How to create a social media style guide

Social media is a cost-effective way to get the word out about your brand, engage with your fanbase, and attract new potential customers. But just like any media campaign, a social media campaign should be grounded in strategy and guided by a style guide. Here’s how to develop or refine your social media style guide.

Clearly explain goals and objectives
Social media sites roll out new features all the time, so it’s easy to launch the wrong type of campaign for what you really want to achieve. For example, launching ads that don’t feature a button to an external link may drive up your engagement, likes, or shares on social, but they won’t get you an increase in website traffic. That’s why it’s important to define your goals and call to action (CTA). Some popular CTAs for social campaigns include:

  • Grow likes, shares, or engagement
  • Drive traffic to a website
  • Grow video views
  • Capture new leads
  • Drive attendance at an event
  • Promote awareness of a product or brand

Define your tone of voice
Your tone of voice on social media should be consistent with your brand. If your primary audience persona is teenagers, posting paragraphs of facts in full sentences may not be the right approach. Incorporating hashtags and looser, yet still appropriate, language is the right approach. Similarly, if you’re targeting business decision makers, sharing funny instead of factual posts could turn them off. Here are several examples of the appropriate tones for different audiences.

  • Teens > Playful, inclusive
  • 20-somethings > Modern, exclusive
  • 30-somethings > Inspiring, data-driven
  • Parents > Warm, instructional
  • Businesspeople > Direct, professional
  • Researchers > Serious, scientific
  • Retirees > Friendly, factual

List your rules of content
Your social media style guide should clearly explain what types of posts are right for your company’s social sites. Not only does this help define what not to do for the social media team, but it might also give them inspiration when news is light. Here’s a list of several types of content you might—or might not—want to incorporate into your own style guide and campaigns:

  • Case studies
  • Culture videos and photos
  • Customer quotes or testimonial videos
  • E-books and guides
  • Facts about the industry
  • Infographics
  • Inspirational quotes
  • Links to company blogs
  • Live streaming video
  • Recorded webinars
  • Recruitment videos
  • Reposts of industry trend news (create a list of acceptable sites and pages from which to repost news)
  • User-generated content
  • VR content, taken with a VR camera

In addition to defining accepted post types, explain any style rules that break your overarching brand style guide rules. For example, if using common acronyms is acceptable on social due to character count limits, say so. In addition, create a list of commonly used, accepted hashtags so that posts are consistent. Finally, define your company’s policy on tagging other users, brands, or customers in social posts.

Define roles and process
State who handles what on social media so that nothing falls through the cracks, with contact information for each person listed. Since social media is “always on,” it’s a good idea to include after-hours contact information, as well.

In addition, list the process for posting on social media including:

  • Who originates content
  • Who approves content
  • Who schedules posts
  • Which social management tool is used
  • How often posts appear
  • Who is responsible for replying to comments, and within what timeframe
  • Who is responsible for making updates to “about” sections of social sites and how often
  • Who manages social advertising

What not to include in your social media style guide
There are a few items that you probably don’t want to include in your social media style guide:

Your content calendar. Make this its own dynamic document or site that can be updated easily by all contributors.

Social media specs. Sites change their specs and offerings often. It’s best to go to the sites themselves for up-to-date information, though you could include links to these sites in your style guide for ease.

Information that already lives elsewhere. Don’t include information from your brand style guide here or else you’ll need to update both documents every time there’s a change. Only include information that is exclusively relevant to social media.

Passwords to social sites. Including passwords in a document that could be circulated outside the organization is never a good idea. Protect your brand by keeping passwords on a password manager.

It’s a good idea to revisit your social media style guide annually to make sure the information is still current. With a style guide in place, your social team will be more effective and efficient at driving to your company’s unique goals.

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