Why You Need Social Media Brand Guidelines & What to Include
What are social media brand guidelines and why do you need them? Here’s the full scoop!
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Everyone is on social media nowadays. But what distinguishes the best brands on social media from everyone else? You might be surprised that the ace up their sleeve is actually social media brand guidelines.
Over half of the world’s population uses at least one social media platform. So, whatever industry you’re in, there’s a good chance you’ll find potential customers on some social network.
But why is brand consistency so important and how can you achieve it? Keep reading to learn more!
Why do you need a consistent brand on social media?
First thing’s first: what are social media brand guidelines?
Just like regular brand identity guidelines, this is a document that outlines how to create content for professional social media accounts. In a nutshell, it tells you what type of content to post, when, and what tone of voice to use.
But, people are bombarded with visual content daily. Doesn’t that mean they’d rather see something completely out of the ordinary, than predictable social media profiles?
Not exactly. While an outrageous social media post can go viral in minutes, it’ll hardly help your business grow in the long run. Here are a few vital reasons why you need a brand style guide.
Do you want to learn how to build a social media brand? The first step is consistency.
No matter how creative you might be in the moment, people will forget your brand unless you ensure consistent content that people can recognise. There’s nothing that harms a brand more than choosing trends over your brand identity.
Here’s an example of a Tweet that brought Chase bank a lot of negative attention. This post was meant to be funny by using a format often seen in memes. Or perhaps even an honest attempt to remind people saving money is important.
And yet, because it came from a bank, it caused a lot of eyebrow raising and many people (rightfully so) reminded the bank about the post 2008 payouts banks received from the same taxpayers that treat themselves to the occasional takeout coffee or cab ride.
The moral of the story? You can’t be everything to everyone. Don’t try to be funny or cool just for the sake of it. Stay in your lane and produce content and style that people expect from you.
Cut social media cost
The cost of social media can be pretty unpredictable. Depending on what type of design and copywriting services you opt for, what’s your social media ad strategy, and so on.
However, social media branding guidelines can help seriously lower the costs. Every designer, copywriter or ad specialist that collaborates with your brand will have a much easier job if they have clear guidelines on your design, style, tone of voice, and target audience in the social media design brief.
If you’re working with freelancers that charge per hour, this can make the work much faster, and therefore a lot cheaper too.
One of the biggest struggles for small business owners managing social media is producing content regularly. However, a social media style contains all the necessary pointers to help you stay on top of your content calendar.
When you know about the type of content, copywriting and visual content styles to use, it’s much easier to produce posts, or even templates that you can reuse.
Aside from remembering your brand, social media can also help you build credibility and trust. If people land on your social media profiles and see branded, professionally created content, they’ll know you run a serious business,.
Posting regularly also helps to increase credibility, as people will see your accounts are updated regularly, which also signals that other information (about your products, prices, contact details, etc.) are accurate.
Whether you’re hiring a new social media manager, designer, or copywriter, having a social media branding guide can help them work much more efficiently. On the other hand, it can also make your social media presence more adaptable.It’s easier to implement changes when you have a clear idea of the approach so far.
However, social media guides for brands aren’t for social teams alone. Anyone working in or with your company can use this document to understand your social media strategy better.
What to include in social media brand guidelines?
Now that you know why brand guidelines for social media can help you, it’s time to learn what you should include in this document.
A list of all social profiles
It may seem like a no-brainer, but there are several reasons why you should list all your social media profiles:
Knowing all your handles will help you ensure they’re consistent and non-confusing. For example, you’ll see that Slack’s social profiles all have the handle SlackHQ, since this person had already claimed the name on Instagram.
Next, you’ll also be able to outline what target audience you’re addressing on each platform and how this impacts the social media strategy. For example, many brands nowadays have dormant Facebook profiles that they only use for the occasional big announcement, while the main source of interaction with their community is on Instagram and X.
That’s why you should also include a detailed description of your marketing personas for each social media channel.
Tone of voice
If your brand were a person, how would they speak? This is essentially the question you need to ask yourself to define your social media voice and tone.
If that’s a little vague, let’s dive a little deeper into this topic. What is a tone, and what is a voice? And how can you best define them?
The voice of your brand is a bit like a character trait - it never changes. Just like a person’s, it can be different things, e.g. friendly and informative, or sarcastic and quirky. Here are some ideas for defining your brand voice.
The tone depends on the situation. In the case of social media brand style guides, the tone is often different depending on the platform/use. The brand’s tone further defines the voice.
Let’s say your brand has a funny voice. Depending on the situation, you might want that to be cheeky, deadpan/dry, or even cheesy. You should also always specify whether you’re closer to a casual, neutral, or formal tone to ensure you meet your audience’s expectations.
The colors you use on your social media will probably be outlined in your general brand style guide. However, there are always exceptions.
For example, some brands like to keep things “seasonal” and use more conventional colors from holidays like Christmas, Halloween, 4th July, etc.
Others keep a consistent color palette all-year round. For example, you can see how Runaway kept things minimalistic and close to their brand color palette. Fashion labels and other businesses that have a pronounced aesthetic style, should try to uphold a unified, elegant look.
On the other hand, this post from Virginia DMV has a much more traditional look, which is suitable for an informative post from this kind of organization.
Fonts and formatting
When we think of social media marketing, the first thing that comes to mind is usually design. However, remember that social media also entails lots of writing, often in a specific way (e.g. character limit, hashtags, etc.).
So, it pays to set some rules on how to write in technical terms, as well as stylistic. Here’s a social media style guide example from New York University with writing guidelines for X (Twitter).
The usage of specific fonts is a matter of design. But there are many other things you may want to specify to ensure your writing looks consistent, such as: use of abbreviations, languages and dialects, date and time formats, use of commas, capitalization, etc.
Use of logo
Just like your brand guide, your social media style guide should outline when and how your logo should be displayed in social media post design.
Some brands put a logo on all of their posts, others don’t. There isn’t a right or wrong answer - just keep things consistent.
Here’s an example from Hubspot on how to use the logo properly and which pratices to avoid.
Hashtags and emojis
This can also be included in the tone and voice section. The use of hashtags and emojis is almost inevitable.
You should research relevant hashtags in the industry, and create branded hashtags, which are especially useful for user generated content. If you organize contests and giveaways, you should provide guidelines on hashtags use.
Finally, you can also create hashtags for specific campaigns. This can help increase your campaign’s visibility, and invite people to engage with you. One of the most famous ones is Apples #ShotoniPhone, which incidentally is one of the most successful user generated content campaigns ever.
You should decide whether you wish to use original or stock photography, and preferably stick to one or the other. But beyond that, you should also decide what kind of photos you share, whether you use any filters, watermarks, etc.
Although it may seem like a lot more work, custom graphics are often a much better solution. Not only can you make them 100% in line with your brand identity, you can also create templates to tweak and reuse whenever you need new content.
Social interaction guidelines
Social media and branding go hand in hand for one simple reason. This is where you can interact directly with your customers and potential customers. Remember to people outside your social media channels should appear as a unified front. So, you should use the same tone of voice in your posts as when you interact with the followers.
Of course, a promotional post and responding to negative comments will have slightly different tones. However, the style should be the same, almost like speaking to the same “person”.
A brand that has done this masterfully is Wendy’s. They’ve used the whimsical tone of voice used for their tweets in responses to people’s feedback. It has become such an internet sensation, that loads of people are now tagging Wendy’s (even asking for their signature “roasts”), which greatly increases the brand visibility.
I’m sure this example of social media branding seems as though someone is just using their everyday way of talking and good humor for a bit of social media fun. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The company has a whole team of people working with strictly defined social media brand guidelines. Although everyone loves their roasts, Wendy’s always keeps things relatively polite, in order not to alienate their audience which includes lots of families.
Social media is a powerful branding tool. Beyond paid campaigns that can bring you more business and profit, you should invest a lot of time into a social media strategy that will help your brand get more recognition and
We hope this brings you a step closer to understanding how to create a social media brand. For further tips, be sure to check out our articles on how to create a brand guide, and this list of social media mistakes you should avoid.
Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.