their countries with their respective national handles on Twitter totaling more than 200,000 followers as the latest installment of Burson-Marsteller’s Twiplomacy study shows.

Why is it so important to register one’s country Twitter handle? On Twitter every letter counts: @USA is five times shorter than @DiscoverAmerica, the Twitter handle of Brand USA; @VisitBritain could save ten characters if it had the @UK Twitter handle and the friendly folks @ThisIsIceland could halve their Twitter name by claiming @Iceland.

Secondly, who should have the right to the country name if not the government or the official tourism organization? Three quarters of all the country Twitter handles are currently in the hands of private individuals who, apart from Chad Bullock, Jordan Halvorsen and Leslie Montenegro have little legal claim to the Twitter handle apart from being the first to have registered it.

And finally having the country’s Twitter handle improves search engine ranking since Twitter handles have a high Google page rank and almost always appear on the first two Google result pages.

It is often complicated to identify and contact Twitter account owners in the hope that they will relinquish their Twitter handle. While it is fairly simple to transfer an account to another user, it is often difficult to identify the current account owner, especially those who withhold their identity on their Twitter profile and who do not react to public @mentions.

Twitter states in its Name Squatting Policy “that we will not release inactive or squatted usernames except in cases of trademark infringement.” As Twitter is becoming the main platform for public diplomacy it is urgent that it releases these suspended, dormant and inactive country accounts to their respective governments.

*Disclosure: Burson-Marsteller works for the Icelandic government The Government of Iceland brings in Burson-Marsteller UK for Communications and Public Affairs

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