Many people think that a writer’s best friend is the dictionary, but I respectfully disagree. The true holy grail is the style guide—and the same is true for anyone working in social media.
For new employees, a social media style guide offers the answer to almost any question imaginable. It also offers guidelines that can help speed up the on-boarding process, ensuring a smooth transition between team members. But it’s not only helpful for new hires. A thorough social media style guide can act as a cornerstone for your entire social media strategy—a foundational document that ensures there’s clarity and consistency in how your business uses social media.
In this post, we cover 10 key components of a social media style guide. Depending on your industry, brand, and business needs, you may want to focus on some sections more than others, or add in sections that we haven’t covered here. The goal is to end up with a go-to document that gets circulated around your entire organization, offering both guidance and governance.
Most importantly, update your style guide on a regular basis. An outdated document filled with misinformation won’t be useful to anyone. As your strategy changes and your audience evolves, so too should your style guide.
Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.
10 key components of a social media style guide
1. A list of active accounts and contacts
This is an easy one. Begin your style guide with a list of all your active social media accounts, and link to each one. You should also include a list of names and contact information for everyone responsible for your social media efforts. Clearly identify who has access to each account and provide an outline of their roles and responsibilities.
2. Your social media goals
Your social media style guide is a good place to remind everyone of why you’re on social media in the first place. Include the goals you’re working towards and link to your overall social media marketing plan and strategy.
3. Audience breakdown
Who are you trying to reach? How do they speak, consume content, and behave on social? Does it differ from platform to platform? Your style guide should clearly define the people you want to reach and influence on social. This will help ensure they’re the main focus of every decision you make.
4. Tone of voice
Your style guide needs to outline not just what your brand talks about on social, but how it talks. The tone of voice you use on social shouldn’t be drastically different than the voice your brand uses everywhere else, although it should be adapted to fit the more personal nature of social media.
Your customers will be expecting one-on-one interaction when they reach out to your business on social, so the tone of voice you use should be the same as they’d receive over the phone or in-person.
There are a lot of words and phrases unique to your business or industry that your brand might use on social. Include a list of these and provide guidelines for how to deal with them, for example:
- Proper capitalization and spelling for product or brand names
- How to reference clients or customers
- When to use acronyms
- Words to avoid using all together
This section should cover any and all guidelines for the posts published by your brand on social. While some of these may seem like small and unnecessary details, they paint a much bigger picture. Like any other channel, how your business communicates on social media is a reflection of your brand, so you want to ensure the voice being used is as consistent as it is unique.
Should people sign off with their initials on the posts they publish? Or should every post appear to come from the brand (as opposed to an individual)?
Do you ever publish the same post to multiple social platforms? Or do you create specific posts for each one? If you do cross-post, provide guidelines. For example: “When publishing a post to more than one platform, ensure that you don’t use any terminology that isn’t applicable to the other platform, such as Retweet or Share. Avoid tagging people in posts that will be published on multiple platforms, since usernames don’t always align from one to the other.”
Where to source content
One of most common questions someone has when managing social media is: “what should I post?” Let people know where to find blog posts, announcements, images, videos, or GIFs that would be appropriate for your brand to share on social. If you have a shared content library where your brand stores pre-approved assets for social, link to it here.
Your brand may already have guidelines for written communication in place, or adhere to a format like AP Style. If so, link to these guidelines so that everyone knows how they should be crafting copy for social. Or outline the basics to ensure there’s consistency in every post and interaction your brand has on social. Include guidelines for capitalization and punctuation such as exclamation marks, all caps, and acronyms.
List all of the relevant hashtags your business uses on social. This includes hashtags you use for certain products or campaigns, and ones that you join in on to ramp up conversation and engagement (like daily hashtags, for example). Include style guidelines for using hashtags as well. For example, do you use all lowercase or capitalize the beginning letter of each word in a hashtag?
Using emoji on social media is a great way to say more in fewer characters and have some fun with your social messaging. It’s also been shown to increase engagement—but only if used correctly. Outline the context for when (and how) your business should use emoji. Our guide to using emoji can help you develop those guidelines.
How to give credit
When using someone else’s image, or sharing an article they wrote or discovered, how should you give that person credit? On Twitter, you might decide to use “h/t @username” (with “h/t” meaning “hat tip”) or simply mention that user name at some point in the Tweet. On Instagram, many people use the camera emoji (“? : @username”) to give credit to the appropriate person. (Hootsuite makes this process really easy, by the way.)
Shortening your links on social will not only free up more room for copy in your posts, it will also give you a measurable way to track the success of your efforts on social. Should links to content for campaigns or pages use different UTM parameters? (If you don’t know what those words mean, check out this post.)
Each social platform has its own features that also need to be taken into consideration. For example, does your brand Retweet other people outright or use Quote Tweets instead? What’s the average character length that a Facebook post should be?
Outline when you would schedule a post instead of publishing it in the moment. Is there a certain timeframe, or does it depend on the type of content being posted? Who is responsible for scheduling social content? Are there time zones relevant to your business that should be taken into account?
Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.Get the free guide right now!
Establish the cadence that your scheduled posts should follow, as well as the number of posts that should be scheduled each day. For example: “Tweets should be scheduled no less than two hours apart, up to a maximum of 10 per day.”
8. Content calendar
Include a link to your most recent social media content calendar. (Don’t have a social media content calendar? You’re in luck. We’ve got a handy template you can download and start using.) You should also outline how often to post on each social account.
9. Image and design guidelines
The images and design assets you use on social media should be closely aligned with the visuals your business uses everywhere else. This includes your branded profile pictures and header images, as well as any content you publish such as photos, videos, or GIFs.
Include a list of optimal image sizes for each social platform you use and guidelines for the type of visual content that should be used on social.
10. Legal considerations
If your business operates within a regulated industry, your style guide needs to include notes and guidelines for staying compliant on social media. Even if you’re not in a regulated industry, there are other legal considerations that should be covered in your style guide.
Understanding image copyright is a big one, since using images in social media posts is such a widespread (and effective) tactic.
Once you’ve got your social media style guide nailed down, put your strategy in motion by using Hootsuite to schedule posts, engage with your audience, and measure the success of your efforts. Try it free today.