Surviving an online rebrand.
Yesterday was a watershed here at the new blog in that it was the first day where the site traffic was larger than the old site at Randomelements. As such I thought it would be a good opportunity to run through how the rebranding was conducted.
Starting a new site is never easy (Rudy will tell you that) but changing your whole brand when you already have content, subscribers and an established identity (I have been using the Randomelements name for different reasons since 2000) is dangerous and generally not recommended.
So, with all that in mind, how did I go about my rebrand and live tell the tale?
I had an idea that things were going to change a while ago so I sowed the seeds by first changing my username on Twitter - it made sense in other ways too; Twitter is a personal service with direct interaction between people so using my actual name instead of a brand means people know exactly who they are talking to. Then, with any new service I joined I used my name instead of the brand.
With this in place the next step is to plan the change and know exactly why you're doing it. If you don't know yourself how are you going to explain it to others and get them to follow you?
Don't just drop a change on your readers, inform them of what is going to happen so they can have time to adjust - we are creatures of habit after all.
Once the preparation work has been done the new brand can be created but ideally run in parallel to the existing one. This allows for a gradual switch over; your readers can follow in their own time which makes them more comfortable with the change.
The fear with a new site (especially a blog) is that it will be empty and not provide a "destination". If it is relevant the best advice is to re-post some of your best, recent content. This gives visitors something immediate to hit and, as it will be your best quality content, be more likely to stick around or subscribe to your feed.
Now is also a good time to re-evaluate what you do and where your passions lie. It is pointless trying to fool yourself and your readers writing about topics you are no longer passionate about - they'll know. Instead, you should re-focus to your strengths and current passions; not only will this reflect in the writing itself enhancing the quality of what you do but it will also make it far easier to actually write the content in the first place. Ideas flow more freely when you don't have to force yourself to write on any given topic, stick to what interests you and content will sometimes write itself.
When the new brand has been fleshed out you can then go back and look at migrating your existing readers. The first step is to redirect the old RSS feed so people will automatically get your new content and not miss anything - again make sure that you have communicated that this is going to happen and, in doing so, make sure that you frame it in positive terms. It needs to sound like you are doing your readers a favour.
Your old site should also be adorned with notices advising of the change of location for those new readers who may have visited during or after the rebranding process and therefore may not know what has been happening.
Personally, I will be keeping the Randomelements domain live for the foreseeable future as there is a good quantity of popular content. If you are planning on taking an old site down I would not do this too soon. Give people plenty of time to discover the change for themselves before forcing them to the new site with a redirection. Again, you want to make people comfortable with the move as many readers will not read the new site if they think the content they are looking for is no longer available.
It goes both ways
You can't expect people to just magically turn up at your new site, you need to be promoting it in any location that you have a presence. Make sure that you are linking to others especially when referring to them in your content. Make others realise that your content is related and they will have more reason to reciprocate.
Using social media is key to building links and relationships with other people in your area and attracting new readers but avoid spamming your followers. You should have a good mix of conversation and promotion of others around updates about your own site. Additionally, you should promote a consistent image across any service that you use to interact with others - ensure that you are using the same name and avatar to make yourself instantly recognisable.
As discussed, I personally think that a successful rebranding will be the result of really understanding why you want to rebrand then effectively communicating this with your readers before even making a change. Once a change has been made you are then relying on the quality of your content to carry you through.
A brand should be chosen carefully and the scope of coverage should also be considered. How many topics should a blog cover before it loses its identity? What shouldn't you consider as a brand name? Laurence commented to this effect on an earlier post.
If the rebranding is done in a planned, measured way then the outcome should be fine.
What would you advise someone looking to change their online brand? How should they go about it and what services should they employ to help get the message across?