How To Obtain Inactive Twitter Usernames
If the name you want to obtain is your registered trademark then the process is very simple. You just fill in the Reporting a Trademark Issue form on the Twitter support website. This is the easiest case and the only one that is likely to get you a fast result at the time of writing. Because of this some people have considered even registering a trademark just to have the proof of ownership needed to make a claim. You can file a trademark application through the US Patent and Trademark Office website but this costs hundreds of dollars and does not guarantee Twitter will give you the name.
When the name you want is not a trademark then it is much more difficult. Until a few months ago Twitter was releasing inactive usernames when people sent in a request through the support page. Recently Twitter has been responding that they are developing a new solution to this problem and suggesting you use another name. Some reports suggest that you are likely to get the inactive name released if you are well known, but you can't count on this method. Exactly what Twitter is working on is not clear, but it is likely to be some sort of automatic system that releases names after a certain period of inactivity. There is a discussion on the developer pages about this. Remember that an account that seems inactive might in fact be very active. Most people judge activity by the number of tweets but there are also users who have accounts only for listening and in this case Twitter would consider also the date of the most recent login in determining if an account is really inactive.
If the username you want is not a trademark and Twitter does not release it when you make a support request here are three other approaches you can try.
STEP 1. TRY TO CONTACT THE USER THROUGH THE TWITTER PROFILE. If the name is being squatted by someone who is hoping to sell it you should consider yourself lucky because they will make sure they can be contacted. First try tweeting @messages to the account because that will either be seen by the holder or, more likely, will trigger a notification mail that they will see. If there is no reply to the @mention then look on the profile page for web page address or some other contact information.
STEP 2. TRY GOOGLING THE TWITTERNAME. Many people use their Twitternames in other contexts as a convenient ID so there might be some other page somewhere that gives you a clue about their identity. When the twittername is a real name but not very common you might end up with a list of possible candidate owners short enough to consider trying to contact them all. If the name is something odd like OnionEars87 then you might find some unique trace. If there is no trace at all then you have to go to step 3.
STEP 3. TRY OFFERING A REWARD FOR THE NAME OF THE OWNER. Nothing motivates people more than free money so offering a reward for the person who can connect you with the account owner can also work. Remember that Twitter does not allow you to buy or sell usernames but in this case the reward is just for help in contacting the person. This is a long shot because it is difficult to know where to post the reward. Many inactive accounts are owned by people who are not active in any social media and they could be physically anywhere so they are very hard to reach.
When all three steps have failed then the options left are to use another name or to wait until Twitter announces a new policy*. This means that if there are inactive names you would like to acquire then you should be watching carefully the news from Twitter. If I hear anything I will update this post immediately and tweet a link. Meantime if you succeed in getting a name released or encounter new difficulties please let me know, either through the comments or through any other channel, so I can update the information here.
And finally, remember to watch out for the launch of new websites and make sure you register your name quickly before it is too late. This is an essential part of any brand protection strategy.
* New policy update: I will check Twitter for policy updates and update this page when it changes. On 19 March 2013 Twitter's help service was still saying that they plan to release inactive names in bulk but that there is no timeframe for that. You can read their official explanation at: https://support.twitter.com/articles/15362-inactive-account-policy
If you would like to know when Twitter changes their inactive username policy one idea is to follow me on Twitter -- @andrewhennigan -- where I will pass on all the news i see.
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