| Jun 27, 2023 | | 16 min read

The dos and don’ts of creating social media branding guidelines


Social media branding guidelines are a key set of principles that outline the way a brand presents itself in the digital landscape. They’re important for marketers and businesses of all sizes, including SMBs, because they define a consistent voice and aesthetic, solidify the brand’s identity, and create a framework for engaging customers effectively.

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The right social media style guide can facilitate fruitful connections with audiences, building trust and driving business growth through effective content marketing. But given the dynamic nature of social media, crafting these guidelines can be complex. There’s no one-size-fits-all set of guidelines that will be appropriate for every business. In this article, we’ll go through the dos and don’ts of creating impactful social media branding guidelines that are perfectly suited to each client.

Anatomy of social media branding guidelines: Important components

While every style guide for social media should reflect the unique characteristics of the business using it, they all share the same general structure. The same process of crafting social media branding guidelines can be used again and again.

Next, we’ll walk through exactly how to create a social media style guide, from start to finish.

Define your brand identity

If you sell social media packages, before writing any social media design guidelines the first crucial step is to deeply understand your client’s business. Remember, the finished guide should support them in adequately representing their business online. It’s impossible to do this without knowing what the brand wants to communicate.

Crafting the DNA of a brand: Defining brand identity

Begin by learning or, if necessary, establishing your client’s brand mission, values, and unique selling proposition (USP). This will provide a foundation for the creation of a style guide for social media, guiding the brand’s visual and communication style. If you’re working with a new client, a social media questionnaire can be the perfect way to gain the information you need.

Next, take the time to cultivate a deep understanding of the target audience’s needs, preferences, and behaviors. An effective exercise at this stage is the creation of audience personas. These fictionalized customers should have well-defined pain points that you can aim to address in your messaging on social media.

Finally, before moving on, conduct a competitive analysis to illuminate how your client can differentiate themselves to stand out in the market. By scoping the competition, it’s easier to pinpoint unique aspects that set your client apart. These points of differentiation will be worked into the social media branding guidelines.

Establishing brand voice and personality

Your brand voice is the human touch in your social media presence. It should mirror your client’s brand personality and resonate with the intended audience.

Brainstorm different approaches to brand voice to determine which one best encapsulates the brand’s essence. For example, it might be friendly, professional, witty, goofy, encouraging, empowering, or ambitious. Whatever you settle on, it should align with the brand identity established earlier.

Once you’ve settled on a brand voice, you can define a language style and communication approach, ensuring it’s consistent across all touchpoints.

  • Are you formal or colloquial?
  • Do you use jargon or speak plainly?
  • Are you youthful or mature?


Throughout this process, check in to make sure your decisions about brand voice are in step with the desires and preferences of the target audience.

Establish a visual style

So far, we’ve focused more on the writing side of things by establishing a brand voice and personality. But social media is highly visual. That’s why it’s critical to come up with social media visual guidelines that will help you convey your client’s message at a glance through the power of imagery.

Create logos and other visual elements

A brand logo is more than just an image: it’s a powerful symbol that should invoke instant recognition, reinforcing the brand’s unique identity. That’s why it’s so important to design a logo that is both memorable and visually appealing, a reflection of your client’s brand identity.

Beyond just creating a logo, you’ll need to define clear guidelines for its usage. These guidelines should include detailed instructions about the logo’s size, placement, use cases, and acceptable color variations. For example, providing guidelines on when to use the full-color logo versus a one-color logo can ensure consistency across various platforms and contexts.

In addition to a logo, visual elements like a color palette and typography system need to be included in your social media branding guidelines document. These elements form an integral part of the overall visual identity, supporting the brand’s personality.

Consistency in color palette usage can evoke specific emotions associated with your client’s brand, while the right typography choice can convey the brand’s message clearly and effectively. For example:

  • Vibrant colors for a youthful, energetic brand
  • A serif font for a serious, professional office
  • A round, friendly sans-serif font for a DTC pet food brand

Construct a narrative through consistent brand imagery

It’s not enough to just select or create visually appealing images. They need to be aligned with your client’s brand, its values, and its personality. To make this process easier, it helps to develop specific social media visual guidelines that define image styles, filters, and compositions that reflect your client’s brand.

In this section of your social media style guide, you might include elements like:

  • Color themes: Warm sunny colors, moody dark colors, or another theme that’s appropriate for your client.
  • Filters: Specific app filters or custom filters created in Photoshop to give images a cohesive look.
  • Image types: Illustrations, photographs, GIFs, etc.
  • Subject matter of images: Product images, user-generated content (UGC), lifestyle images, or a combination.


For example, an outdoor clothing brand might opt for naturally lit photographs of scenic landscapes and active lifestyle images, while a luxury watch brand may prefer high-quality studio product shots and minimalist, refined compositions.

Finally, make sure to provide guidelines for image usage and resizing across different platforms. This ensures uniformity and provides a more consistent brand experience across all touchpoints.

Shortcut to brand consistency: Templates and assets

One of the purposes of social media style guides is to ensure consistency regardless of who’s in charge of managing social media accounts. By creating templates for various social media posts, cover images, and graphics, you provide a ready-to-use toolkit that aligns with your client’s brand. This can be used to create on-brand, consistent imagery with little effort, whether you use white-label social media pros to manage your client’s account or they handle it in-house.

Include templates for every social media platform the client uses. Assets might include:

  • Infographic templates and color schemes
  • Stickers and icons
  • Font usage guidelines
  • Information about image dimensions and file formats
  • Instagram stories layouts


Together, these will ensure that visuals appear correctly across different platforms.

Putting it all together with a content strategy

At this stage, you’ve established the important foundations of your social media branding guidelines: how the brand will sound (its voice) and look (its visual style), based on its personality and the characteristics of its audience.

Now, we’re finally ready to move on to the meat of your guidelines, the content.

Using content themes to build narrative pillars

A successful content strategy is all about understanding your client’s brand and audience. We used these as our north star to come up with a suitable brand voice and aesthetic approach. Now, we’ll use the same principle to identify key content topics or pillars that resonate with your client’s brand ethos and audience interests.

These pillars will serve as the foundational themes for all content produced. For example, if your client is a sustainable fashion brand, its content pillars could include:

  • News about sustainability in fashion
  • Ethical production processes
  • Eco-friendly lifestyle tips


Then, within your established pillars, brainstorm social media content ideas to produce. These might be educational posts, fun memes, or informative case studies. The content types should cater to the audience’s preferences and align with the brand’s overall communication strategy.

Pro-tip: Make sure your social media branding guidelines maintain a healthy balance between promotional content, intended to drive sales, and value-added content, meant to educate, entertain, or inspire the audience. This balance ensures that the audience perceives the brand as a valuable resource, not just a sales machine.

Put your plan into action with content creation and sharing guidelines

Whatever type of content you choose to include in your social media post design guidelines, it’s important to provide an overview of how to create social content and share it.

This should encompass a writing style, tone, and subject matter that aligns with the brand’s voice and personality. It can also include tips and guidelines for photography and videography. These guidelines help in maintaining consistency and quality in all content across every platform—an important aspect of building trust and engagement with the audience.

Apart from creating original content, brands also regularly share third-party content. This is a good way to broaden the conversation and provide additional value to the audience, while also reducing the need to churn out original content every day. Third-party content could include industry news, influential thought pieces, or UGC.

To keep things consistent, it’s a good idea to establish guidelines for how this content should be curated and shared in a way that aligns with your client’s values, personality, and quality standards.

Similarly, when it comes to UGC, your social media style guide should include guidelines for how it should be incorporated while maintaining a cohesive brand image (and adhering to privacy rules and regulations).

The cherry on top: Hashtag usage and brand taglines

Hashtags and taglines can amplify your client’s brand presence on social media when used strategically.

Begin by determining relevant hashtags that are regularly used by the target audience and align with your client’s brand. Aim for a mix of very popular hashtags that get a lot of clicks but also have higher competition, and lower-volume hashtags.

It’s also a good practice to brand-specific hashtags. These can range from the brand name itself to campaign-specific or slogan-based hashtags. These unique tags can create buzz around a brand and make it easier for audiences to find and engage with brand-specific content.

Taglines and slogans can also be incorporated into captions without necessarily using hashtags. These catchy phrases, when used consistently, can enhance brand recall and make your clients more memorable. When used correctly, they can become an integral part of the brand narrative, subtly reinforcing brand values and USP in the audience’s mind.

Guidelines for implementing your social media style guide

Your social media branding guidelines should include instructions for how to implement the plan and set your clients up for ongoing success. In the final section of your guide, cover the following points.

Adapt to each platform

Each social media platform has unique requirements and features that can be leveraged to enhance your client’s brand presence. For this reason, it’s important to adapt branding guidelines to fit these different environments.

This could involve adjusting the tone of voice to suit a platform’s audience (more formal on LinkedIn, more casual on Twitter), or customizing visual content to optimize its impact on each platform (square images for Instagram, landscape for Twitter).

It’s also a good idea to provide specific guidelines for profile and header image dimensions for each platform. For example, a LinkedIn banner requires a different size compared to a Facebook cover photo. This will ensure that even when these profiles get a makeover, your clients will easily be able to create assets that are well-suited to each platform.

Finally, include guidelines on how to use specific platform features that some clients may be less familiar with, like Instagram Stories or Facebook Live. Each of these features offers unique engagement opportunities and should be harnessed strategically to amplify your client’s brand. By walking your clients through how to use them, you’ll increase the impact of their social media marketing efforts.

Foster brand advocacy among employees

Employees and stakeholders can be some of the best brand advocates, playing a significant role in amplifying your client’s brand on social media. Encourage them to become brand advocates by sharing and engaging with the brand’s content, and creating content of their own.

An important caveat: to ensure that their advocacy aligns with the brand’s image, provide clear guidelines and training on the brand’s social media expectations.

Be sure to educate employees about the brand’s voice, visual guidelines, and content strategy. This will increase the likelihood that their personal posts about the brand maintain a consistent image.

To maintain consistency over time, make a regular practice of monitoring social channels to provide feedback and ensure the brand’s guidelines are being implemented consistently and correctly. This ongoing review process is critical to maintaining a cohesive and effective brand presence.

Maintain composure in the face of crisis with crisis management protocols

Mistakes and PR crises happen. One of the best things a business can do to avoid major disruptions and reputational damage is to prepare for these situations in advance.

Crisis management protocols might include preparing general statements, identifying who should respond publicly, and outlining an escalation process within the organization if a problem does require further attention.

Relatedly, it’s important to establish protocols for addressing negative feedback or comments. Handling criticism gracefully and constructively can go a long way in helping a business develop and maintain a positive reputation. Your social media branding guidelines should emphasize empathy with customers, prompt responses, and a focus on solutions rather than blame.

Maintaining consistency in responding to customer inquiries or complaints is another key to upholding your client’s brand reputation. Clear, empathetic responses that align with the brand’s voice can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive demonstration of the brand’s commitment to customer satisfaction.

7 most common social media branding guideline mistakes

Learning from experience isn’t always a good thing. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the most common mistakes marketers make when crafting their style guide for social media. By being aware of these in advance, you can avoid wasting time and resources ineffectively, instead creating the perfect social media style guide from the jump.

1. Being too vague

Clear, detailed instructions are a common element of all successful social media design guidelines. Providing ambiguous instructions on critical components like logo usage, color codes, and typography will inevitably lead to misinterpretation, risking inconsistent brand representation. Multi-location businesses in particular can fall into this trap, with managers taking different approaches to social media at each location.

Let’s consider logo usage as an example. Your guidelines should explicitly detail where and how the logo should be placed, what sizes are appropriate, and what backgrounds it can be used against. If, instead, you just provide an SVG file of the logo with no instructions, you’ll end up with a bunch of graphics that each use the logo in a slightly different way. Some people might put it in the top right, others in the bottom middle, and others in the center of the graphic. You can avoid this issue with clear, detailed instructions.

Similarly, for color codes, instead of saying “blue and white”, specify the exact shades using Pantone or hexadecimal codes. When it comes to typography, provide a list of acceptable font choices and specify their uses and hierarchy, ensuring uniformity in all written brand communications.

2. Adapting to platforms requirements

Marketing across multiple platforms requires a careful balance of maintaining brand consistency while adapting to each platform’s unique requirements. Creating identical branding guidelines for all platforms is a common pitfall: while brand consistency is important, each social media platform has its unique characteristics and audience preferences.

For example, a Twitter post’s lifespan is relatively short, requiring frequent posts, while LinkedIn posts have a longer shelf life. Instagram is a visually driven platform, while text dominates Twitter. Instagram post dimensions differ from those on LinkedIn. These differences should be accounted for when creating your client’s social media branding guidelines.

Tailoring the format and content type for each platform ensures your client’s brand content looks optimal no matter where a user encounters it. However, while you do this, make sure there is still a consistent visual branding experience across all platforms.

3. Overlooking audience nuances across platforms

Another common mistake is to ignore the audience differences inherent to different platforms. Disregarding your client’s target audience’s preferences or the unique characteristics of each platform can lead to suboptimal engagement and brand perception.

For example, younger audiences on Instagram may prefer candid, behind-the-scenes content, while a LinkedIn audience is more likely to value insightful industry news and trends. Aligning your content strategy with the audience’s expectations and each platform’s characteristics ensures a positive and engaging brand experience across the web.

4. Not leaving room for innovation

Branding guidelines should serve as a roadmap, not a straitjacket. Consider them a living document that should adapt to changing trends, preferences, and technological updates.

While your social media visual guidelines should ensure brand consistency, they should also accommodate creativity, innovation, and adaptability.

If your guidelines are too rigid, they may stifle creativity and hinder the brand’s ability to stay relevant amidst trending topics or cultural events. Include provisions for flexibility and adjustments for current trends, all while maintaining the brand’s core identity and visual style.

It’s also common to leave out guidance for handling unforeseen crises, but including them is a great best practice. These should provide direction on handling unforeseen situations on social media, ensuring your client can adapt and respond effectively under challenging circumstances.

5. Drowning your clients in needless detail

While detail is essential, make sure not to overcomplicate your social media design guidelines. An overly complex or restrictive document can overwhelm the team and may lead to disuse or incorrect application.

Aim for clarity, structure, and conciseness. For example, use bullet points for easy readability, and categorize information under clear headings.

Be sure to include some social media brand guidelines examples throughout, showcasing practical applications of the guidelines.

6. Neglecting employee education

Creating your social media post design guidelines is just the first step. Ensuring their consistent application requires ongoing education and training for all employees managing your client’s brand on social media.

Regular training sessions, workshops, or webinars can help familiarize your social media team with the visual guidelines, helping everyone feel comfortable and proficient in applying them. When changes or updates to the guidelines so occur, make sure everyone involved in social media management is informed.

Finally, it’s a good idea to provide support resources and contacts in case further guidance is needed after consulting the social media post design guidelines.

7. Poor follow-up and evaluation

Social media branding guidelines are necessarily dynamic, evolving as the brand, audience preferences, and social media landscape change. However, many marketing agencies overlook this, treating the guidelines as a one-time document.

Instead, regularly review and update your social media visual guidelines, incorporating feedback from different stakeholders. Using a social media monitoring tool makes it easy to see exactly how each post is performing, enabling you and your clients to make data-informed decisions about your style guide for social media.

Frequently asked questions

How do I ensure consistency in my social media branding across different platforms?

To ensure consistency in your social media branding across different platforms, create comprehensive social media branding guidelines. These should include specific directives for logo usage, color palette, typography, content themes, and tone of voice. Adapt these guidelines for each platform’s unique characteristics while maintaining a unified brand identity.

How do I measure the effectiveness of my social media branding guidelines?

You can measure the effectiveness of your social media branding guidelines by monitoring performance metrics, including engagement rates, brand recall, and audience growth. Additionally, regular surveys or feedback from your audience can provide valuable insights into how well your branding resonates with them.

About the Author

Lawrence Dy is the SEO Strategy Manager at Vendasta. His career spans from starting as a Jr. Copywriter in the automotive industry to becoming a Senior Editorial Content Manager in various digital marketing niches. Outside of work, Lawrence moonlights as a music producer/beatmaker and spends time with friends and family.

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