How to Create a Social Media Style Guide for Your Brand
What do all the top brands on social platforms have in common? The answer is a strong brand identity. Whether it’s Dove’s body-positive messaging or Old Spice’s spoof images, these brands have created unique personalities that followers and fans recognise and love.
You can’t have a robust social media presence without a social media style guide. It dictates how you should be represented and ensures a consistent brand identity across all social networks.
If you’re unsure where to start, this article outlines ten steps to create your style guide. But before we get into that, we will explain what a social media style guide is and why it is crucial to have one.
What Is a Social Media Style Guide?
A social media style guide is a tool that outlines the appearance and activity of your brand on your social media platforms. It dictates the images and language the social media team can use and how they should interact with followers. It includes information on logo use, branding colours, emoji use, posting frequency, and more.
If you already have a brand guideline template, you’re in a great position to develop your social media style guide.
Importance of Having a Social Media Style Guide
Social media style guides aren’t just nice to have. They impact brand recognition and perception.
Around 83% of customers say trust is a determining factor in their buying decisions. Your branding must be consistent across all social channels to gain this all-important trust. For example, if your Twitter posts are light-hearted and funny, but your Instagram Reels are formal and technical, you leave customers wondering which is the real you. As a result, you risk losing credibility with target audiences.
Enter social media style guides. Even if different people manage your social media accounts, it ensures your tweets, YouTube videos, Instagram Reels, or Facebook posts reflect your brand personality and values.
5 Benefits of Having a Social Media Style Guide
A social media style guide yields several benefits:
You probably have social media profiles across different platforms, and each network has its culture. Style guides allow your social management team to maintain consistent brand messaging despite the differences in LinkedIn and TikTok audiences.
Social media style guides build and maintain a cohesive and unified brand persona across all marketing channels. They prevent branding missteps such as mismatched voice or off-brand imagery or trends.
New employees come with ideas and styles from previous jobs which may not work for your brand. Communicating your social media brand guidelines is easy with a document they can refer to occasionally.
With this style guide, you can be assured everyone involved is on the same page. It also eliminates errors and reworks, aligning the social media strategy with the brand persona.
Social posts are subject to various regulations and laws, including privacy and data protection, confidentiality, and false marketing claims. Your social media style guide should outline social media compliance protocols the social team must adhere to, such as appropriate content and approved responses to PR crises.
You don’t want to be fined or called out by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority like influencer Francesca Allen.
The advertising authority names and shames non-compliant accounts on their website and social media ads like the one above.
Social media guidelines aren’t set in stone. As your brand and audiences evolve, so should your style guide. If or when you decide to rebrand, a social media style guide allows you to differentiate between the old and new brands.
By making your brand recognisable and trustworthy to millions of social media users, social media guides increase revenue by 33% compared to brands with inconsistent branding.
You should make your social media style guide accessible to all the members of your marketing team. Instead of giving them stacks of paper that are hard to carry, you can digitise your social media style guide. You can incorporate the resulting QR code in the best digital business card your team members always have around, for example. So, they need to scan the QR code to gain access to the guide wherever they go.
10 Steps to Creating a Social Media Style Guide
So far, we’ve discussed what a social media style guide is and why you need one. Now, let’s put one together. No two businesses will have the same style guide. However, they all have the following universal components:
1. Define Your Brand Voice
Your brand voice showcases your brand’s personality in captions, comments, and other communication. It’s what your brand would sound like if it was a person. Whether it’s social media, email, or SaaS content production, you must incorporate your brand voice across your marketing collateral. This can help in increasing brand awareness and recognition.
Just look at your mission statement and values to define your brand voice. You should be able to determine your brand personality from there. Your brand personality, in turn, will determine your brand voice. So, if your fitness brand personality is passionate, you would benefit more from an enthusiastic brand voice than a matter-of-fact one.
Once you have defined your brand voice, describe it in your social media style guide. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just say your brand voice is ‘formal.’ Say it’s professional yet approachable.
Include screenshots of approved on-brand communication that showcase the communication style you’re aiming for.
The table above illustrates a sentence for an empowering brand voice. It contrasts a sample text with the current text and explains the difference.
Whatever voice you adopt must be consistent across all social media channels so your content sounds like it’s coming from the same source. Otherwise, you risk coming across as disingenuous. There are exceptions where you can deviate from brand voice, e.g., natural disasters. Specify these in your style guide.
Note that your brand voice will work better on some platforms than others. Wendy’s can get away with snappy comebacks on Twitter but not on LinkedIn.
In the above LinkedIn post, the feisty franchise tones down its voice without giving up the essence of its personality.
You can use generative AI technology to create a copy that aligns with your brand voice.
Just insert the correct prompts.
2. Specify Your Target Audience
Identifying your target audience is vital to developing a successful brand identity. People gravitate to brands that share the same values as them. Mirroring their communication style creates a sense of belonging and increases customer loyalty. So, you need to specify your target audience in your style guide.
If you haven’t built an ideal customer persona, you should. It helps answer questions like who you are communicating with, what language and content resonates with those audiences, and more. Include as much detail as possible – demographics, interests, and pain points.
This social media buyer persona provides information on the customer’s personality traits, favourite brands, and preferred marketing channels. With this information, you can design mobile-friendly content to suit this active, fickle, and analytical personality.
3. Identify Social Media Platforms
You need to identify the social media platforms you’ll use (or are already using) for your brand in your social media style guide. If you don’t have social media platforms, note that choosing the right ones depends on your customers and content strategy. You don’t want to concentrate marketing efforts on Tumblr if your customers primarily use Facebook.
However, this doesn’t mean you should delete your Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok accounts. Many companies create social profiles on various platforms to bolster their online presence and extend their reach.
Specify your social media handles. In your guide, additional social media platforms should have the same naming conventions as your other existing platforms. Remember, consistency is critical. They help ensure your profiles are discoverable to users no matter which platform they join.
Check out how consistent Buzzfeed is in its social media naming conventions.
Buzzfeed has numerous channels for its segments, including quizzes, unsolved mysteries, celebrity news, and regionalised content.
4. Include Posting Frequency
Your guide should state how frequently your team should post on your social media platforms. Posting frequency impacts brand perception and engagement.
The ideal posting frequency typically depends on the social platform. According to the Sprout Social Index, 74% of consumers think brands should post one to two times a day. TikTok recommends posting up to four times a day on its platform.
The chart below shows the optimal posting frequency of Facebook pages:
State explicitly in your guide that your team members should follow the general posting guidelines for social platforms when building the brand’s social media presence. But they should also perform social analytics and continual testing. This will help them find your brand’s posting frequency sweet spot.
5. Develop a Content Strategy
Make sure your social media style guide specifies your content strategy. A content strategy is a high-level approach to content creation and marketing. It outlines content topics, formats, design, and promotion.
Let’s say your content marketing goal is to build authority in the SaaS space. Your strategy might focus on guest writing for SaaS blogs. Or maybe you’re a new business looking to increase brand awareness; branded content that showcases company values rather than selling products could be the way to go.
An effective content strategy identifies the following points:
- Business goals
- Target audience
- Customer's pain points and relevant solutions
- Effective distribution channels.
Your content strategy also outlines which type of content you will post on each platform. For instance, you can use Instagram Reels to post branded content like behind-the-scenes videos, LinkedIn for think pieces, and Facebook for brand marketing.
Cloud hosting provider DigitalOcean, for instance, gives network status updates on Twitter.
Not all content posted on your social feeds will be yours. Curated and user-generated content adds value to your social pages, but you must have rules about which sources to share and which to avoid. For instance, you don’t want to use images created by your competitors.
Other rules to specify in your guide include requesting permission to post third-party content and crediting original creators.
6. Incorporate General Formatting and Language Guidelines
By now, you should have a list of your brand’s social media channels and a content strategy for how you will use each platform in your guide. You can also incorporate format and language guidelines.
Social media apps dictate some formatting rules. For example, Twitter and Facebook posts come in the form of captions and then images. On Instagram, captions follow photos. Formatting conventions you can control include line breaks in captions and hyperlinks or URL shorteners. Specify your preferences.
Consistency guidelines dictate that you use the exact spelling, grammar, abbreviations, and dating conventions across all platforms. An example is US versus UK English. Choose the appropriate spelling convention based on where your company operates.
Other factors to consider are date and time conventions. UK English orders dates by day/month/year, while the US standard is month/day/year. Japan, China, and South Korea, order dates by year, month, and day. Keep these conventions in mind if your brand has regional social pages. You also want to specify whether you will use the 12-hour or 24-hour clock.
As a rule, you should correct punctuation for ease of reading. Avoid using jargon and abbreviations your audience is unfamiliar with, or highlight instances when their use is acceptable—for example, Twitter limited character space so you can use known abbreviations.
Speaking of character limits, just because other platforms don’t have the same restraints as Twitter doesn’t mean you can’t impose your own. You may limit Facebook or LinkedIn posts to several characters.
Finally, let’s talk about emojis. The jury is out on whether they help or hurt brand perception, so we caution for restraint. You could get away with emoji captions on Twitter or Instagram, but not on LinkedIn. Still, many brands use emojis to make their posts stand out.
Specify on your social media style guide whether emoji use is acceptable or not. If you use emojis, identify the ones the team can use and how they should use them.
The Rainbow Hospice signs off every post with a rainbow emoji.
7. Specify the Process for Responding to Comments and Messages
You must establish guidelines for responding to comments, especially if you’re outsourcing your social media management. Your social media guidelines should state how the team will respond to complaints, manage trolls, reply to comments, and answer questions. For example, will you resolve complaints in comment threads or direct the conversion to the DM inbox?
Here, Canva responds to a Facebook comment about their premade gradient backgrounds, incorporating the #CanvaLove hashtag as a pun.
We recommend creating a list of pre-set, on-brand replies to common issues or frequently asked questions that your team can customise. It saves time and ensures accurate and consistent responses without giving up on compromising authentic interactions. People use social media to connect with humans, not robots.
Social interactions aren’t limited to followers. Your competitors are also on social media, and your followers will mention you in their posts. How will you handle those situations? The social media manager must be clear on whether or not the brand engages with competitors. If so, what will those interactions look like?
Do you know when you need to optimise content on websites to make it discoverable on Google? Well, on social media, you also need to use hashtags to make your social media posts discoverable on the social media platform.
So, your social media style guide should outline protocols for how to use hashtags, ensuring relevance and consistency.
Everyone uses hashtags differently, but all brands (individuals or companies) have a branded hashtag. Branded hashtags are keywords or phrases associated with a specific brand. Think Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke or Nike’s #JustDoIt.
Create your branded hashtag with the same consideration as your logo. It’s how users find you and should appear on every post. Many businesses will use their brand name, slogan, or flagship product.
Other than branded hashtags, you should have hashtags related to ongoing or seasonal campaigns and product description hashtags. Let’s say your skincare brand sells an alpha arbutin serum. Add #alphaarbutinserum to the post so users searching that hashtag can find your product.
We found this alternative chocolate brand using the hashtag #organicchoclate.
In addition to creating your brand’s hashtags, your social media style guide should outline how hashtags will look. Will you use lowercase, uppercase, or camelcase? There is no technical advantage of using one case over the other – users will find you whichever option you choose. However, consider that #AlphaArbutinSerum is easier to read than #alphaarbutinserum.
Another detail to add to your style guide is the number of hashtags to include in your posts. Be consistent whether you go minimal with three hashtags or have several hashtags to increase reach.
9. Include Visual Style Guidelines
All social media platforms are highly visual, and no style guide is complete without parameters on using colours, images, and logos.
Accounts like The Ordinary and Buzzfeed are well-organised due to the carefully implementing of a visual style guide.
The Ordinary’s Instagram page exudes a clean and natural identity with a neutral colour palette in every post.
Your social media style guide must clearly outline approved colour palettes and fonts for your social media accounts. Preferably, they are your brand colours. You must also specify how the colours will be used—for example, a grey background with a white copy colour and a red CTA button.
Defining approved images and image sources for your social pages is essential. Do you only use original or stock photos? What about visual content from your fans? Be sure to include if filters and effects can be applied and which ones. Also, take note of image size parameters for each platform.
These visual conventions aren’t limited to photo-sharing applications. Where possible, you want to keep video production elements consistent, if not in the video itself, then in the video thumbnails.
BONUS TIP: Review and Update Your Style Guide Regularly
Social media style guides aren’t set in stone. As communication patterns change, so should your brand voice. Remember when emojis were only for interpersonal texts? Now businesses use them in emails and social media posts. Your style guidelines must adapt to market changes to remain relevant.
So, how often should you review your social media style guide? We recommend it at least once a year. You might want to update it when there’s a development like a new product, new market expansion, campaign launches, and rebranding.
Moreover, updating your style guides doesn’t necessarily mean an overhaul. It could be as simple as tweaking brand vocabulary to sound more inclusive.
Your content strategy should include tools and metrics to track channel and content performance. Ongoing A/B testing will also provide insight into which design elements resonate with target audiences. You can organise all your data in linear dashboards for better visualisation.
Social media success hinges on consistent brand identity. You can’t build brand authority and customer trust if followers are confused about who you are. That’s where social media style guides come in. They help ensure consistent branding across all social media platforms so your brand is recognisable to customers.
You learned how to create a social media style guide with this article:
- Specify a brand voice
- Define target audience
- State your social media platforms
- Specify posting frequency
- Include content strategy
- Incorporate formatting and language guidelines
- Specify response guidelines
- Define visual style
As a bonus tip, regularly review and update the style guide.
Be consistent in your social media messaging. Your brand will surely reap the benefits.