Etiquette (2)

A lot of people have had to go through the process of changing their Twitter handles over the years. All too often, people joined Twitter, not really knowing what to make of it, and later realized they wanted their real name, or their company name, or some other name as their handle. The trick has always been figuring out what’s the best way of going about it. This week’s question addresses that.

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Twitter Handle #SMEtiquette

Dear Amy:

What are your thoughts on changing Twitter handles? I love my current username but would like to modify it so it includes my professional pseudonym. Should I create a second account (even though the content I provide would not change)? I value my followers and do not want to confuse them, but I’d really like a handle that I can add to my business card.

Also, if I do change my handle, what is the proper etiquette for notifying my followers? Would I only contact those who I frequently interact with? Pin a tweet at the top of my timeline or…?

Many thanks for your time and opinion!

Sincerely,
Troubled Over Twitter

Dear Troubled Over Twitter:

As I noted above, this has happened to many people over the years. In fact, I recall when the Popular Mechanics account finally got its hands on the @popmech handle – how to best change to the new account was an issue. In the end, it made more sense to change the existing handle to @popmech – followers were unlikely to be confused (many of us hadn’t evenĀ really noticed that wasn’t the existing handle) so that the follower base would not have to be built all over again.

For brands, it can be a bigger issue than for individuals. Brands are likely to have links all over the web to their Twitter account. That link changes when you change your handle – the last part of your URL becomes your new name. In other words, the URL to my Twitter account now is: http://twitter.com/AmyVernon. If I changed my handle to LumiMom, my URL would change to http://twitter.com/LumiMom (brb, changing my Twitter handle). So if I had lots of links on my website and other places that went to the first URL, I’d have to think twice about the best course of action.

That’s the biggest downside of changing your current Twitter handle instead of opening a new account, but it can cause other issues: Your followers might be confused seeing this account they never followed. Oracle learned the lesson the hard way when they consolidated Facebook pages (yes, slightly different from the Twitter issue, but same concept), merging the likes from all of them into a brand-new page. Lots was written about the issue and it was generally agreed that Oracle had made a serious misstep.

But we’re not talking about brands here. We’re talking about the Rest of Us. People. Individuals. Sure, “Personal Branding” and all that – but it is still a very different issue when we’re talking about an individual than a company – whether or not the Supreme Court thinks so. I digress, sorry.

Most of us are unlikely to have links to our Twitter bios in too many places. On our other social accounts – LinkedIn, Facebook, maybe Google Plus or Pinterest. There’s our About.me page or our website (or both). But for the most part, it’s a relatively small task to go around and fix that. And if you miss something and catch it later on, you can always fix it then.

As for your followers, if you announce it, tweet it out once or twice a day for a few days, and pin a tweet to the top of your profile, most of the people who you have consistent connections with have a good chance of seeing it. Another good move: In your Twitter bio, mention it. To use my previous example, my LumiMom profile bio would include the sentence: “Formerly known as @AmyVernon”. This way, if anyone is confused and comes to your profile to figure out who you are, they will quickly and easily see who you are and were and go about their business. They’ll probably also then see your pinned tweet and realize they had just missed the news.

This makes far more sense than starting a new profile and having to rebuild your entire community.

Of course, this only really works if you’re going to still be sharing the same sort of content, as you mentioned you would be. Your followers followed you for a reason, and that reason had to do with what you share. If you were to start sharing significantly different content, you’d probably want to shutter your existing profile and start a new one, building a new community there.

The problem with starting a whole new profile, of course, is that you then need to start from scratch, from zero followers. Unless you feel as if your current following is filled with bots, or what you’re sharing is so different you feel as if you’d anger or upset them, that never makes the most sense.

This is what I always suggest: Change your handle, then create a new account with the old handle. On that new account, send out one Tweet, that you’re now at the new handle, and pin it to your profile. Your bio should direct people to the new handle as well.

This solves a lot of problems: You get to keep your old following, under the new name. People who knew your old handle will go to that URL, see a note there that you no longer use that account and will head to the new one.

To simplify, using the example from earlier, if I were to change my handle I would:

  • Change my username in my existing Twitter account from AmyVernon to LumiMom
  • Add a line in my bio saying, “I used to be @AmyVernon”
  • Create a new account with the username @AmyVernon
  • Pin a tweet on the @AmyVernon account that leads people to @LumiMom
  • Put a line in the @AmyVernon bio that tells them my new username is @LumiMom
  • Tweet out several times over several days from @LumiMom that I’m the person who used to be known as @AmyVernon
  • Pin one of those tweets to my @LumiMom profile

People get it – lots of people change accounts. So long as you know they’re changing or have changed, they’re going to be OK with it. Good luck!

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