How to Create Social Media Brand Guidelines

how to create social media brand guidelines

One of the big challenges of implementing a successful social media strategy is developing a brand voice. How should your brand look, sound and interact online? How do you keep your brand consistent and ensure your social presence stays in line with your vision and core values?

Whether you have a person/team managing your social in-house or enlist the help of a consultant or agency, it is extremely helpful to have social media brand guidelines, also known as a style guide. This important document will help to ensure consistency and quality, serving as a guide for anyone who will be communicating with the public on behalf of your business.

Your Audience Comes First

As with any marketing strategy, the first step in developing your social media style guide is to clearly identify your target audience. Hopefully you have already done this as part of your overall business strategy.

It’s important to include this information in your social brand guidelines, because you want your social team to always keep the audience at the front of their minds. Who are we trying to reach? Who is engaging with our brand? What types of content do they find interesting/valuable? Keeping your audience at the forefront helps to inform all of the rest of the branding and content guidelines.

Remember, a target audience should be specific and clearly defined. If you try to appeal to everyone, you risk appealing to no one. Start your social media brand guidelines by listing out the following information about your target audience:

  • Age range
  • Geographic location
  • Demographic info (gender, marital status, income/education level, with or without children)
  • Interests, likes and dislikes
  • Values
  • Buying habits

Social Media Brand Guidelines: Go Beyond the Basics

Many businesses have a basic brand standards guide, which usually includes guidelines for the use of logos, fonts and colors. When considering social media, however, the brand guidelines need to go much further. You need to clearly define both brand image and brand voice. Let’s briefly touch on what each of those mean, then we’ll dive in deeper to each one.

  • Brand Image – The “look and feel” of your visual content. This defines how images and graphics should look.
  • Brand Voice – The tone and “personality” of your brand online. This defines how your brand speaks and engages on social media, whether through post captions, tweets, comments or replies to fans.

The goal is that you could have ten different people helping with the social content and community management, but the look and voice would stay consistent and the engagement would feel seamless to your fans and followers.

A Cohesive Brand Image

Social media is so highly visual; it’s essential to take time to consider and define your brand image. If someone looks at your Facebook page, and then your website, and then your Twitter profile, the look and feel should be consistent across the board. 

social media brand guidelines

Your brand image, or “visual voice,” ties in closely with things that you’ve probably already defined in your brand standards, like colors and logos, but covers other things, too. On social media, you have to think about images and graphics, and what sort of look and feel you want your brand to have when followers view your visual content.

To identify and define your ideal brand image, start by looking at your current and past content. What do you like best about your current social media presence? What do you like the least? Are there any past social images that really seemed to resonate with your audience? Any that felt “wrong” or not suited to the image you wish to convey?

Start by writing down words to describe the ideal look and feel you hope to present – as well as descriptions of what you DON’T want. Think about things like:

  • Colors to use or not use
  • Light vs. dark, bold vs. calm, minimal vs. busy, etc.
  • Lighting
  • How images should be styled
  • Fonts to use for graphics

It’s also helpful to look around at other brands on social to get an idea of what you want or don’t want. Instagram is a great platform to do this. Look for brands whose visual content makes an impact and really conveys the style and feel of that brand. Take screenshots of images, graphics or other visual content that inspire you, and save them to include in your social brand guidelines.

Look at how these three different food brands convey a vastly different image, just by the style, colors and composition of their visual content on Instagram:

social media brand guidelines   social media brand guidelines   social media brand guidelines

Finding Your Voice

When we begin working with a new client on social media, there are a few exercises we do to help us better understand the client’s desires when it comes to brand voice. The first is a simple list of adjectives. We look at these together with our client and ask, which of these words best describe your brand and how you want to be perceived?

social media brand guidelines brand voice

Another helpful exercise is to create a persona for your brand. If your business were a person, who would it be? Think about age, personality and defining characteristics – then take those descriptions and use it to help define your brand voice.

Once again, it helps to look at your own past content and to find “inspiration” brands that embody the tone and style you would like for your brand. Keep in mind these don’t necessarily have to be your competitors or even in your same industry. You are looking purely at voice, not at content.

Since we work with a lot of restaurants, we follow several big name restaurant brands on social and enjoy seeing what kind of brand voices they each have. For example:

  • Dominos – Funny, casual, sometimes snarky – captions often read like a millennial-aged person talking to a friend.
  • Chipotle – Short, punchy, witty. Uses lots of puns and some pop culture references like song lyrics.
  • Chick-fil-A – Cheerful, friendly, positive, family-friendly. Occasional witty or funny posts, but not sarcastic or snarky.

Once you have a solid idea of your ideal brand voice, put it into writing in your Brand Guidelines doc. Use descriptive words like the examples we’ve shown above. Include screenshots to show examples of the “right” brand voice, either from inspiration brands or from your favorite past posts that you’ve shared. (You can also include some “wrong” examples too, to show what to avoid.) Be detailed and specific – remember, you want anyone who reads this to have a very clear picture of how your brand speaks and engages on social.

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, here is a great, in-depth article from Buffer on developing and defining your brand voice.

Keep Refining

Once you have your completed social media brand guidelines, don’t etch them into stone tablets and install them in your company lobby. This is likely to be a document that will need to be revisited and refreshed often, as you continue to refine your brand image and learn more about your audience. 

We hope this has been a helpful resource! Would you like to talk to one of our social media gurus about how to improve your brand’s social presence? Contact us to set up a complimentary consultation.

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Heather Allen

Director of Marketing and Development at Belle Communications
Heather oversees the development and implementation of Belle’s overall marketing strategy to clearly communicate the mission, culture and expertise of the company and team. She ensures that the vision and Core Belle-iefs are upheld within business development, marketing, processes and culture to support the agency’s continued growth and success. In her free time, Heather loves reading, trying new restaurants and hanging out at home with her husband and toddler.