Social media re-branding — the good, the bad and the ugly

Or, how LinkedIn & Facebook nearly killed me (and our company)

julian rogers
Mar 19, 2017 · 12 min read

Our social media re-brand saga

We got acquired. It happens. It could happen to you. When it does, you will need to re-brand on your social media platforms. You have my future sympathy.

Because you will embark on a journey that will bewilder and enrage. You will confront just how little control you have over your own brand on the platforms on which you rely for daily communication.

Some platforms make it easy. They are wise. Or uncaring. Uncaring is fine. More than fine, actually. Uncaring is preferable when you need to change your name. All we are saying is give peace a chance. Let us change our own *&%$ name.

Some do, some don’t. These are the good guys, the bad guys and the ugly guys when it comes to re-branding on social media.

You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. So here’s the tl;dr version of which social media platform will cooperate with your re-brand:

The good (easy-peasy)

  • Twitter
  • Medium
  • Pinterest

The bad (they made it hard, but they came around — mostly)

  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube

The ugly

  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon

The brand I was working on behalf of is not a good fit for Instagram and other platforms better suited to millennials, so we don’t have experience wrestling with them over a re-brand. Due to having never gotten any traffic from Google+, we abandoned it and never noticed a difference.

If you have re-branding stories to share with these and other platforms, feel free to leave a response.

Twitter

You wanna change your handle on Twitter? Go ahead. Change it. Simplicity in and of itself. The only complexity you’ll run into is making sure the handle you want is available, so plan ahead.

Secure your new handle now. You can do a switcheroo to it, while maintaining your old handle, with a simple temporary name change that will allow you to retain all of your followers. It’s easy and no stress. Read this article from Moz for more detailed instruction on how to make the switch (plus other helpful info — but be aware that the article is three years old and may have some outdated advice)

Medium

Same thing. Go into your settings and change it to whatever you need. If your Medium account is set up with your Twitter or Facebook log-in, pay close attention to that.

Pinterest

Again, easy-peasy. Change your name in settings without any fuss.

Here’s where the road darkens.

LinkedIn

Oh, how institutional arrogance and lack of attention to detail by the social media platforms can undo your best laid plans during an acquisition. Happily, we ultimately arrived at a satisfactory ending. Why we had to battle so hard to make a simple identity change is a mystery.

It starts with bad policy. It continued with a human that was out of their depth.

He or she probably meant well. They were trying to help, I believe. I don’t know why LinkedIn refused to help in the first place, but for reasons unknown they decided to help after I fired off one last complaint. We had given up, actually. Our (at the time, current) parent company, also acquired and going through a re-brand, had even far more at stake. LinkedIn told them “no” as well. They had given up too, while making parallel efforts to change their LinkedIn identity.

But suddenly, LinkedIn decided to help after refusing all along the way. Apparently, all I had to do was complain in the right way.

I’ll back up. We asked LinkedIn to change our account name, due to being acquired by another company. No dice. LinkedIn’s rules forbid companies from changing their name. They “recommend” that you start all over with a new account. Their policy only allows you to change your name in minor ways, like adding or removing “LLC,” or “Inc.” or similar.

To the company (us) this means abandoning any brand equity we’ve generated to date on the platform. To the platform (LinkedIn) this means their product loses value. If you force companies to start all over again during a re-brand, you lower the value your platform provides to them.

So who are they protecting? Why stand in the way of the entities that bring users to your platform? There are two reasons I can think of:

  1. They want to force you to pay for placement to recoup your following. And/or
  2. They want to protect individual LinkedIn users that may be affiliated with a brand in their past work history. This makes sense only to a point. If a person used to work for Company X and then in the future, Company X changes its name to ACME Company, then the individual’s work history could look untruthful if, when in fact, that individual never worked at ACME Company.

Except that the individual is not forced to use the new brand name in their work history. They can write in the actual old company name. Individual users on LinkedIn are not compromised in this way. So it looks like №1 is the answer.

The reality, however, is that if a company is re-branding, it is re-branding. A name change is not negotiable. It’s binary: it’s happening or it isn’t. It is also not uncommon.

If LinkedIn is trying to save themselves the bother of companies changing names on their platform, they’re really looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The easiest solution, instead of demanding control of the names of your customers (paying or not), is to stay out of it.

Instead, LinkedIn blocks name changes. The result: myriad questions and demands from companies that are moving ahead with name changes, whether LinkedIn allows it or not.

This was us. We are many. With more than 467, 000, 000 users in 200 countries, LinkedIn must field hundreds of requests to change company names weekly. Why are you telling that many people “no” that often? Why are you paying for staff to manage these inquiries when the easiest and most user-friendly option is to just get out of the way?

Back to our story.

We asked for a name change (again, in contrast to Twitter, Medium & Pinterest, where we just made the change in our settings menu). We were denied until the customer service person suddenly decided to say “yes.”

I fired off my last complaint that expressed my frustration with the way their policy was causing us to lose brand equity on their platform and, lo and behold, we got the green light to change our name.

Why? No idea.

Maybe the person went rogue. Maybe LinkedIn changed policy. Maybe the person got special permission from their supervisor. Maybe it’s because our brand was relatively small, so they figured it would not shake things up much. No reason was given, but we gladly took the late, surprise opportunity to finally get what we asked for in the first place.

And here’s where it got even worse.

Helpful Customer Service Person, once on board with changing our name, ignored my specific instructions for our name change, which (unfortunately) includes a new, six-word title. Our new title begins with the first two words that make up the name of the acquiring company — a well-known national brand (you can consider us a regional sub-brand). The brand has a LinkedIn presence already, of course.

What did HCSP do? They created a new company name and URL that went: http://www.linkedin.com/company/[acquiring company’s name]. Not our name, but the name of our brand new owners. How our brand new owners don’t already have this name locked down is a mystery, but thanks to HCSP, our new regional sub-brand was now over-positioned as the destination for anyone that would search for our new parent company.

More (now urgent) emails followed, of course. Ultimately, HCSP came around to revising our name change request to the name we asked for in the first place. Which, ultimately, was fine. Except …

… during the course of this long, unnecessary, complicated process, HCSP never asked us when we wanted all of this to happen. We were part of a long-in-the-works brand rollout, with a specific market go-live date.

Since we were forced to react quickly to the surprise, erroneous, with-no-rationale changes to our new name in the hopes that we could both get what we wanted and minimize the damage due to HCSP’s errors, we didn’t additionally complain about the timing of it. Because we still don’t know why LinkedIn reversed its decision. On the chance that this act of non-obstruction was because of an individual or unsanctioned effort, we decided to not press the issue.

As a result, we went live with our new name about a week before we were supposed to. A faux pas that could have been avoided by LinkedIn with any of the following policy changes:

  1. Don’t get in our way to begin with.
  2. Train your personnel. In addition to being helpful — HCSP was outwardly very helpful — train your personnel to pay close attention to the specific details of a company’s name and don’t arbitrarily truncate a name for any reason.
  3. Always ask “when” if making changes to a brand’s identity.

Personally, I like #1 the most.

YouTube

YouTube, of course, is a major driver in the Google world. As such, it is a cluster of overly complicated, unnecessary entanglements that make changing your company’s name a confusing headache. Good luck.

If you have other (personal or business) Google accounts, you will be forced to confront how/if they are aligned with one another. You may have more fortitude for that than we did. Once we finally were able to log in to the correct (we think) destination, we were able to change our display name and header image, etc. To this date, our URL remains unchanged. It still reflects our old company identity.

StumbleUpon

You may or may not use StumbleUpon. We have found that it actually delivers more traffic to our content than Twitter does, so we continue to use it. Even though they don’t want us to.

That’s right. During the course of our re-brand, StumbleUpon informed us that they refuse to let us change our name on their platform. As an extra bonus, they informed us that it’s a violation of their terms of service to use their platform as an organization, as opposed to being an individual.

Alrighty then. Our new company identity shall remain unknown on the StumbleUpon platform. Since they refuse to revise our handle, which consisted of an acronym of our old company identity, we just made up a name that fits the old acronym, full of industry-related words that don’t identify as a specific company.

Facebook

Our Facebook saga is similar to our LinkedIn saga, with a few key differences. When you request a name change from LinkedIn, at least they have the decency to respond and tell you what their decision is.

Not so with Facebook. I’ll get to the specifics of that shortly. Another key difference with re-branding on Facebook is that you, as the “owner” of a company page, can change your URL and your @handle to whatever you want. You can also change your company description, logo, background image, website and other contact information at will. What you cannot change without Facebook’s permission is your display name. That takes their approval, which likely will not receive a response until you can get an actual human at Facebook involved.

There is no way to get a human at Facebook involved if you are small or otherwise insignificant in Facebook’s eyes.

We first made the request to change our Facebook display name weeks in advance of our re-brand’s market go-live date. No response. We waited. Having not done this before, we did not know if this was typical treatment. Nor did we know how likely or unlikely it was that Facebook would allow us to change the one last thing on our account that we hadn’t already changed (or was about to update on go-live date).

When it got close to go-live time, I made the request again. This time, a response came within a day: “Denied.”

That was it. No rationale. No nothing. An appeal form pops up at this stage of the process, so I made an appeal. In our appeal, I asked for the reason why they denied our request. Maybe that annoyed them because like our intial request, our case disappeared entirely from the Facebook page support inbox system.

Can you feel the Facebook warmth? If you’re wondering if I might be crazy or otherwise incompetent, you may be on to something. I certainly started to wonder after dealing with Facebook for a while. As it turns out, two other colleagues of mine, who also have admin rights to our Facebook account, confirmed that they saw the “denial” message too.

But it’s gone, folks. No record that we ever requested anything. No response to our appeal was forthcoming. We think. We just don’t know. And we don’t know if we’ll know.

It wasn’t looking good, kiddies. But soon arrived the heroes of our story.

Like anything in life, success all depends on who you know. Clearly, using Facebook’s forms & processes was a dead end. It takes an influential human to get anything done. Facebook made it clear that I was not among that population.

But I was tangentially connected to someone who was. Through a colleague at our (then current) parent company, I was able to get a request in to the social media director of our acquiring company, who has some influence with a Facebook account representative because he makes her a lot of money. Fortunately, he was willing to help, so he engaged his Facebook account rep. This was the only way it was going to work. And once it did, it was a glide path to success thanks to the very “on it” Facebook account rep, who made a direct appeal to another human in Facebook customer service.

Of course, the human in Facebook customer service who ultimately ended up making our display name request change within a few days had no record of any such request in their system. He also mistakenly referred to me as my colleague at our (then current) parent company, so I wasn’t clear if he was trying to help us or her. We also missed a few of his email messages due to our overly aggressive spam email system, so communication still was not as smooth as ideal. “Ideal” being, simply:

  1. Submit request via form.
  2. See name updated.

But it got done, and only about five days after our market go-live date. It would have been nice to have had our simple request attended to in a more timely fashion, but beggars cannot be choosers on Facebook.

For those of you scoring at home, Facebook started out more obstructionist than LinkedIn, but ultimately saved the day through the help of two helpful people in two different departments at Facebook, at the behest of our new colleague at our new company, so we extend a sincere thank you to them. It’s a shame that they had to step in to save the situation, when it all could have been avoided by not standing in our way in the first place.

That’s our story. May we never re-brand again. What’s your story?

Follow Marketing Communications Leadership for more insights and discussions about — you guessed it — marketing, communications and leadership. Also join our LinkedIn group, also cleverly titled Marketing Communications Leadership.

Julian Rogers is the editor and publisher of The Hit Job, Marketing Communications Leadership and is the owner of Juju Eye Communications.

Marketing Communications Leadership

Real takes on marketing + communications + leadership

julian rogers

Written by

Maker of words and other annoyances. Communicator for hire. Owner of Juju Eye Communications + publisher of The Hit Job. Twitter: (@thejujueye).

Marketing Communications Leadership

Real takes on marketing + communications + leadership

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