It's happened to the best of us, we've written an article with embedded Tweets and Instagram posts, months later we're checking our SEO and spot broken links. Turns out those sources we linked to changed their handles, making us adjust all our links with a vow to stay more vigilant. But, as we increasingly use social media posts as source material; this begs the question, once your social handle gains traction, is there ever a reason to change it? Here PR pros weigh in.
If you jumped on Twitter when it first launched, you may have been a lot more likely to have done so under a pseudonym or nickname. Similarly, your Facebook and LinkedIn company profiles may have had to add additional words because someone else got there first and claimed your ideal handle.
For some influences, having quirky social handles don’t get in the way of partnering with brands. But for others, what seemed like a whimsical social handle choice may now actively be holding back your career. Something more basic and straightforward—like your real-life name—might be more helpful.
After all, you can just change your social handles on the major platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) without starting over or losing your momentum. But on the other hand, changing your handles could result in losing all the embeds and account mentions you’ve earned over time.
Before you flip the switch on a social channel rebrand, take into account these brand and influencer social account renaming experiences.
You’ve Outgrown Your Social Handles
Confession time: @SFerika wasn’t my first Twitter handle. That honor goes to an account I created in 2008 using my typical Internet message boards user handle. When I decided I was ready to go forth with a professional Twitter account, I created a new one rather than renaming my old personal account since the two accounts wouldn’t have the same audiences. But for many other people, it makes more sense to rebrand their existing account.
“In my former advertising life, I acquired the nickname ‘Ringo’ from a few of my old coworkers,” said Joseph “JK Kalinowski, Creative Director, Content Marketing Institute. “Long story short, it involved a Beatles poster that was hanging in my office and a person walked into my office and said ‘What’s up Ringo?’ The name stuck. When it was time to create a Twitter account some years ago, I used the handle ‘@ringo66.’ Fast forward a few years to my beginnings with CMI & CMWorld. Everyone in the CMI family called me ‘JK’ because it got confusing that we had two ‘Joes’—Pulizzi and Kalinowski. We joked that it was a ‘Joverload’ at CMI. Our community knew me as JK, so it just made sense to switch the handle to @jkkalinowski.”
For Kalinowski, changing his Twitter handle made it easier for him to connect with people he met in the course of his job. “Using my ‘recognizable’ name instead of a nickname/codename made me recognizable to the people that I wanted to connect with. For me, especially after an event like #CMWorld where you meet and make new connections, having that clarity in my handle helped my connection/follows.”
Your Social Handle Reflects a Job You No Longer Have
When marketing consultant Maureen Jann created her Twitter account @MaureenOnPoint, she was the in-house marketing director for Point It digital marketing agency. While many people would have changed their social handles immediately after leaving the position, Maureen didn’t.
“I had originally picked my twitter handle to be a complimentary play on words with my employer’s company name (Point It),” she said. “When fortunes shifted and my new situation left me building my own business under my new moniker, SuperDeluxe Marketing, I opted to keep my handle.”
Maureen was already building her influence under the existing handle and had consistent feedback from her followers that the handle resonated with what she shared on the channel.
“Although the word ‘point’ was in the name, it was general enough to live outside of my initial employer’s umbrella,” she said. “Ultimately, I chose the name carefully to begin with to compliment my skills, my desire to be considered a thought leader, and finally to be compatible with my company’s theme.”
It’s important to note Jann did eventually change her Twiter handle to @SuperDeluxeMo as part of her business development for her new business, SuperDeluxe Marketing.
Someone Got There First But Didn’t Last
Sometimes, brands have to settle for their second choice social handles because someone else got there first. But over time, those sought-after social handles can once again become available.
“When we first set up our accounts @Kineo was already owned by another company,” said Andie Coupland, now the marketing manager at HT2 Labs. “We had to go with a longer version of our name (@kineolearning). Having kept tabs on the handle, it appeared to be dormant. After approaching the owner of the brand a few times, we finally manage to get hold of the @Kineo handle.”
For Coupland, the handle change was worth any initial confusion it might have caused due to it ultimately being a better fit for the brand.
“At the time meant a shorter handle meant more characters for tweets when we were tagging/being tagged, and was also easier and more consistent with our other social channels,” she said. “It took us a while to get the handle, but it was worth it to own the best-fit handle for our brand.”
While you might not want to keep your handle if it included a specific brand reference that doesn’t resonate on its own, there are cases’ like Maureen’s—where it makes sense to keep your initial social handles.
You’re Renaming and Rebranding Your Company
Sometimes, there’s no way around changing your social media handles. In the case of a major rebrand that includes a company name change, you really can’t make the case for keeping the social handles the same. But at the same time, you need to be careful about how you make the change to provide minimal disruption to both your customers and the brand.
Timing is everything when it comes to making a brand name change. For marketer Carmen Hill, that meant juggling two Twitter accounts over the weekend.
“For Twitter, I followed the Moz advice. We had the new handle ready to go, but the account wasn’t active. When it was go-time (scheduled for the weekend with a Sunday evening email announcement), we changed the new account’s handle to something else. Then, I used it the new name for the old account, so we kept all our followers, tweets, etc. Then, we went back to the new account and changed that handle to the old company handle. The hardest part was keeping all the passwords straight and doing things in the right order, quickly.”
While Hill’s rebrand went well, Coupland’s more recent social handle rebrand hit a small snag.
“Due to timing and lack of communication with the organizers, our old @ht2learning handle was used during a big industry awards night that was live-tweeted,” she said. “So, what should have been a big push for our new brand ended up a big missed opportunity.”
Questions to Consider Before Making a Change
Now that you’ve seen some examples of how changing their social handles has affected some of your peers, you’re ready to evaluate if it makes sense for you. Ask yourself and your marketing team the following questions:
- Do you have a number of earned links to your social profiles that would break when you make the change?
- Is your social handle printed on hard-copy collateral or event signage that would have to be redone?
- Have you actively encouraged your brand fans to create and share their user-generated content and include your brand handle?
If your answer is yes to all of the above, you may want to hold off on changing your social handles as there is the potential for it to cause a negative social outcome and adversely affect your brand reputation.
On the other hand, if you can answer yes to the following questions, a change of handle may be in store:
- Have your fans been confused about where to find you because you have multiple different handles?
- Do your fans have a shorter, affectionate name they use for your brand and company in social posts?
- Did you initially choose a handle that differs from your brand because someone had claimed your brand name handle before you did?
Ready to take the plunge on your social media rebrand? Before you do, here’s a piece of advice from Coupland. “My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you get your timing and comms right. Admittedly, sometimes there won’t be a ‘good time’, but you have to take the plunge at some point (!), so use the opportunity to do a bit of a brand awareness exercise and re-engage your new and existing audiences.”