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Is your brand ready to wade into the wild and wonderful waters of social media? A social media style guide is one of the first things you should put into place. What exactly is a social media style guide? In simple terms, it’s your team’s manual for how your brand should appear and act on social media. It provides guidelines for what your content should look like, too.

If you’re only somewhat familiar with social media, you might be surprised at just how many moving parts it has.

A social media style guide has a number of important purposes. Just like autoworkers need to make parts that fit certain makes and models of cars, a social media style guide helps your team create the content that best reflects your brand. The purposes of a social media style guide include:

  • Creating and keeping a consistent brand image and voice across social media platforms
  • Preventing mistakes and missteps, which could quickly go viral
  • Providing steps to take for damage control if mistakes happen
  • Preventing confusion among social media team members
  • Providing training for new hires or for someone who has to temporarily step in to fill a social media role

What Does a Social Media Style Guide Include?

A social media style guide includes instructions for every aspect of social media that your team might encounter. It can encompass a wide range of provisions, such as:

  • A list of the social media platforms your brand is on or plans to be active on
  • Descriptions of how your brand’s voice and tone should sound
  • The colors you should use in your posts
  • When you should post
  • How you should handle elements like emojis and hashtags

What Are the Benefits of a Social Media Style Guide?

When you create a social media style guide, the benefits quickly become apparent. Employees don’t make as many mistakes or have to ask as many questions. Your team has more time to be creative and to focus on quality content. Those benefits all add up to one main upside — a social media style guide makes everyone’s job easier. A thorough guide:

  • Presents a cohesive, easily identifiable brand image, which creates a sense of trust with consumers
  • Saves time by providing quick, easy-to-access social media guidance in one place
  • Helps keep everyone in the company on the same page
  • Can be updated as needed
  • Establishes content- and image-quality standards
  • Can provide guidance for customer service protocols on social media

What Should You Include in a Social Media Style Guide?

Remember to keep updating your style guide. Social media rules and platforms can change quickly, so stay informed. Here are tips for some of the most important elements you should include to set the foundation for your style guide:

  • Company Mission: When your company’s mission is clearly stated, your team gets a better idea of the type of content needed to accomplish it.
  • Brand Image: You should also define your brand’s image or personality to help steer your content. Think in terms of descriptive phrases like “stylish and cost-conscious,” “active and healthy” or “funny and trendy.”
  • Your Brand’s Social Media Goals: Your brand’s social media goals can get lost in the shuffle. When your team knows what they are, it makes it easier for them to choose the right types of content to use.
  • Personas for Your Customers: Think about the types of customers you have and create personas for them. List their traits so your team can create and tailor content with them in mind.
  • Content Schedule with Posting Guidelines: Include a schedule of how often your team should post and on which platforms. Be sure to note dates that might affect content, like when holidays and/or sales take place.
  • Your Brand’s Social Media Platforms: It might seem basic, but sometimes the most essential things get overlooked. Your team needs to know all of the social media platforms your brand is active on. Everyone should know the usernames of the profiles, too.
  • Formatting: Different social media platforms have different formatting requirements. Include info on elements like hashtags, links and video, like the platforms where they get better engagement rates. For example, point out the character limits on Twitter and what the best-performing character counts for tweets are.
  • Graphic Design: Include the fonts, colors and logos your team should use to ensure the consistency of your brand image across platforms.
  • Using Symbols, Ideograms and Images: Lay out the ground rules for if, how, when and where to use ideograms, images and symbols. These include emojis, hashtags, memes and gifs. Identify the hashtags that are most relevant to your brand and industry that your team should use most often.
  • Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Standards: Set standards for grammar, punctuation and spelling that answer questions like: Should you use AP or Chicago style for grammar and punctuation? If your audience has an international English-speaking audience, should you use US or UK spelling? Is the use of exclamation points consistent with your brand’s image? Which abbreviations or acronyms will you use?
  • Types of Content, Videos and Images to Use in Posts: Answer questions like: What sources should you use to get images? What are the preferred image libraries to use? Is there a budget to pay for images or should you only use those that are free? What resolution and what size should images be? What is the preferred length for videos?
  • Asking Permission and Giving Credit for Images and Content: Include guidelines for using the content and images of others. Define intellectual property. Be specific about the differences between the permissible sharing of content, copyright infringement and plagiarism. Be clear about the potential consequences of plagiarism and copyright infringement.
  • Calls to Action (CTAs): Include instructions for using CTAs, like where they should be placed in posts and the type of language to use.
  • Brand Voice and Tone Guidelines: Be specific when describing the voice, language and tone your team should use on social media and how these might vary across platforms. Will your voice be upbeat and conversational? How about authoritative and serious, or maybe funny and quirky? Give examples that your team can follow. One person’s idea of funny and quirky might be very different from the image your brand wants to present.

How to Handle Consumer Engagement on Social Media

The guide should explain how your brand should respond to negative and/or positive comments or customer service issues. Answer questions like how staff should deal with Internet trolls — with humor, by ignoring them or by using some other tactic? When should they try to handle an issue themselves, and when should they refer it to someone higher up or in another department? How should your team address and refer to customers? Be sure to give specific, clear examples.