#SMTLive Recap: Building a Social Media Style Guide
I would love to know the statistics of how many marketers actually use a social media style guide day-to-day.
In my opinion, it seems like everyone knows the purpose of a style guide, but I’m not convinced that the majority of marketers recognize the value and immense support this type of document will offer their brand — because if that were the case, everyone would make this a top priority. This is not to say that many haven’t done the preliminary audience research to build a social strategy, but your social strategy will always be lacking context (especially for future employees) without a style guide.
Note: Your social strategy and content plan is not a style guide.
So how many of you have a formal style guide and are using it regularly?
To kick off our last #SMTLive Twitter chat, I asked the group to participate in a poll regarding this exact question. Although there were only 29 chat participants this time, it was interesting to see that only 31% of participants said they actively use a style guide. I was not shocked to see that more than half of respondents (58%) noted that their organization has yet to create a brand style guide for social media.
Follow-up Poll: Do you currently have (and follow) a social media brand style guide at your job? #SMTLive
— Social Media Today (@socialmedia2day) October 8, 2019
If these statistics are at all telling of how the rest of the marketing world operates, I hope this article provides a few of you knowledge and guidance. Anyone who is ready to create (or revamp) their social media style guide, continue reading to learn not only why a social media style guide is crucial, but also everything you need to include in your official document.
Why does a social media style guide matter?
The value is in the title — a style guide provides guidance for social strategies for everyone involved in the social media activity of your company.
— Your Marketing Co (@yourmarketingco) October 8, 2019
You can think of your social style guide as your brand’s social media bible. This is a place to document all your research, establish your goals, and define guidelines for how you want your brand to be perceived online.
Share this marketing “bible” with your company to get everyone on the same page and guide content strategy in the right direction. You, your team, and your future employees will reference this document when creating social content and on any other occasion where you (as the brand) are communicating with the world via social media. You will have more control over your brand’s public perception and, hopefully, prevent PR disasters.
— Your Marketing Co (@yourmarketingco) October 8, 2019
What should you cover in a social style guide?
Please note that there is no one way to create your social style guide. Every guide should be unique to that specific brand; but the following steps should all be covered in one way or another.
1. Social Media Goals
It’s always a good rule of thumb to keep your marketing goals top-of-mind when it comes to branding and messaging. Make sure to define your purpose (SMART goals) for being on social media before diving into guidelines.
2. Target Audience Research
Before you start building your style guide for social, research your target audience and try and build a singular personality. Don’t skip this step! Brand persona research is critical for all plans you make going forward. Here are some handy questions to ask yourself about your audience during this step.
Who are they?
- Where do they live?
- How old are they?
- What is their profession?
- Where do they spend their time (on and off social media)?
- What do they like/dislike?
- What type of content do they like to consume?
Once you’ve defined your social media brand persona(s), you can move on to guidelines.
This is simple; use your research and decide which platforms you will live on. If you are a small company or a start-up, it’s best to stick with one or two that you can maintain well. As your team grows, you can expand from there.
4. Brand Voice (Your Personality)
What do you want to portray as your brand’s personality? If your brand were a person, who would they be? Start to define your voice through a list of characteristics that embody your brand and set you apart from the competition.
Are you casual or formal? Are you low-key or energetic? Are you kind and friendly or are you snarky? What characteristics describe you?
The best way to create your voice is to create a graph with two columns: One column will list every characteristic you wish to portray about your brand, and the other column will list everything you want to avoid coming off as.
Next, you will need to define your tone for every platform. Your tone should include all brand voice characteristics, but maybe you decide to be more “fun” or more “informative” on one platform over the other.
5. Full Content Guidelines
Words to use.
Use your brand voice to craft content text examples. Similar to your voice guidelines, craft dos and don’ts for the various situations where you will be speaking online.
Example situations to prep text for:
- Content captions
- Responding to comments
- Responding to DMs
- Template text for reaching out to people in DMs
- Reacting to trolls and negative comments
- Safe examples of responses to use in crisis situations
What words reflect your brand personality best? What words do not? Will you use emojis and or colloquial language? Make sure to note all of this in your formal style guide.
Use all your research and personality information to answer the following questions:
1. What type of content will you share? Will you share…
- Your own articles
- Other people’s articles/content
- UGC of your products
- Company photos/videos
2. What percentage of each “type” of content will you share on your various platforms?
3. What percentage of your posts will be promotional, if any?
You know the types of images you will be sharing now, but what kind of templates does your team need in order to create cohesive looking content?
For graphics, you will need to share examples or templates, along with fonts and color codes.
For photos or videos, describe exactly what works and what doesn’t work. Some platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest, will require a heavier focus on your brand images and visual content.
If you are a real estate company, you may have guidelines that say to only post images of buildings and interiors. You may use a specific photo filter to keep all the images on-brand. If you plan to share only graphics of quotes, you should probably have a template that everyone can use.
Outline and share all the particulars. A few example images here will go a long way.
How will your brand format posts? Share formulas and real examples.
On Twitter: [Comment on x article] [link] [hashtag] [image]
On Instagram: [Photo of x] [Caption that looks like this]
The formulas are the first step. Then add screenshots of real content examples.
This requires some research. Look at the hashtags people in your industry use and what your target audience uses. You will want to “fit in” here so that your content ends up on the right feeds.
Once you’ve completed everything, it’s time to make your content strategy. Both documents will be used by people in the company to create a social media presence that best reflects your brand and supports your marketing goals. Be sure that however your social media style guide ends up looking, it’s accessible to everyone involved with social for your brand. With this style guide in place, you’ll be well on your way to more cohesive success on social.
Learn more about #SMTLive Twitter chats here.