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WTF Are These New YouTube Handles

October 17, 2022

YouTube Handles are here. And if you didn't know they were coming, well, join the club. But now YouTube is making a pretty big deal about making sure users select their channel handle. 

We've seen emails, in-app notifications, a new page on the YouTube site, ad campaigns, and more. So what's the big deal with YouTube handles?

YouTube Handles: Welcome To 2006

Leave it to YouTube to officially adopt "handles" for users 16 years after Twitter first popularized the concept. We kid, we kid. YouTube has always had a different model and different content requirements than social media sites, so we understand how the idea of identifying users with handles didn't really fit the platform for a long time. 

When we talk about YouTube handles, we're talking about that string of text following an @ symbol used to call, tag, or otherwise lead to a channel. If you use Twitter or Instagram or TikTok you're already familiar with the concept. 

They can be simple, funny, unique, or bland. But whatever they are, they only exist for a single user. Once it's taken, it's taken. (Actually, that's not entirely true — would you believe there are actually dedicated online marketplaces for people who want to sell the rights to use social media handles? For real). 

Either way, YouTube is finally adopting the typical social media nomenclature for user identification.

Why YouTube Wants Users To Have Handles

So why is YouTube just now adopting the social media-style method of identifying users? Well, let's first look at how channels used to be named on YouTube, and then look at some obvious moves YouTube is making in the content space.

YouTube's original channel naming structure was a little convoluted. For starters, channels did not have to be unique in name. There could be hundreds of channels called "Mandy's World," for instance. By the very nature of YouTube, that means smaller users were already having a harder time standing out. 

On top of that, most small YouTube channels were not allowed to choose their own unique URL until gaining at least 100 followers. That means the official text you'd have to enter to find a small channel was super convoluted. Like, "www.youtube.com/channel/askq298rq34rifa" etc. Nobody is remembering that. 

Once a user could officially claim their channel URL, it cleared things up a lot. But only for directing people from off YouTube to the platform. What if a user wanted to highlight another channel on the platform while in the comments or descriptions? 

Time to paste that ugly link (or use a link shortener). Basically, YouTube's channel identification structure was built for the vlogging world, not the social media world. But as we've seen, YouTube wants a bigger slice of social.

A Short-Form Push

YouTube is the undisputed king of medium and long-form video content. It has been since launch and will be for the foreseeable future. 

But YouTube wants more.

When TikTok emerged with a re-popularization of the short-form video concept that Vine pioneered, rival companies took immediate notice. While one of Vine's biggest shortcomings was a failure to monetize, platforms like Instagram and Facebook already had robust monetization methods in place. So adding "Reels" to the Instagram and Facebook content portfolio was a no-brainer. Meanwhile, TikTok's ad platform is growing quickly, but not nearly as quickly as the platform itself. 

YouTube, on the other hand, may have the most ready-made platform when it comes to monetizing short-form video content. When YouTube introduced "Shorts" in September 2020, there was notable skepticism. The actual rollout of the platform didn't do much to assuage concerns that it would be an afterthought.

YouTube shorts were clunky, difficult to identify within channel feeds, and just generally not that fun to use. Oh, and big YouTubers were none-too-pleased to assume they once again needed to weather a massive platform change.

But two years later, Shorts are buzzing. YouTube is doing a better job making the videos stand out in the platform and showing how they complement longer content. It sure helps that YouTube recently announced a 45 percent ad revenue split for Shorts creators. That number swamps current earning potentials on TikTok — and includes way more eligible users.

YouTube Handles Show The Platform Is Serious About Social

So in many ways, the introduction of YouTube Handles signifies YouTube's official foray into social media. If Shorts was the first obvious attempt at competing with apps like TikTok and Instagram, handles are a sign that YouTube is doubling down on it.

In practice, YouTube handles allow users to tag their favorite creators in comments and on videos, as well as share their own channel is a more efficient way. It's a fool-proof way to better build community on a platform that may be the best content platform at creating community outside of Twitch. 

Oh, and that brings up another point — YouTube's push in the livestreaming space. Solidifying a single channel's YouTube presence in long videos, Shorts, and livestreaming is a really powerful, if not obvious concept. Switching everybody over to a YouTube handle is the best way to do that.

So What Do I Need To Know Right Now About YouTube Handles?

For starters, they're not available to everybody just yet. Smaller channels don't have the option to choose their own YouTube handle, but they're being rolled out. 

Also, in many cases, YouTube is reserving a channel's name as its handle. That way creators don't have to worry about somebody coming in and sniping their name for a handle. So for instance, the YouTube channel "MoonlightSocial" automatically has @MoonlightSocial reserved as a handle. If the user wanted to change it to something like @MoonlightSocialOfficial they could, but that would also free up @MoonlightSocial for somebody else to use. 

Also, once you officially accept your YouTube handle, YouTube will change your URL as well. So it would be www.youtube.com/@MoonlightSocial in this case (similar to TikTok). 

Basically, if you already use YouTube a lot and have a channel with at least a few hundred subscribers, you probably don't need to do too much to make sure your YouTube handle is exactly what you want. However, YouTube is recommending you change your official URLs for YouTube everywhere you list them outside the platform. 

Here's a short video YouTube created on the subject, if you want to hear it straight from them.

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