BlackBerry CEO/Twitter latecomer on how he got @JohnChen handle: ‘Beats me...very lucky’

051515blog chen twitter profile

There are more John Chens on Twitter than a patient person can count, yet when Blackberry CEO John Chen started tweeting just a week ago he had somehow managed to secure the coveted and unique-among-Chens Twitter handle of @JohnChen.


As anyone who has ever signed up for an email or social media account knows, you can never get your own name plain and simple unless you’re an earliest of early adopters or you have a highly uncommon name. You Browns, Smiths, Johnsons -- and Chens -- know this better than most.

Twitter has been around for nine years now and if you enter the name John Chen into its people search you can scroll page after page of John Chens for as long as you’re willing to scroll. Their Twitter handles, however, are all @JohnChenPlusANumber or @JohnMiddleInitialChen or some other variation involving underscores or a nickname.

There’s only one unadorned @JohnChen … and that account belongs to the guy who just started tweeting on May 8 with a shout-out to T-Mobile CEO John Legere.

051515blog chen to legere tweet

So, again, how in the name of the Fail Whale did CEO John Chen land this Moby Dick of a Twitter moniker?

Neither BlackBerry nor Twitter public relations responded to my inquiries, so I went directly to the source and asked John Chen via @JohnChen.

His reply: “Beats me … very lucky.”

051515blog twitter exchange with john chen

Very lucky?

Though Chen’s account swears it is really CEO John Chen doing the actual tweeting, corporate executives do have people who handle details like establishing social media accounts, so I am perfectly willing to believe that BlackBerry’s John Chen doesn’t know how he came to control the Twitter account @JohnChen. But it’s a near certainty that this marriage of man and handle involved more than mere luck.

Money probably changed hands was my first thought, as I’m sure it was for most of you.

But Twitter prohibits such transactions and we all know that violating website terms of use is considered taboo on the Internet. (Yes, I jest.)

The New York Post reports:

Twitter rules bar the buying and selling of handles. Despite that, people and companies will negotiate — quietly but aggressively — to trade for a simple handle, that is, one that doesn’t require “the real” or underscores or a number that shows you are the umpteenth user under that name.

“Companies who are trying to get a handle on their usernames are being quite creative,” said Jean-Jacques Dahan, founder of UK-based Zeusmark Consulting Group. “It is impossible to know how common it is that Twitter-handle deals are made but I do assume that it is a growing marketplace.”

That story was published in 2013 and noted that tens of thousands of dollars sometimes change hands in these transactions that Twitter prohibits (wink, wink).  

So to recap: I’m not saying that BlackBerry or its CEO definitely bought @JohnChen. It’s possible that he or whichever company employee got the boss up and tweeting just got lucky.

However, in the famous words of the E-trade baby, the odds of that having happened are about the same as being mauled by a polar bear and a regular bear in the same day.

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