The world is at your fingertips, literally.
We’re more connected to anything than ever with social media. Statista reports that there have been almost 4 billion social media users since 2020. They also found that these users allocate about 2,5 hours per day on popular platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.
These numbers are still rising and not stopping anytime soon. What does this mean for entrepreneurs and business owners? You’ve got to keep up with the trends and take advantage to grow your business in this enormous community.
Signing up for social media accounts is one thing. Presenting your brand on them is another. You can choose whichever platform to represent your brand, but eventually, there are some things to pay attention to if you want it to work out.
This is where a social media style guide comes to play. It serves as one of the fundamental formulas in your marketing organisation and strategies. This article will not only tell you what it is and why it is important but also list the step-by-step in making one.
What Is a Social Media Style Guide?
A social media style guide details how a company represents their brand across social media platforms. It commonly comes in written form like a downloadable document, but it’s also possible to have an audiovisual one.
This guide varies from one company to another, especially with various social media sites on the internet. DataReportal publishes the ranking of favourite social media platforms as of January 2022, with WhatsApp ranked first, followed by Instagram, Facebook, WeChat, DouYin, TikTok, and Twitter. Their report further details the trend among female and male users in various age stages. In both genders, Instagram is popular among the group aged 16-24, while Facebook reigns in the age group 35-44.
Depending on the demographics, your company has to select the best sites to represent itself. Whichever those are, it’ll affect the guide.
Why Do You Need a Social Media Style Guide?
Are you active on several social media apps and following influencers and brands? You’ll notice patterns and structure on their feed over time.
Let’s use Pick Up Limes (PUL) as an example. Pioneered by Sadia Badiei, it’s an online blog that focuses on spreading awareness about plant-based lifestyles through delicious vegan recipes. Their journey began on 9 January 2017 with the first YouTube video: “Ruby Red Green Smoothie”.
Sadia has since expanded her brand to Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and TikTok. All her feeds show how consistent her style is when promoting her vision of a healthy lifestyle. She uses techniques like close-up photographs in down-to-earth colours and energetic captions with emojis.
There are variations in how she styles the content on each platform, but overall, every post reflects PUL’s persona, identity, and vision. The audience knows it’s PUL just from their style alone.
Cultivating such a presence on four completely different sites doesn’t come without careful planning and organisation. Just one out-of-character post can change the whole thing. Here’s where a social media style guide can help prevent that.
When implemented across your company’s social media accounts, the style guide also helps:
Maintain a Sense of Uniformity
It doesn’t matter whether you’re only on one or ten platforms: the style guide keeps your marketing team on track with the basics.
It should detail everything in terms of written and audiovisual content. For instance, the language and accent used are American English, and the tone is casual. Pictures for the thumbnail should be edited in a particular filter, etc.
Look at The Washington Post’s Instagram page. Their profile says, “Delivering the news and helping you understand complex topics,” and they do exactly that.
Each posted feed comes in a compact headline, usually one or two short sentences in relatively large font. Interested readers can head to the caption or link on their bio for more information.
Their Twitter page utilises 280-character space for the main takeaway from the original post on their website. Both their Instagram and Twitter pages don’t use hashtags. Because they’re a news platform, the tone of their language is formal.
The last thing you want is to confuse your audience with mixed messages and incoherent content. You build your brand with a clear goal and vision from the beginning. Stick to it to show professionalism, validity, and trustworthiness.
Do you think things stay on the internet forever?
It’s humans behind the internet, especially social media. They still can screw up.
There have been many corporate social media horror stories over the decades. In 2016, news.com.au reported one KFC campaign tweet as “seriously disturbing” for its inappropriate promo picture and caption. The tweet has been deleted, but the damage was done.
What can we learn from this besides emphasising the point of being more careful before posting our social media content? The cause for this incident was not identified, but one thing’s still clear: it passed the marketing team’s evaluation. They went with racy-based content and finalised the tweet. To no one’s surprise, it turned into a PR nightmare.
Taking risks can only go so far, especially with representing a brand. Our judgement, as the people behind the screen, can still be flawed. Although a social media style guide isn’t a perfect solution to keep this under control, it’s still helpful in preventing us from crossing a line.
Keep the Team in the Loop
By “us”, it means not only the marketing team you currently have. Interns, outsourced personnel, and new employees should be informed of the style guide. Besides reducing time and effort in re-explaining the whole thing, it also helps them make as few errors as possible. As the business owner, you can also refer to the document before approving any final social media posts.
The location of the social media style guide also matters, regardless of whether it’s printed or online. Everyone should have access to it and is encouraged to improve the content.
How to Create a Social Media Style Guide
Creating a social media style guide is simple. There are no rules set in stone, so be creative with these basics in mind.
Prepare the List of Your Company’s Social Media Accounts
Include at least the usernames, profile names (sometimes they’re not the same), and the links. You can go the extra mile by providing profile pictures and bio, but keep them up-to-date whenever there are changes.
Detail the Dos and Don’ts of Written Content
Content marketing never strays far from writing itself. Although social media are usually more compact, it doesn’t mean skipping the standardised writing guidelines in your company. (Read EWOR’s introduction to content marketing.)
If you already have a company blog and the guideline for writing the posts, you can copy some of its style guides to this one. There are indeed differences in content marketing between websites and social media. However, writing aspects like narrative voice, tone, diction, etc., can be made uniform. Detail the usage of gender-neutral salutations, slang, hyperlinks, and abbreviations if necessary.
Detail the Dos and Don’ts of Multimedia Content
HubSpot compiled the list of Social Media Stats for Visual Content Marketers, and some points there refer to the popularity of the Stories feature on Facebook and Instagram. With engagement on Instagram, Sprout Social summed up that “image content beats out video content”, with most brand accounts accumulating up to 75% of single-image posts.
Visuals are such a big deal on social media. They can be pictures, gifs, and videos; sometimes, you can even combine them.
Create a patterned schedule for uploading your audio/visual content to spice up your brand’s social media feeds. For instance, memes are posted on Tuesday, followed by pictures of the product/service on Wednesday, and so on.
Because it’s a style guide for social media, elaborate further on the usage of emojis and hashtags.
A social media style guide is a helpful reference for preserving the flair of your brand’s online presence on social media platforms. When your audience and prospective clients are exposed to consistent content over time, they’ll recognise your brand’s style more quickly.
Another benefit of this style guide is that your brand can be perceived as organised and professional because every post appears structured and well put. Having the document handy also saves your marketing team time and effort when creating content. They know what can and cannot be posted to keep your brand’s reputation intact.
There’s no fixed formula for creating a social media style guide, but pay attention to some essentials. These include a list of your company’s social media accounts and what should and should not be done in written and audio/visual content.