Feature Image

tl;dr I managed to snag the old @Nashville_MTA Twitter account handle because the agency re-branded their public-facing services to “WeGo Public Transit”, and since it, as of this writing, is still linked from even their own home page.

This past Thursday, the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) embarked on a months-in-the-making rebranding effort1 to transition to “WeGo Public Transit” as the umbrella name for the organization’s public facing work. This post is not going to pass any judgement on whether this was a needed strategy, but I do hope it is a cautionary tale for any other group that may be looking to do the same.

The MTA teased for several days this week that the intended to make a “major announcement” that week, and folks should tune in. This is a common strategy in marketing to build anticipating and maximize exposure.

The teasers incorporated elements of the new branding and introduced it in a way meant to build excitement. Finally, early Thursday morning, the agency made a full cutover to the new brand.

Well, sort of.

It started with a tweet.

That went live at 7:15 a.m. and by that time the Twitter handle had changed from @Nashville_MTA to @WeGoTransit. Around that time, the landing page website went live at http://www.wegotransit.com/, even though (for now) it still points you back to the regular http://www.nashvilmta.org website. The latter received new branding as well, and was updated throughout the day.

So far, so good.

But I am, incidentally, sitting on a bus as I’m reading through all of this, catching it towards the downtown transit hub, Music City Central (that’s rebranded, too). They retweet a local television journalist that is covering the rebrand.

I noticed that the journalist did not use the new @WeGoTransit handle (it will take some getting used to), so I click through.

“User not found.”

At this point, I realized that they had used the existing @Nashville_MTA account and changed its handle. This was likely done to preserve follower count and simplicity.

So I tried to register @Nashville_MTA from my phone. It worked.

I will take a moment here and say that some of this is Twitter’s fault for not protecting old account handles, for at least a time, when that handle is changed.

As a supporter of public transit, I want what is best for the agency and the community as a whole. So I have no ulterior motives when snagging an account that many transit riders interacted with regularly to voice their opinions or ask questions. But I know there are plenty of people out there who would have jumped at the opportunity to get it either as a parody troll account or worse.

The MTA (I’m going to continue calling them that when speaking of the parent organization that receives taxpayer dollars) does not have a huge staff and – after spending any time with their web properties – you can tell that they have a bit of a learning curve on certain aspects of digital marketing.

From my phone, I started copying the new brand identity assets and such to the “old” @Nashville_MTA account with helpful redirects to the new one. I had finished this task before the bus arrived downtown.

Perhaps I had not given them enough time to preserve the old account? The evidence isn’t great for that theory, as you can click on any of the social links at the bottom of the website and receive a 404 page … except for Twitter. The only conclusion I can reach is that they did not have a plan in place to maintain the “old” links at all, and their abandonment of them has not quite reached the stage where they have been totally scrubbed from their online presence.

Social Links

I have let them know that I have the account, both publicly and in an email to their marketing staff (as listed on the Nashville RTA staff directory). I haven’t received a response yet.

Some tips for a digital rebrand

If your organization is looking to do a similar rebranding, here are some pieces of advice from an Internet marketing perspective to protect your old brand as well as to better support the new one.

  1. Take an inventory of what digital assets link to your current branding. These should be prioritized for updates based on how much traffic they send to your brand to minimize the impact of the change. Compile a list of external websites that you do not control that will need outreach to update their links.
  2. Prepare the new assets well ahead of time. You do not want a graphic designer or copywriter to work under a self-inflicted emergency.
  3. Go over the steps for updating profiles, DNS records, etc. Make sure you have the logins readily available for these services, as timing can be tough. Domains in particular can take up to several hours to fully migrate across the Internet unless you already have it pointed at the same IP address.
  4. Whenever possible, preserve the old handles and web domains. This is the one that the MTA missed, and why I have the Twitter account. These now-abandoned profiles still have value to redirect visitors to your new branding.
  5. If it is impractical to change everything at once, do it in phases. There may be a strong desire to bury an old brand as quickly as possible, but there are times when a phased approach over a few days or weeks is more sound strategy than a hectic cut-over. Keep your organization’s best interests in mind above any overestimated marketing “splash.”
  6. Use the proper redirect status codes for web links. There are several great resources on changing a web domain, but the single most important detail is that the correct redirect status code (301 for permanent changes) is used to forward users to the new website.

By the way …

I still need somebody from the MTA to let me know they received my email to regain control over that account. (Fixed!) 😁 I don’t know how to help folks like Kat.

  1. See Page 5 of these board retreat minutes for some interesting details about how they came up with the brand, in particular about their “research” process.