Social media style guide: what it is and how to get started

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Your brand is more than just how it looks and its content, it’s also about tone of voice and consistency. When a brand, be it an individual or an organization, has a presence on social media, then having a set of rules in place can be really useful. It can help create consistency and weave together a brand identity. The best way to do this is by creating a social media style guide.

So where do you start? Well, in this article, not only will we go over what a social media style guide is and why you need one, but we will also cover what you need to get started.

Illustration by OrangeCrush

What is a social media style guide?

A social media style guide is a document that details the language, grammar, tone and personality of your brand on various social platforms. So if there is a company you follow on social media whose posts are continuously recognizable, it’s likely they have a style guide in place for all their posts. This means they are going by a set of guidelines that keep in line with their brand style and voice.

In fact, if you have a brand guideline already, then that would be a great stepping stone for getting started on your social media style guide.

social media design in the same brand style
By Arthean

Why do you need one?

One of the most important and compelling reasons for having a social media style guide is to be consistent. A person or an organization that uses various styles, content, or tone on social media platforms could put off or confuse your audience and could come across as disorganized or unprofessional. Ensuring your brand voice across all social media platforms will help you stand out and build a strong relationship with your audience.

What you need before you start

As with any project, research is the best place to get started. It’s helpful to focus on the basics, such as:

  • Your brand’s image: what do followers, or potential followers, think of when they see your brand? What would they expect of you? What’s your tone of voice?
  • Pick your platforms: what platforms will you be using? Would you use professional channels such as LinkedIn or would you go down the image-based route of Instagram? Or would it be a mix? What do you feel would work best for your brand’s image and audience?
  • Competitors: how do they convey themselves? How do they interact with their audience on subjects such as handling complaints or making announcements? Is there humor involved?
  • Collect visual examples! A good place to start is collecting visual examples of what posts you like. Get a good mix of types of content, text, images, videos, gifs, as well as posts on each social media platform so you can see how brands do it for each platform.
brand guidelines for tech company
By Graphyte

Keep in mind that if you already have a brand identity then it’s certainly worth referring back to when creating imagery and language to ensure consistency across mediums. Better yet, if you’ve got a brand style guide already, use that as a starting point for your social media guide, especially for things like image and video format or color schemes and font choices.

Create your social media style guide

Once you’ve done your research, you can start putting your guide together! This is where you consider and define the language, communications and content for your social media platforms.

Social media accounts

List out all your social media accounts. This will help you keep track of all your accounts and what your usernames are. It’s not just your posts that should be consistent, if your usernames are consistent too then it’ll be easier for users to find you on all platforms.

Consider whether any suffixes could be used, for example, @brand_name_US. Suffixes like this can be helpful to users if there are different worldwide locations within your business. It allows your business to localize to a specific market and allows your followers to interact with the brand for purposes such as customer services.

Define your content

Now that you know all the social media accounts you have, it’s time to define what content you will post on each platform. For example, job postings might only be for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. But behind-the-scenes posts might only be for Instagram. Or maybe what you post on TikTok is not what you might want to post for Facebook or Twitter.

social media style guide from mailchimp
via Mailchimp

Make note of character limits for each platform in your style guide. And just because a platform doesn’t have a character limit, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add one in your social media style guide. You might say your Facebook posts have a maximum of two paragraphs, and Instagram a maximum of one sentence and one or two emojis are enough.

It’s also a good place to note down all the social media image sizes as well as how you want your images to look, for example, only use bright brand colors as backgrounds for product photos for content that is about giveaways or to use darker backgrounds when posting evergreen content and products.

Various posts for a social media style guide
Various posts for a social media style guide
Various posts for a social media style guide
One company, four styles of social media post. By Alshimaa Mou
Various posts for a social media style guide

Brand language

How do you talk about your brand? How do you refer to your staff? List out some key phrases, or words that describe your brand and businesses. It could be how to write your business name, for example, at 99designs, it’s a lowercase ‘d,’ and not 99Designs or 99 designs. Or it can be the phrase that succinctly describes your company, what is that phrase? When and where will it appear?

Tone and voice

This is about the kind of voice you want followers to pick up on. Brainstorming keywords is a good place to begin forming a style and overall tone, so for example, your brand’s attitude could be funny, irreverent, cheeky. Or perhaps a more conservative, professional approach is appropriate. It’ll depend on your industry and your brand persona.

It’s worth making sure that the style you choose translates well across your chosen social platforms. Can your fun personality work well on LinkedIn as well as Instagram? Or how can you make your fun personality work on LinkedIn? It may need to be adapted for situations such as toning it down a notch for more professional sites.

Take a look at Tony’s Chocolonely above. Their social media posts convey their message and values. As you can see in the Facebook and Twitter posts there is a tweak in length, but the key thing is that the tone, message and value are consistent.

Inclusive language

It’s important to think about how we communicate, how we refer to people, who we include in our communication. For example, avoid calling a group of people “guys” and opt for gender-neutral words. It’s best to take the time now to explore and define how your language will be inclusive, rather than fumbling later on to shoehorn it in.

hands stacked in the middle to show inclusivity and being all together
Illustration by OrangeCrush

Spelling, grammar and punctuation

Do you normally use the Oxford comma in your copy? Do you use American or British spelling? Keep this consistent by defining it in your social media style guide. You don’t need to write out every single spelling you prefer, but just adding in your social media style guide that you use American spelling is enough.

This goes for grammar and punctuation too. Pick a style guide like the Associated Press Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style. From there you can make adjustments or tweaks in your social media style guide if there is something from the guides that might differ from your preference or doesn’t suit your brand, tone, or voice.

Emojis

Emojis are becoming a regular occurrence now, frequently being used by a large proportion of brands. They’re often used to illustrate or punctuate and can prove to be a useful tool in making your posts more noticeable.

instagram post for headspace using emojis in the description
via Headspace

In this example, Headspace, a meditation app, often uses emojis for their Instagram posts and makes them part of the subject of their posts. This reflects their friendly attitude well. Like the written language make sure the emojis you choose reflect your brand personality.

Hashtags

Hashtags go hand-in-hand with social media. They’re almost a necessity because they’re an excellent way for users to find your brand. If your product is vegan chocolate and you use that as a hashtag, people searching that hashtag might find your product and brand!

It’s also a great way to collect posts for a certain campaign and product for users to quickly access and find other testimonials or posts on your product or business.

short video facebook ad for animal rescue
By Dudeowl

You could also take advantage of the momentum a trending hashtag might have. Be wary though, don’t just use popular or trending hashtags if it doesn’t suit your brand or product. It will come across as out of touch and just turn customers away.

And always check the hashtags you choose to use to promote a campaign or your product. You never really know who else is using the hashtag and for what.

Start your social media style guide

Now you’re ready to pull together your official social media style guide! Just remember this isn’t a be-all and end-all, this is a good starting place to get set up. From here you might tweak and adjust your guide as new things come to light, maybe some posts don’t do well and need to change. Or more social platforms need to be added. Keep adding and refining to your style guide as decisions are being made.

And eventually, it’ll become a valuable resource to add to your brand and visual identity, as well as the key to keeping it consistent so your audience will stay engaged and loyal to your brand.

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About the author

Yvette is a freelance graphic designer with experience covering digital and print; infographics being her specialty. She has over twenty years of experience as a designer and has a sideline in writing. She is based in London, UK.





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