How to Create a Social Media Style Guide for Your Business

Want to document how your business should market and communicate on social media? Wondering what you should cover?

Here are some critical elements to include when you create a social media marketing style guide.

 

#1: Define Your Brand Identity

Before diving into the details of creating a social media style guide, you need to get the essentials straight. You need to define:

  • Your brand identity
  • Your objectives for social media

Hopefully, you already have a brand identity. Check your general marketing plan for a mission statement or positioning statement. If you haven’t written one yet, have a go at filling in the gaps on this basic statement:

graphic of marketing positioning statement

The formula is deceptively simple. If you haven’t thought about your brand identity before, be prepared to invest some serious time in completing the sentence above.

#2: Declare Your Social Media Marketing Objectives

Once you know who you are, start thinking about what you want to achieve. When it comes to social media planning, you basically have three objectives available to you: reach new audiences, convert to customers, and retain customers.

graphic of social media objectives

This set is helpful way to break down your approach to social media. Some brands will choose to focus on just one objective. Other brands will need the full list. You might even tailor your strategy so you’re pursuing objectives 1 and 2 on Twitter but going for objective 3 on Facebook.

Bear in mind that your objectives can change over time. You’ll have different goals, strategies, and social channels for different markets. You’ll try new things and learn lessons over time. So whenever you create a social media style guide, add a date above the table of contents, nice and large, as shown in the image below.

screenshot of social media style guide table of contents

#3: Choose Your Social Networks

The next step is to make a list of all of the social networks your business currently uses. Don’t leave anything off the list, even if it’s a network you’ve neglected recently. If you have an account, put it on the list.

Now examine the list critically. Is anything missing? How does each network fit your aims for social media? If you have multiple objectives, as discussed above, you could try sorting your list of social networks into different buckets like reach, convert, and retain.

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However, you also need to be realistic at this point. Think about the size and skill set of your team, and ask how many social networks they can reasonably support, or entrust your business with a social media manager company.

#4: Determine Your Brand Voice

Every social network has its own style, from influencer-heavy Instagram to Twitter snark.

But, while bearing these different styles in mind, it’s more important to find your own brand voice. This voice should be consistent with your brand values and resonate with your target audience.

Finding your voice is something that benefits from a team effort. Try setting up a board full of sticky notes (virtual or analog) and encouraging everyone on your team to share a few keywords. Look out for words that are repeated or get a strong reaction from the group. And if everyone chooses totally different words, well… you might have some work to do on projecting a coherent brand image.

Try to condense those insights into a single sentence.  But whatever style you settle on, you have to be consistent. As we all know, consistency is a vital element of brand trust. This means that if you decide to change your style, you need to introduce the changes in the right way.

There are two options here: You can gradually introduce the new voice or go for a radical restart. One of the famous examples of this was Coca-Cola, which deleted all of their Instagram posts last year so they could start fresh with a campaign for kindness on social media.

Instagram profile for Coca-Cola

You also need to specify practical details about your brand voice. Do you use emojis? GIFs? Does your brand engage with memes or steer clear? How do you interact with your competitors on social media (if at all)?

These might seem like minor points but you’d be surprised by how many people hold different views—and often hold them very strongly. It’s better to map out the details now so your team can freely create within the boundaries you set, rather than micromanaging every post later on.

#5: Outline the Rules of Engagement on Social Media

We’ve talked about your aims, we’ve talked about your voice. This is where those elements start to come together.

Your goals on social media include reach, convert, and retain. Your tone and content should fulfill those objectives.

graphic of social media objectives and methods

We are going beyond the standard inbound marketing funnel here because social media isn’t just about getting customers; it’s also a way of maintaining customer relationships.

The first two points—attract and inform—are mostly outward-looking. It means you’re creating posts and pushing ads that draw more people toward your brand. The inform stage also involves some one-to-one responses as you answer questions from people who are considering a purchase.

The final point—serve—includes both customer service and social listening. Increasingly, people use social media as a customer service channel. In addition to direct customer queries and complaints, you should also be using social listening to find more potential customers.

Content Creation and Curation

You might think of content as something that happens after you write your social media style guide. You pick a network, choose a goal, define your voice, and then… content just sort of happens, right?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. In your social media style guide, we recommend making a few key decisions about content such as:

  • Do we only share in-house content or also content from other sources?
  • If we share both in-house and external content, what’s the ratio between the two content types?
  • How do we source and approve external content?
  • How much do we schedule and how much do we post spontaneously?
  • Which content formats do we use for which social networks?
  • Do we record what we’ve posted? Where? How?

You want to set expectations for the content you post and design workflows so your appointed team can work as efficiently as possible.

Crisis Management

Nobody wants to deal with a social media crisis but your social media style guide isn’t complete without some disaster planning. Because social networks are so immediate, a scandal or disagreement can blow up very quickly. You’ll need a crisis management plan just in case.

Be clear about who takes charge in a crisis; you don’t want multiple people posting contradictory messages. Write a list of “instant response” actions such as pausing or canceling any scheduled posts. (This can also be a good move in moments of wider crisis. If an international tragedy takes place, you probably don’t want to be posting status updates about your latest discounts.)

With both individual complaints and general crises, you want to move things off the public platform as soon as possible. Encourage your team to contact disgruntled followers via direct message. Even in a crisis, they should maintain your normal brand voice, without being flippant or dismissive.

Finally: never, ever respond to insults or abuse. If there’s a legitimate grievance in the message, your team should respond to that alone.

 

Conclusion

With comprehensive social media style guide, you and your team will have a much easier time online. With clear objectives, expectations, and processes, your business can be more efficient, responsive, and successful on social media.

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