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Social Media Style Guide: How to Keep Everyone on the Same Page

Do you have more than one person posting to your social media accounts? Maybe you have a couple of people on your marketing team or maybe you invite your customer service team members to post. Even if you only have one person posting to all of your accounts, it’s important to remain consistent in your posting.

Consistency helps your audience recognize you and paints a much more effective picture of your business. And since people do business with entities they know, like, and trust, consistent social media posts go a long way to building the “know” portion of that success equation getting people interested in your business.

If you lack consistency in your social media posts you will confuse your audience and muddle your brand. In order to avoid this, you should create a social media guide. Even if you have one poster responsible for all your social media activity, creating a social media guide will ensure that you can continue posting in the most effective way if they were to leave the job tomorrow.

What is a Social Media Guide?

A social media guide is a document that influences all social media postings. The guide clarifies things like tone, personas, language, image format, company values, branding, as well as where you post and how often.

If you have an editorial calendar you can incorporate it into your social media guide but it can be a stand-alone document as well. You may also want to include the marketing and business goals behind your social media participation. It’s often important for people performing a job to understand the why behind what they’re doing and what you want to accomplish. Your social media guide could also include how you plan to track the progress toward the goals.

The guide should be detailed enough that if the person who is currently doing your social media were to suddenly be unavailable, everything someone would need to take over that role would be in that document.

A social media guide is also an excellent basis if you plan on handing over social media to your intern. While many members of the younger generation enjoy social media and know a lot about the technology behind it, they may not be aware of best practices in using social media for business purposes.

Components of a Social Media Guide

While you can include an editorial calendar, marketing goals, and marketing goal measurement details, for the purpose of this article we’re going to cover only the basics of the guide itself. We’ll assume your marketing goals are a different discussion and documented in another place.

1.    Tone

Tone is the sound of your language, the personality behind the post. You may have an upbeat tone where you work to inspire your audience at all times or you might have an educational tone in which case you want to sound informative. Tone is separate from post topics or content decisions. Deciding on your tone depends largely on your audience, your industry, and your branding. For instance, here are two different lead-ins for the same post about keeping your pets safe at Halloween. The first one has a friendly, casual tone while the second takes on a more informative approach:

Make sure your fur babies stay safe this Halloween with these 5 tips for more treats and fewer tricks!

or…

Halloween is a dangerous and stressful time for pets. Keep them safe with these five tips.

You can also use a “click-bait” tone. That means that each post should read like a salacious grocery store line magazine. Here’s that same article click-bait style:

5 things that could kill your pets on Halloween that you never thought of

The tools for tone is language. You will convey your tone through the words you choose. If you want your language to remain simple, mention that in your style guide. If you want more complex SAT-type vocabulary, make this clear. Not sure? Then ask yourself do you prefer the word “use” or “utilize”? “Use” is a simple way of saying “utilize.” These are the types of things you’ll want to detail in this part of the social media guide

2.    Social media platform usage

Each social media platform has a different demographic represented and a slightly different use. For instance, LinkedIn has a different personality than Facebook. You should treat these platforms accordingly.

Create a list of the platforms you are active on. Decide what you will post to each. Even if you plan on posting something from your blog to every platform you participate on, how you present the blog post should be altered slightly to attract that site’s demographic. For instance, on Instagram you’ll lead with the visual. You may decide that you want to “mark” your visual in a way that will entice Instagram users. On the other hand, if you’re posting the same blog post to LinkedIn, you may want to get right down to the value of that article for the reader. Make sure readers of your social media guide understand what you want to post to each platform and how you want to frame it. If you have character limitations or a number of sentences you want posters to use, flush these out as well. If there’s a hashtag that you want to be included or a number of hashtags you want each post to have on a specific platform, detail it there.

Speaking of…

3.    Tags, hashtags, and formats

Tags (of individuals) in posts are used to call attention to the post. For instance, if you interview someone for a blog post and you want to let them know it’s live, instead of emailing them and telling them it’s up, you could simply tag them on the post. It is also handy for notifying people who follow that person.

Hashtags do the same thing for concepts. They help in sort and search. For example, you might add a hashtag on the subject of your post. Using the Halloween pets example above, you might add #Halloween or #pets. Then people searching for those things will see your content

Your social media style guide should include some rules about using tags and hashtags. One thing you may want to include is the directive to never tag someone in an image or post who isn’t seen or mentioned in the content. Some people will tag an industry thought leader just to get in front of them (as being tagged adds the post to their stream, in most cases). As a business, you want to make the executive decision whether you encourage your social media posters to do this or not. Create some parameters around when it is okay to tag and when it is not.

When it comes to hashtags, you’ll want to decide how many you want to use, whether you have a consistent hashtag you want in every post, and if there are industry hashtags you want to be a part of and under what circumstances. For instance, if you serve several verticals there may be hashtags that are commonly used in each industry. In this case, you may want to stipulate when we’re talking about associations that posters use hashtag XYZ and when they are referring to businesses use this hashtag ABC instead.

You also want to include specific formats you want your posters to follow. These may include branding stipulations, watermarks you want on images, a particular filter or frame that should be applied to every image, a credit or logo, or even a written format such as post title followed by why this is a must-read.

4.    Company values and what you want to be known for

Make sure everyone is on the same page and knowledgeable about what your company mission is and what your organization values. In this section of the guide, you can include the “why” behind your business as well as who you help and how. Knowing these things can help your social media posters find the right words to frame each post. For example, if you want to be known as the cheapest place for preventative care for pets your posts will sound very different than a business that wants to be known as a thought leader in veterinary medicine. Your posters need to know what is important to your company and what your ultimate marketing and social media goals are.

5.    Words and things not to use

Most of your guide will be comprised of notes on what to do. But you do want to mention things you are absolutely opposed to as well. For instance, you may dislike the tone set by certain words such as epic, awesome, journey or others. You may also have an aversion to words that have lost their meaning such as great. Maybe you think using an overabundance of exclamation points makes you look like a 13-year-old kid texting about their parents leaving them home alone. Whatever your hot buttons are, and we all have them, make sure you include them in this document.

A social media guide is a good way to ensure that your posts are consistent and recognizable as part of your business. It also provides an easy way to transition or share social media duties.  Take the time to create it upfront and you’ll save yourself exasperation in the future.

Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. She is a regular blogger at frankjkenny.com.