In our opinion, the best way to find your brand’s voice and keep it consistent is to create a social media style guide. This is a living document that goes over, in detail, your brand’s voice, tone, and style for social media.
You might find yourself saying: “We already have a corporate style guide!” And corporate style guides are great, but the way your brand speaks and carries itself on social shouldn’t be the same as in other marketing. There’s much more of a human element, and customers want to connect with brands in this space. In fact, when customers feel connected to brands on social, 57 percent will increase their spending with that brand and 76 percent will buy from them over a competitor.
There are a few reasons why all brands would benefit from a style guide. For starters, it builds credibility/legitimacy. When followers see a consistent brand voice on social, it will be easier for them to get to know your brand and ultimately become a customer. Secondly, there’s less room for error. When your brand has clear guidelines written out, it’s much easier for social media managers to understand how to approach things like real-time events—or if your brand even should at all. And lastly, it makes things super easy for new employees like community managers or copywriters who will be using the brand voice in their everyday work. Having rules and preferences written out in one document will make their onboarding process smoother and will provide a clear way to measure success.
The Big Three
To start, let’s define what the “big three” terms (voice, tone, and style) mean.
- Voice: Your brand’s voice is, essentially, its personality. These are the characteristics that come to mind when a customer is asked to describe you (e.g. professional, casual, funny). Regardless of the content you’re publishing, your voice should never change.
- Tone: This is how you’ll execute your voice. Just as people change their tone depending on the situation at hand, brands should too. If your brand’s voice is casual, it should stay casual—but, for example, it would be more casual in a run-of-the-mill tweet than it would be when dealing with customer comments relating to serious matters like the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Style: Style is what your finished content looks like. It includes small (but very important) details like formatting, punctuation, grammar, and capitalization. For example, do you use the Oxford comma? Do you put a hyphen in “e-commerce”? Is it okay to break these style rules occasionally for platforms like Instagram and Twitter?
Every brand should have clear descriptors and guidelines for what its voice sounds like. In other words, what characteristics does your brand have? If your brand were a person, who would it be? If you’re struggling with this, here are a few thought-starters: friendly, energetic, sarcastic, casual, informative, formal, trendy, confident, helpful. Another good exercise could be looking back at past content and deciding which posts most align with the vibe you want your brand to give off—then figuring out how to describe that.
A big tip here is to be specific. For example, in Likeable’s style guide, we don’t just say that our voice is “informative.” We say: “We’re helpful, but not authoritative. We inform, but don’t lecture. We’re the friend you ask for advice, not your boss or professor.” And we don’t just say that our voice is “human.” We say: “We speak like people, not corporations. That means English, not jargon. We’re down-to-earth and personal, and we say everything with a smile.”
So, once you’ve figured out your brand’s voice and personality, it’s time to work on the tone. Our biggest tip here is to separate the “tone” section based on content type or networks. If you’re on both LinkedIn and Twitter, for example, your language will need to be tailored based on those audiences. For example, our guidelines for Twitter say: “Skew clever. Less description, more color, yes to emojis. We should not sound like a marketing robot.” Our guidelines for LinkedIn, on the other hand, say: “Skew professional. We should show off our industry knowledge with copy that’s direct and relevant.”
Here’s an example of how we posted the same blog on different networks with different tones:
Like we said in the definitions section, style covers details like formatting, punctuation, grammar, and capitalization. Some of these things will align with an existing style, like AP Style, but at the end of the day, the majority of these things will be based on your personal preference. Many brands (like the ones in the first paragraph) even break all style rules as a way to seem more “human” on social media. Here are some examples of what you could cover in this section:
- Brand Name Usage: Must your full brand name always be used, or is there an abbreviation? If so, when is it appropriate to use the shortened version?
- Punctuation: Do you put periods and commas inside quotation marks or outside? Do you use the Oxford comma? Do sentences that end with an emoji need punctuation as well?
- Emojis: Speaking of emojis, do you use them? When, and on which networks? Is there a limit to how many? Are there any that are off-limits?
- Hashtags: Do you use them? When, and on which networks? Are there specific hashtags associated with your brand? Do you use camel case? (Hint: You should.)
- Titles & Headlines: This Is an Example of Title Case and This is an example of sentence case—which do you use for titles?
- Industry-Specific Terminology: We’ve got our own little dictionary for words like microvideo, e-commerce, newsfeed, timelapse, etc. because those words come up often in social media. Depending on the industry your brand is in, you’ll likely have words or phrases that need clarification!
Hopefully, this provided a solid starting point for you in developing your brand’s social media voice and style guide. Just as no two brands are the same, no two guides are the same either—so don’t be afraid to make it your own. Also, one of the best things about style guides is that they’re living documents. As your brand (and social media itself) changes, grows, and evolves, so too will your style guide—and that’s a good thing! Just make sure the document lives in a place that’s accessible to all employees, and make sure you let everyone know of any major changes. Happy writing!
Need help developing your brand’s voice and social presence? That’s what we’re here for.