How to create a social media style guide: 10 crucial things to include

Ever see a brand’s social media and think “wow, their personality really comes through in everything they share”? Then wonder if your brand is coming across the same, and what you can do to boost your engagement with your followers.

Well, chances are your favourite brands will all have a solid social media style guide in place to keep their posts in line with their brand voice and style. This ensures that all members of their social team know exactly how to write company posts and what they can do to maintain a cohesive online presence.

For businesses, social media is all about creating a loyal community and building a unique brand voice and identity. This is how your target audiences will distinguish you from competitors and connect with you on a more personal level.

A strong social media style guide is the perfect resource to help onboard new members of the social team, uphold consistency on all your channels and make the process of scheduling and sharing posts quicker and easier. It will ensure your team are all on the same page with brand dos and don’ts and will provide a reference point for any uncertainties they have about certain content. So what goes into a social media style guide?

 

10 things every social media style guide needs

 

#1 – Social media profiles

The first thing we recommend you do is list all the social profiles you use for your brand. This will give you an opportunity to reflect on the channels you’ve got set up, whether they’re right for your business and whether there are any that you’re missing.

Consider your social media marketing goals and how to best communicate with your audiences in order to achieve them. Where are your potential customers engaging and where might they like to interact with a company like yours?

If you’ve got a small team or are just getting started with social marketing, limit yourself to just 2 or 3 platforms at first to make the process more manageable. Once you’ve built up a routine or grown your team, you can start to branch out further with your profiles.

 

 

Listing all your accounts will also help you get a clear picture of the naming conventions you’ve used. Make sure your account names are consistent across all networks and amend any that don’t quite match up.

You’ll then be able to establish guidelines for how your usernames will be formatted for new profiles in the future. Just remember to prepare backups for when your exact company name isn’t available. For example, here are some alternatives usernames for CoSend:

  • cosendapp
  • cosend_app
  • cosend_scheduler
  • cosendHQ
  • cosendUK

 

#2 – Brand voice & tone

A brand’s voice is its most distinguishing feature, making it more relatable and personable to us as consumers. It’s therefore hugely important that your voice is consistent with your brand values, so that it matches the rest of your marketing efforts.

If your brand voice varies across your social channels, your audience will find it very difficult to connect with you. For example, if you are serious and straightforward on Twitter but use emojis and puns on Instagram, your messaging and identity will become confusing for your followers.

 

 

When creating the ‘voice and tone’ section of your style guide, think about how to define who you are as a company and how you want to be perceived. Imagine your brand as a real person – what do they sound like? How do they talk? What language do they use?

If you already have an overall style guide for your marketing, we recommend you use the same voice but adapt your tone to be slightly less formal for social media.

Aim to be as descriptive as possible to make it easier to replicate this voice and tone in future posts, especially by new employees who aren’t so familiar with your brand. Include examples of what to do and what not to do, so that anyone who reads your guide could easily start sharing on your brand’s behalf without any trouble.

We also recommend you include a list of key words and phrases you want to weave into your posts to improve cohesiveness and develop personality – words that represent your key values as a company.

In this section, you’ll also need to specify practical details about your brand voice. For example, clarify whether you want to use emojis, GIFS and memes or steer clear.

 

#3 – Competitor interactions

As a subsection of ‘voice and tone’, we suggest you detail how you want your brand to interact with competitors, so that all members of your team are on the same page.

Does it suit your brand to have friendly competition with similar companies in the same industry? Or do you want to avoid interactions with your competitors altogether?

Whatever you choose should match your brand voice. For example, if you take a light-hearted, humorous approach then banter with the opposition will work well. Once again, it’s all about upholding consistency and staying true to your company’s identity.

 

#4 – Responding to questions

Just like the previous section, how you respond to questions and customer interactions on your social networks will very much depend on your voice and tone.

 

 

Think about how you want your company to respond to criticism or negative feedback on your social networks. Setting guidelines for dealing with these difficult situations will give your team more confidence when responding to customers and will help minimise reputation damage.

Include examples of good and bad replies in order to help guide your team. But don’t encourage them to send identical responses to different people. This will hugely diminish the authenticity you’ve worked hard to develop with your followers.

 

#5 – Grammar, spelling & terminology

Just like your voice and tone, the way you write, how you use punctuation and the type of terminology you use in your posts should be consistent. This is a very important section of your style guide, as it will allow your team to proofread their content before they send it out, making the whole process seamless and issue-free.

 

 

If you have an overall brand style guide, you can carry this section over from it, so your social media content and other marketing content are consistent. However, don’t be afraid to informalise the style of language slightly. For example, you may avoid contractions (e.g. doesn’t, they’re, we’ve) in business proposals and press releases, but should try to use them where appropriate on social networks to create a more chatty tone. You may also have a character limit that means you need to use contractions and acronyms more than usual.

Here are some key points to consider in this section:

  • How you use abbreviations
  • When to use exclamation points
  • How to write numbers, dates and times
  • Where and when to use jargon
  • How you write your brand name and other names you use frequently
  • Where you use capitals
  • Which acronyms to use and which to avoid

 

To save you from having to decide and list every grammar or punctuation preference, you can reference an already existing style guide e.g. Associated Press Stylebook, University of Oxford style guide, or BBC News’ guide.

 

#6 – Post formatting

As well as setting out language and grammar rules, we suggest you include guidance on how to format posts.  This will not only uphold consistency but will make it easier for your team to share content quickly and efficiently.

Here are some suggestions for what you could include:

  • How to format sharing links – will you shorten them every time?
  • Criteria for headlines – is there a specific length or structure you want your team to follow?
  • How many hashtags you want to include in posts to each network, and where in the post they’ll be included
  • If and where you’ll include emojis in posts to different networks
  • Caption length on certain posts
  • The order in which you want to include each of these elements in your posts (e.g. headline, link, hashtag)

 

#7 – Content creation & curation

Keep the content you share across your networks consistent by setting out clear rules in your style guide. Specify whether you want to share articles from other sources, or purely in-house content created by your team.

If you choose to share external content like news stories and relevant blog posts, give your team an indication of the expected ratio between the two types, to ensure your followers are seeing the right sort of content at the right time.

 

 

Once you’ve established a ratio, it’s a good idea to recommend a destination for sourcing external content, in order to uphold consistency in what you share. For example, our social media scheduler, CoSend, includes a Content Discovery feature, so you can search and schedule the latest news all from one dashboard. This can be really helpful if you want to ensure all your content goes through an approval process before it is shared.

CoSend also makes it easy to keep track of the different kinds of content you’ve got scheduled and provides a panoramic view of all your posts in the week ahead so you can easily adapt your content before it’s shared.

 

#8 – Post authorship

Creating your social media style guide provides the perfect opportunity to consider how you want to attribute your posts. Do you always post as a brand, or are there certain situations where your team will sign off with their name? This may be more appropriate in direct responses to customers, to make their experience feel more personal. That way, if an ongoing conversation stems from the interaction, the customer can build up a relationship with that member of your team.

 

#9 – Hashtag usage

Some brands choose to use lots of hashtags in every post, some use them sparingly. Your company’s use of hashtags should once again come back to the voice and tone you want to convey. The main thing to remember is, whatever you choose, use them consistently.

How you apply hashtags may vary depending on the platform. For example, they’re hugely effective on Twitter, but used less so on Facebook.

In this section you should also include any campaign or brand specific hashtags that should be used across your channels. If you want to encourage followers to use your company hashtag in their posts about your brand, consider including it in your bio or ‘About us’ section. This is an easy and effective way of collating user-generated content for you to reshare.

 

#10 – Visual guidelines

A key driver of engagement on social media is powerful imagery. Most networks are highly visual, so including media in your posts will help them stand out on your followers’ feeds and increase the likelihood of likes and shares.

 

Your social media style guide should set standards and specifications for any images your team shares. Ideally, your feed should be colourful and uniform, and any graphics created should have a set style, font and palette.

Carry over the brand specifications you have in your overall style guide so that your social media remains consistent with all your other marketing content. Make sure to include guidelines for profile images, cover photos and header graphics.

Be as specific as possible about sizing and ratios for each of your channels. If you’re not sure what the image specifications are for these, check out our handy guide.

A great way to increase brand awareness on your networks and make your content more recognisable is to include a logo watermark on any media you share. You should aim to keep the location and size of this watermark consistent across all your content. CoSend’s watermark feature allows you to apply a default watermark to make it super quick and easy to add your logo in the same place on each of your images. Using our social media scheduler will also enable you to organise your content into unique folders in a tidy Media Library so images and videos can be added to posts with the click of a button.

 

Final tips

These 10 crucial aspects of a social media style guide should help you get started with creating your own. Once you’ve got a detailed guide in place, you and your team will find it far easier to create engaging and on-brand content quicker, you’ll uphold consistency across all your channels and avoid mistakes that could damage your reputation.

Here are some final pro tips to take with you when you’re creating your guide:

  • Once you’ve completed your guide, create a 1-page summary at the beginning with all the most important points within it – this will save your team time, since all the most relevant information will be easy to locate
  • Make sure your whole team know where to find your guide
  • Keep your guide updated – your social presence will be ever evolving, so your guide should be too

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