Every brand, publication, and website needs a good style guide. And every good social marketer needs a great social media style guide.
A style guide helps keep your brand consistent across all your channels. It will make sure that everyone on your team is using the same terminology, tone, and voice.
Let’s look at why you need clearly defined social media brand guidelines, along with some great style guide examples for you to model.
A social media style guide is a document that outlines the specific style choices you make for your brand on social media.
This includes everything from your logo and branding colors to how you use emojis and hashtags. In other words, it’s a set of rules that dictate how you present your brand.
Why bother creating a social media style guide? Because consistency is key on social. Your followers should be able to easily recognize your content, no matter where they see it.
Ask yourself this:
- Do you use serial (aka Oxford) commas?
- Do you use British English or American?
- Do you say zee, zed, or something else completely?
And that’s not to mention that small issues like spelling, grammar, and punctuation can have a big impact on brand perception.
If you want to build recognition, trust, and loyalty for your brand, then you need to be consistent in how you present it. That’s where a social media style guide comes in.
A style guide for social media should be clear and concise. It should answer basic questions about your brand voice, target market, and tone across different social platforms.
Here’s a full breakdown of what to include in your social media style guide.
A list of all your social media accounts
Start by creating a list of all the social media accounts your business currently uses. This is important because each platform will have slightly different rules when it comes to voice and tone.
For example, LinkedIn is a more formal platform than Twitter, and Facebook is a mix of both. Knowing where your brand falls on the spectrum will help you create content that resonates with your audience.
nickname idea for significant other pic.twitter.com/g3aVVWFpCe
— no name (@nonamebrands) August 11, 2022
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
— Meow Wolf (@MeowWolf) August 15, 2022
Outlining your voice and tone in your social media style guide will help you ensure all your content sounds like it’s coming from the same source.
It’ll also help any new team members who come on board to quickly get a feel for how they should be representing your brand online.
Here are some questions to consider as you define your brand voice and tone.
Will you use it? Unless you’re in a highly technical industry with a very niche audience, your best bet is probably not.
Stick to plain language that’s easy for your audience to understand, and make a list of jargon-y words to avoid.
Source: The World According to Skype
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.
Remember, accessibility is a key component of inclusivity.
Sentence, paragraph, and caption length
In general, short is best. But how short? Will you take the same approach on Facebook as you do on Instagram? Will you use threaded Tweets to go beyond 280 characters?
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.
Hello, please send us your booking reference here: https://t.co/Y5350m96oC to assist. /Rosa
— Air Canada (@AirCanada) August 26, 2022
Social media policy
Your social media style guide clarifies the small details of how your brand uses social media. Your social media policy clarifies the bigger picture.
A social media policy outlines expectations for employee behavior on social media, and usually includes guidance on things like content, disclosure, and what to do if you receive negative feedback.
If you don’t have one yet, we’ve got a whole blog post to help you write a social media policy.
Here are some key points to include:
- Team roles: Who is responsible for creating and publishing content? Who has the final say on what gets published?
- Content: What type of content is appropriate (e.g., product photos, employee photos, company news, memes)? Are there any off-limits topics?
- Timing: When is content published (e.g., during business hours, after hours)?
- Security protocols: How to manage passwords and security risks.
- Crisis plan: How should your team handle a crisis?
- Compliance: How to stay on the right side of the law, especially in regulated industries.
- Employee guidelines: For personal and professional social media use.
When building out audience personas, consider the following:
- Basic demographics (location, age, gender, occupation)
- Interests and hobbies
- Pain points/what they need help with
- How they use social media
- 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.
Source: Google Trends Brand Guidelines
Acronyms and abbreviations
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.
Pronunciation is increasingly important as social media moves towards video content.
Other language specific to your brand
If there are other words or phrases that are specific to your brand, make sure to include them in your style guide. This could be anything from the names of products to company slogans.
For example, Hootsuite employees are affectionately known as “owls,” both internally and on social media.
— Neil Power (@NeilPower) May 26, 2018
Starbucks, on the other hand, refers to their employees as “partners.”
To all my Starbucks partners: happy pumpkin launch, and may the drive times be ever in your favor.
— gracefacekilllla (@gracefacekilla) August 29, 2022
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?
— APStylebook (@APStylebook) July 22, 2022
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.
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.
Not every idea you share on social media will be uniquely your own. Curated content can be a great way to add value to your social feed without creating new content of your own.
But which sources will you share from? More importantly, which sources will you not share from? You likely want to avoid sharing posts from your competitors, for example.
Also define your guidelines for how to source and cite third-party images.
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.
How many hashtags?
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:
- Lowercase: #hootsuitelife
- 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.
Guidelines for use
Not sure where to start with your guidelines for UGC? We suggest some basics in our post on how to use user-generated content:
- Always request permission
- Credit the original creator
- Offer something of value in return
- Use search streams to find UGC you might have missed
How to credit
Specify how you will credit the users whose posts you share. You should always tag them, of course, but what format will you use for that credit?
For example, camera icons are a common way of attributing photographs on Instagram.
We’ve talked a lot about words, but you also need to define your brand’s visual look and feel for social media. Here are some design guidelines to get you started.
If you’ve already defined your brand colors, these will likely be the colors you use in your social media accounts. You may wish to define which colors to use in different contexts.
For example, you may want to use a softer version of your brand’s primary color for backgrounds, and a more saturated version for text and call-to-action buttons.
Where and when will you use your logo on social media? It’s often a good idea to use your logo as your social media profile picture.
If your logo doesn’t work well as a square or circle image, you may need to create a modified version specifically for social media use.
Source: Medium Brand Guidelines
What kinds of images will you use on social media? Will you use stock photos, or only photos that you’ve taken yourself? If you do use stock photos, where will you get them from?
Will you watermark your images? If so, how?
Be sure to include all of this info in your style guide for social media.
Filters and effects
It’s important to create a visual look and feel for your brand. Whether you go #nofilter or you use the latest design tools to edit your images, consistency is key.
Your social media style guide should include info on which filters and effects to use (or not use).
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Social media style guide examples
Ready to build your own social media style guide? Use these examples as a jumping-off point for your own guide.
New York University (NYU) social media style guide
The New York University (NYU) social media style guide includes
- all active NYU accounts
- how to attribute content to specific sources
- detailed information on punctuation and style.
They also include platform-specific information, like how many Retweets to 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.
Starbucks social media style guide
Starbucks’ social media style guide offers a culture-first guide to discussing and promoting the Starbucks brand online.
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.
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.
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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