How to write a social media style guide
Most businesses with a social media presence will know a social media style guide is an essential asset.
Although social media may have started as a fun time-suck for the individual, it’s become an expectation for businesses. But we already know this, so let’s cut to the chase. Why do you need a social media style guide and how do you write one?
Why do I need a social media style guide?
The why is simple. Because, most likely, more than one person will have control over your social media channels at any given time. Control might change hands or be managed by various people. And you can’t have all those chefs spoiling the broth.
Consistency is everything. Your audience will know when there’s a distinct shift in tone and content between SM handlers, and the bubble will be broken. A social media style guide will also act as a road map. It’ll make handovers easier and settle disputes, such as how to format a link share or handle a public customer complaint.
It’s important to remember that, generally, your corporate social media accounts aren’t about you as an individual. It’s about expressing your brand identity and legitimising your business with an online presence. A style guide will control the tone and formatting of your social media presence, to keep it consistent.
How to write a social media style guide
So, what to include in your guide? Here’s a basic rundown of the structure of a social media style guide.
State the purpose of the style guide. You can pretty much paraphrase the above. The purpose of a style guide is consistency and accountability.
2. Account Index
Include a list of all your active accounts, handles, and associated email addresses. It’s up to you to decide if you list passwords here. At the least, indicate who to contact for access to each account. Remember, this is intended as an internal document, not a public declaration.
3. Social Media Aims
Start with your social media aims. They should be clear, long-term, and measurable. They could include a priority such as brand awareness, customer service, or social engagement. You could also include KPIs.
4. Social Media Audience
In this section, you’ll define who your audience is. Start broad, with age range and industry. Then you can drill deeper with audience personas and examples of language, and content, that appeals to them. Develop as many personas as you need to express your aims.
5. Publishing Guidelines
This is a big one, as herein lies the consistency element. This section should define the formatting of various posts across all social media channels. List any hashtags you want to use consistently, and a procedure for using extra hashtags. List the formatting for sharing content, both yours and others. For example:
- When sharing links, use a colon to separate the text and the link.
- Delete the URL if sharing a link in a status or comment, but ensure the clickable preview is visible.
- Stay abreast of trending hashtags, but don’t use them unless relevant.
6. Giving Credit
This is an important one. A big part of social media is sharing content, but as a corporation you have a legal obligation to give appropriate credit. Clearly outline how to give credit on each specific platform. This could include linking to the original publisher in the body of the post and tagging them, linking to their website, or even asking them personally how they’d like to receive credit. For example:
- Tag the original source clearly in the body of the caption. Use any hashtags they associate with their work. Tag them in the image itself.
- If the name of the original source contains explicit or offensive language, use discretion to decide whether or not to give credit by tagging.
7. Type Of Content
You might find you need to split your social media schedules into visual and text based. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all designed for link sharing and status updates. Instagram, SnapChat, Behance, and Dribble are designed for image and portfolio sharing.
A sophisticated social media plan will account for this and design content for the platform specifically, then cross-pollinate between (automatically pushing content from one platform to another as appropriate).
In this section, you should outline the type of content you’ll share. This is important if someone else is ever going to come in and write/plan your social media. You can illustrate with examples (e.g. “Share informative articles like this ____, from these sources ____,”) or simply list the content appropriate for each.
Outline the tone and language to use when sharing different types of content, such as native content, shared content, and client work. This is particularly pertinent if you have client work to share, as it’s important to not jeopardise client relationships with flippant comments.
9. Posting Schedule
This should outline how many times a week to post to each social media platform, and the ideal times/days.
10. Social Media Profiles
This section should keep track of the last time you changed your social media profile/cover images, and how often to change each.
11. Image Guide
Finally, a section dedicated to imagery. If you have a brand style guide elsewhere, you can borrow some information on brand colour palettes, but you should also delve deeper.
Define the types of angles, colours, and content your imagery should convey. Define the preferred size and resolution for images across different platforms. Consistent imagery is critically important for visual brands on platforms like Instagram. And while you yourself may be able to understand and execute the visual style of your brand, it’s important to be able to communicate that clearly with other staff members.