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What? You don’t have one? Even if you’ve never heard of a social media style guide, you may have one without even realizing it. Much like any editorial style guide, a social media style guide defines the parameters of your social media content so that everyone managing your social media channels understands the format, tone, and cadence that should be used to represent your brand.

If your brand or company already has an editorial, web, or even a print style guide, your social media style guide will be an extension that applies those same styles to social media channels. If you already produce social media content, creating a social media style guide should be relatively simple and will help solidify and articulate your approach. Creating a guide can also be helpful as you scale your social media initiatives.

Here are some key components you should include in your social media style guide:

1. Engagement Style
Choose an engagement style before moving on to the other components. Zendesk’s Matthew Latkiewicz once described what he called the top five social media engagement styles: the game show host, the friendly neighborhood service rep, the bee hive,  the community builder, and the friend. Decide what kind of personality best suits your brand.

2. Tone of Voice
Social media creates conversations, and the tone of voice you use in those conversations may be the most important component of your style guide. Tone of voice is a direct manifestation of the brand’s personality and should strengthen your connection with your customers. Start by looking at the ways your customers are currently engaging with your brand online. When defining your tone of voice, think of adjectives like strong, sassy, personal, passionate, or cooperative.

3. Formatting
The format of social media content is defined by the platform, and you’ll want to follow best practices for each of those platforms. A few examples:

• Twitter: Attribute tweets to the team member with a caret and that users’ initials (i.e., ^CC), and shorten links using, or another link-shortening service.
• Facebook: Delete the text URL from your post before publishing a link.
• YouTube: Give videos descriptive names to support SEO.

4. Cadence
Cadence refers to the frequency of posts. There’s no all-purpose rule for cadence, so you may need to do some testing to determine the optimal frequency for your channels based on your analysis of each channel’s analytics and content calendar. In general, optimal frequency is when you’ve maximized engagement and minimized unsubscribes (unlikes, unfollows, etc) on your channel.

5. Imagery
Cover images, profile images, avatars, and brand imagery are critical to social brand. Although each channel will have specific requirements, maintain a central repository of logos and brand imagery that can be used on the fly. In addition, it’s helpful to know where to go when you need stock imagery and what restrictions your business has on using images you don’t own.

6. Hashtags and Keywords
Regularly update a list of hashtags and keywords that are related to your business and define the context in which they should be used on Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Google+, blogs, etc. Being consistent with hashtags and keywords across all social channels, you will improve the discoverability and reach of your messaging.

For hashtags, sites such as offer the ability to identify popular hashtags.

For keywords, check out Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool.

7. Tagging People and Brands
Tagging can increase your channel’s reach, but it’s not without risks. Add tagging guidelines to your social media style guide that include clarification regarding who can be tagged, what permissions are needed prior to tagging, and what to do if someone asks you to remove their tag.

8. Attribution
Properly attributing the content you use is important. Your style guide should define how to attribute content that you’ve been given permission to use or is fair use.

9. Keep it Dynamic
Every social media style guide should be a living document that is regularly updated to reflect internal changes such as new brand guidelines or policies, as well as external changes such as new channels, new features, or restrictions. Appoint a social media leader to regularly update the style guide and audit your channels.

Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments section!

Corey Christiansen is a social media strategist at digital marketing agency Metia.

[Top image credit:  LanKS/Shutterstock]

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