Photo by Matthew T. Rader/Illustration by Mark Byrnes

Cities need to get on-brand with their brands, because the situation is hilariously bad.

Which sounds like the better social-media representative for your city: a soccer team or an egg? For residents of Santa Fe who use Twitter, those are the two accounts repping the city's proper name. There's @SantaFe, the public account for the Santa Fe S.A. fútbol club from Bogotá. And then there's @Santa_Fe,  with the faceless "egg" avatar that Twitter generates when you haven't uploaded a photo—several of whose 46 followers appear to be looking for the Colombian soccer team.

People in the know follow @SantaFeGov, the official account for The City Different, of course. But almost twice as many people follow @CityofSantaFe, which represents a Santa Fe travel site.

Or consider Dave Cohen, a Twitter user from Mountain View, California. Dave doesn't seem to get too much out of Twitter. In two years, he's issued just one tweet, regarding the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman (R.I.P.). Yet when he joined up on Twitter back in April 2008, he gobbled up some valuable Twitter real estate: @dc. He appears to know it, too.

No worries: There's always @washingtondc. Except that one's taken, too, by yet another travel site. From there, things get desperate: The official Twitter account for the D.C. government, @DCGovWeb, has half the followers of @DCGov, the handle for a reporter for Computerworld.  

Why do so few cities own their formal names on Twitter? It comes as no surprise that very few states do, as BuzzFeed's Brendan Klinkenberg observes, since there are only 50 states to begin with. But there are lots and lots of cities: Surely some of them were on the ball in the early days of Twitter. Plus, a lot of those cities have variants or nicknames that would work just fine for an official city account.

But nope. Check out @SanFrancisco, which is run by what appears to be an automated weather site. (As if anyone ever had a question about the weather in San Francisco. Good morning, San Francisco, today it's kind of foggy, prepare for a bunch of micro-climates, better wear layers.) On the other hand, here's the single tweet from @SF:

What about @SanFran? Suspended. Or @BayArea? Japanese. The city must count itself lucky to have @sfgov.

"Yo, New York, y'all," reads the Twitter bio for @NewYork, whose last tweet (in January) was a retweet of @Manhattan—whose last tweet was the one @NewYork liked so much. Great job, everybody. Expect nothing better from @newyorkcity (a travel site). At least @nyc is competent, if still not official.

Out in the boroughs, it's no better: @Brooklyn is obnoxious, @Queens got suspended, and @StatenIsland has only tweeted twice. The voice of the Bronx isn't Matt Southworth (@Bronx), but rather @desusnice and @THEKIDMERO.

Run down a list of more than 25 major metro areas, in fact, and you'll find that none of the cities own their names on Twitter. None of them even own the most common variants. Cities are so bad at Twitter:

  • Los Angeles: @LosAngeles (an L.A. resident), @LA ("LA is short for LaurieAnne")
  • Chicago: @Chicago (travel site) @Chi (German?), @chitown (suspended), @windycity (suspended), @thewindycity (last updated in 2010)
  • Houston: @Houston (weather), @htown (private)
  • Philadelphia: @Philadelphia (travel site), @philly (Philadelphia sports fan site, obviously)
  • Miami: @Miami (Miami resident with a P.O. Box in Vegas?)
  • Atlanta: @Atlanta (travel site), @ATL ("I am not: a city, an airport, any sports team, a band, a rapper, a law blog, or a teachers’ union")
  • Phoenix: @Phoenix (a gamer, maybe?)
  • San Antonio: @SanAntonio (fan site, maybe?), @San_Antonio (account that retweeted San Antonio residents on Twitter—sounds fun!—but went inactive in December 2009), @SA (suspended)
  • San Diego: @SanDiego (travel site), @San_Diego ("Internet and Business News and Events about San Diego"), @SD (New Yorker named Sebastian)
  • Dallas: @Dallas (outrageous: a San Francisco resident named Dallas), @BigD (a painter named Dennis), @TheBigD (a Disney podcaster), @DFW (fan site... for the most part)

Congratulations are in order, then, to Oklahoma City, the one and only place I could find whose government had the wherewithal to acquire the appropriate Twitter handle for its official feed. Oklahoma City scooped up @OKC back in April 2008. But the city also registered @cityofOKC the next month, and appears to use both accounts—or at least they did before last August, when they stopped using the better, shorter handle, for whatever reason.

But not even Oklahoma City played every corner: @OklahomaCity was suspended, while @Oklahoma_City posted its last Tweet back in July 2009, broadcasting a spam link for diet pills to its 19 followers.

If some of these false city accounts are squatters, then cities don't appear to have ponied up to secure them. What's surprising is that more cities haven't successfully appealed to take possession of the suspended accounts: @Seattle and @Indianapolis, for example, are ostensibly up for grabs. These cities need to get on brand with their brands already.

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