A while back, I made a change. My original handle on Twitter was @BizRepublic, reflecting the original name of our company, Business Republic. I changed it to @TheOmarZenhom, reflecting the original name of…me. Some of our readers and listeners wondered about the ramifications of doing so. Would we lose followers and exposure? Would it jeopardize our brand? In the Social Media Era, how big of an impact does changing your handle have?
I had good reasons for the switch. In fact, I wish I’d made it sooner (Actually, I wish I’d started with my current handle. More on that later.). It was worth navigating the “side effects,” which were surprisingly mild in my case, with the kind of businesses I’m running. It was even worth losing a few followers.
I’ve always said that independent business owners have a tendency to make too much of social media. But in choosing or changing your social media moniker, there are some things worth considering.
Don’t Make Your Audience Work
I’d been on Twitter for some time, trying to grow my audience. Of course, having that presence on Twitter is a great marketing opportunity, and I wanted to see that “Followers” number rise. But what I heard over and over was that people were trying to find me by using my actual name. If someone enjoyed the podcast or a blog I’d written, or heard about a webinar I’d done, they weren’t trying to find “Business Republic.” They were trying to find Omar Zenhom.
Now, followers could still find me under “Biz Republic” as long as my actual name was in my profile. However, it created an unnecessary obstacle. Twitter is a medium in which attention spans aren’t long. Every character— and every second— counts. That means giving a potential customer even a moment’s difficulty in finding me or verifying my account was a problem. In a split-second, 140-character-limit context, decisions are made in less than a snap. You’ve got to make it easy for people to follow you.
Some Things Never Change
The other problem with @BizRepublic is that it refers to one company. I’ve developed, run, and been associated with several businesses over the years. While I’m proud of all of them, none of them define my career as an entrepreneur on their own.
Business changes. You take on different projects, you go in different directions, you develop along with your circumstances. While one business or project might consume you at the moment, it might not be the center of your world next year. Your name, on the other hand, stays the same unless you choose to change it. If you’re developing a true and loyal fanbase, it’s you they’ll be looking for, not just your business or product.
When I finally made the switch to my given name, my fears about losing visibility turned out to be unfounded. In reality, the people who actually cared about what I was doing were associating me with my name, not the name of the company. Because I invest my personality into my businesses, that’s what people remember.
“Followers” vs Followers
When I changed my handle, it meant that every tweet in which I was referred to as @BizRepublic died. Those tweets now link to nothing (actually, they link to “Page Not Found”). They’re lost, along with some followers. Some entrepreneurs try to “migrate” their followers to a new account by keeping the old one active just to redirect people to the new account. This is neither efficient nor particularly worth the effort.
Instead, I chose to let @BizRepublc go. I had plenty of content, connections, and moves to make using my own name. Yes, I lost some links and some followers. But as time went on and @TheOmarZenhom carved out its niche, I found out I didn’t really need them. What’s the value of a year-old tweet anyway? As for the followers, changing handles provided a great example of the “true fans” theory of marketing.
“Followers” on Twitter are one thing. But your true followers, the ones who actually care about what you’re doing and are likely to either be or become customers, are quite another. The people who truly enjoy your content, use your product, and have a relationship with you aren’t just on Twitter. You’re interacting with them via email, via webinar, and most importantly, on your own website. Social media is a useful tool. But the people who’ll sustain your business will hear from you elsewhere as well.
Since I changed handles, I haven’t heard from a single person who had trouble finding me on Twitter. They know my name, and they’re in touch with me in other ways. The audience I’m Tweeting to will be there, because it’s part of a bigger picture. The real followers came along, and they always will.
Twitter isn’t your business. No social media platform is. They’re a way to communicate. They’re marketing tools. But you can’t depend on them to carry your voice to your audience. These platforms change their algorithms and formats. New platforms rise up as established ones lose popularity. And the audience of a given platform is so vast that you have little chance of being heard— unless some slice of the audience is already listening for you.
For the bulk of your business, you have to use your own website. Relying on the fickle whims of social media is not a marketing plan. It’s a lack of one. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking success is just a retweet away. And don’t overrate the importance of your social media presence. Changing my handle worked out fine, because Twitter is just a supplement to my overall marketing strategy.
If I had to do over, I’d have gone with my own name from day one. If you’re just starting out, I’d advise you learn from my mistake and do the same. Your business will change. But the heart of that business is your vision, your outlook, your personality. Let your social media presence be a reflection of that, and you’ll get the most out of it.