As well, make sure to include your social media handle(s) in your style guide. This will help you get a clear picture of the naming conventions you’ve used for your accounts.
Are the names consistent across channels? If not, now’s the time to choose a style and note it in your style guide. This way you can ensure new accounts on new channels are easily discoverable by your existing fans.
Voice and tone
To connect with your audience, you need to have a clearly defined brand voice. Some brands are super-cheeky on social media. Others maintain a pretty formal tone.
You can take either approach, or some variation, but you need to keep it consistent.
What's at the bottom of the ocean? We think its Forbidden Shrimp
What guidelines will you follow on social media to make sure your language is inclusive and fair? Involve team members in the discussion as you develop your inclusive language guidelines. If your team is too large for everyone to join in the discussion, make sure you have diverse viewpoints represented. Circulate the preliminary guidelines to seek feedback.
Does your brand use emojis? If so, which ones? How many? On what channels? How often? Have the same discussion about GIFs and stickers.
How and where to use CTAs
How often will you ask your readers to take a specific action, like clicking a link or making a purchase? What kinds of action words will you use in your calls to action? What words do you need to avoid?
Do you post as a brand? Or do you attribute your social posts to individual team members? For example, it’s common for customer service social accounts to use initials to indicate which team member is replying to a public message. If this is how you approach customer comments, be sure to outline this in your social media style guide.
What kind of content they engage with (e.g., blog posts, infographics, videos)
The more detail you can provide to your team from the start, the better equipped they’ll be to develop content that appeals to your target market.
Brand language rules
There are likely several words, phrases, acronyms, and names that are specific to your brand. You need to define precisely how you use them.
Your style guide for social media should include a list of all your brand trademarks. Don’t put your list in all-caps, because this makes it impossible to tell the difference between, say HootSuite (wrong) and Hootsuite (right).
Provide guidelines for how to use your trademarks. Do you use your product names as verbs? What about plurals? Or possessives? Sentence fragments? Get specific.
If your brand is particularly acronym-heavy, you’ll want to include a section on how to use them.
For example, NATO is always written out as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on the first reference, with NATO in parentheses afterwards. Like this:
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
If you’re using an acronym that’s not widely known, spell it out on the first reference.
As well, make a list of the acronyms your company commonly uses internally, along with what they stand for. Indicate whether it’s appropriate to use the acronyms on each social channel, or to use the full term.
Is there a right way to say your brand name? If so, make sure you include the correct pronunciation in your style guide. For example, is it “Nikey” or “Nikee”?
If your brand name is hard to pronounce, consider creating a pronunciation key. This can be as simple as including the phonetic spelling of difficult words next to the word itself.
If you use specific terms like this, write them down. Not just how you refer to your employees, but any non-trademarked language you use to refer to any aspect of your company. For example, do you have customers, clients, or guests? All of this info will help bring clarity to your social media style guide.
Let’s bring it back to the linguistic issues we touched on right at the start. Consistency guidelines help everyone posting on behalf of your brand to use the same language every time.
Your first step in building out consistency guidelines is to pick a dictionary. (They’re all a little different.) List it in your style guide and make sure all relevant team members have access to an online document or a paper copy.
This way you don’t have to decide on every grammar and punctuation choice yourself.
Here are some consistency issues to consider.
US or UK English
Depending on where your company calls home, you’ll want to use either US or UK English in your social media style guide. If you have a global audience, you may need to consider both.
This is important not just for spelling (e.g., color vs colour), but also for vocabulary and grammar. For example, in US English, it’s standard to write dates as month/day/year, whereas in UK English the order is day/month/year.
If you don’t use language consistently across your channels, you risk confusing or alienating your audience.
Punctuation and abbreviations
In general, you should use proper punctuation in your social media posts. This includes things like using apostrophes correctly and avoiding text speak (e.g., lol, ur).
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. For example, hashtags don’t use punctuation, and it’s generally accepted to use abbreviations on Twitter (e.g., TIL, IMO).
Be sure to outline where and when it’s appropriate to use abbreviations and slang in your social media style guide.
Our style: OK, OK'd, OK'ing, OKs. We don't use okay. As for the postal code OK, we use postal codes only in complete addresses that include the ZIP code. Otherwise, Okla. for the abbreviation in datelines. Spell out Oklahoma and other state names in stories. OK?
Serial commas are a bit of a divisionary subject. There’s no right answer on whether to use them. The Associated Press is mostly against them, but the Chicago Manual of Style says they are a must. Make your own choice on this issue and use it consistently.
Your social media style guide should make it clear how you want to format your headlines. For example, the AP Stylebook recommends using sentence case for headlines while the Chicago Manual of Style says to use title case. Again, pick and style and stick to it.
True story: I once won a Dale Carnegie Pen for a speech about the differences between a hyphen (-), an en-dash (–), and an em-dash (—).
You might not be as into punctuation as I am, but you still need to define your dash style to ensure consistency.
Dates and times
Do you say 4pm or 4 p.m. or 16:00? Do you write out days of the week or abbreviate them? What date format do you use? Be sure to include all of these details in your social media style guide so everyone is on the same page.
Do you use numerals or spell out numbers? When do you start using numerals? These are important questions to answer in your style guide so that everyone is on the same page.
How often will you include links in your posts? Will you use UTM parameters? Will you use a URL shortener? Make sure your social media style guide includes these details.
Bonus: Get a free, customizable social media style guide template to easily ensure a consistent look, feel, voice, and tone across all your social channels.
We cover how to use hashtags effectively in different blog posts. In your social media style guide, your goal is to define a hashtag strategy that keeps your social channels consistent and on-brand.
Do you use branded hashtags to encourage fans and followers to tag you in their posts, or to collect user-generated content? List any branded hashtags in your style guide, along with guidelines about when to use them.
Also provide guidelines for how to respond when people use your branded hashtags. Will you like their posts? Retweet? Comment?
Create a list of hashtags specific to any one-off or ongoing campaigns.
When a campaign is over, don’t delete the hashtag from this list. Instead, make notes about the dates the hashtag was in use. This way, you have a permanent record of the hashtags you’ve used. This can help spark ideas for new tags for future campaigns.
For example, as travel shut down in March, Destination BC launched a campaign with the hashtag #explorebclater. As local travel began to open up in early summer, they transitioned to #explorebclocal.
The ideal number of hashtags to use is a matter of ongoing debate. You’ll need to do some testing to learn how many are right for your business. As well, this number will differ between channels. Check out our guide on using hashtags for every network to learn more.
Be sure your social media style guide outlines best practices for hashtag use on each channel.
As well, hashtag case use should be clearly defined. There are three otions for hashtag case:
Uppercase: #HOOTSUITELIFE (best for very short hashtags only)
Camel case: #HootsuiteLife
User-generated content can be a huge boost to a brand, but make sure your team knows how to properly curate and credit it.
They also include platform-specific information, like how many Retweetsto use on Twitter each day. And, how to use line breaks on Facebook.
Indigenous Tourism BC social media style guide
Indigenous Tourism BC uses its style guide for social media to improve public understanding of Indigenous culture across digital channels.
This section of the Indigenous Tourism BC social media style guide has a big focus on language. Language is an important part of de-colonizing narratives around Indigenous peoples. By promoting correct usage of Indigenous Style across media, they are paving the way for better understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
By explaining the “why” behind their style choices, they give Starbucks partners a more detailed understanding of the purpose behind the brand’s messaging.
Social media style guide template
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? We’ve covered a lot of material in this guide. But don’t worry—we’ve created a free social media style guide template you can use to build your own social media brand guidelines from scratch.
To use the template, click the File tab in the top left corner of your browser, then select Make a copy from the drop-down menu. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have your own version to edit and share. Feel free to delete any sections that aren’t relevant to your business, or that you’re not ready to tackle at this time.
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