In today’s world, social media guidelines are a must. Why? Because all companies are on social media now. And the bigger the company, the higher the chances of someone saying something that they shouldn’t have said on Twitter.
In the following article, we will go through the whats, the whys and the hows of social media brand guidelines. Finally, this article is going to cover how Planable — the very app on whose website you’re reading this piece — can help you maintain your social media guidelines. So fasten your seatbelts — things might get occasionally technical.
Oh, and just in case you skipped over the introduction — and we’re going to talk a bit about Planable here, if that’s okay with you.
What are social media guidelines?
Put simply, a social media guideline is a document of varying length that lays down some general rules of conduct on social media. Done right, a social media guideline can teach your team how to use social platforms responsibly and, in the long term, turn them into natural champions of your brand. It prevents that “gun to the head” feel many social posts give off — sure, Jeff, you totally posted that company-branded tweet out from your personal account*** of your own volition, not because Sonia from PR asked you. Anyway.
Another important point to make is that social media content guidelines shouldn’t be used to police people. Think of it as a general guideline — it’s in the name, after all — that everybody can use as a quick reference tool.
***Planable sports a sleek, intuitive workspace where teams can easily manage multiple social media accounts and pages. The clean, straight to the point design means that you’ll never confuse your company’s branded account to, say, your cousin’s small business Twitter account that you agreed to manage because you owned them one. Happens to all of us.
What’s the difference between social media guidelines and social media style guides?
Here’s where things get tricky — social media guidelines and social media style guides are often used interchangeably. But they couldn’t be more different.
As I’ve said earlier, social media guidelines are more instructive in nature. They lay down best practices and outline how teams should behave on social media in a healthy way for the company — things like how to reply to angry customers or handle trolls (but more on that later).
A style guide for social media includes guidelines related to how the company presents itself on social media***. So, less “what to say to the guy that spams slurs in DMs” and more “are we totally down for Oxford commas or not”?. Also included in a social media brand style guide are recommendations related to brand voice, visual style, branded hashtags, emoji policy (yes, that’s a thing).
***Planable’s collaboration features can help you maintain a consistent voice on social media. Wondering if your copy is on brand? You can upload your post in Planable, your team members and invite them to share their thoughts on the post, right next to it, in comments.
Wait, what about social media protocols? Are they any different from social media guidelines?
Social media protocols are the opposite of social media guidelines. While social media guidelines advise how to behave on social media, social media protocols outline how much time employees can spend on social platforms on company time. Again, you’ll often see these two terms used interchangeably, so it’s important to make this distinction right from the get-go.
And social media policies?
Now, social media policies are a whole other beast. It’s a document meant to protect the company/brand from legal repercussions arising out of problematic social media usage. While social media guidelines act as a reference point, social media policies contain rules for posting on social media, the conduct, as well as the consequences for breaking them.
We’re not going to get into any legalese, that’s a subject for another article. So think about it this way — social media guidelines are instructive, while social media policies are mandatory. One suggests, the other enforces.
What’s the importance of social media guidelines?
Now that we’ve established the “what”, it’s time to address the “how”. As in how social media guidelines can help your company develop a healthy social media presence.
Remember what I said earlier about your team being your best brand emissaries on social media? What’s stopping many individuals from blossoming into their company’s biggest promoters on social media is, quite frankly, the fear of saying the wrong thing and throwing their employer’s reputation into the gutter.
This document, when done right, can provide everybody with social media guidance, as well as with the tools necessary to engage positively on social media.
A social media guideline also helps with a few other things, namely:
Protecting social media teams from harassment
Boost brand awareness***
Outlining your company’s social media strategy
Offering useful tools and resources for various situations
Promoting healthy social media habits, both on and off company time
***Brand awareness, you say. You know what will boost your brand awareness? Planable, that’s who. By using Planable and its collaboration, planning and scheduling functionalities, you will be able to maintain a consistent presence on social media and spread the word about your brand. Because, as we all know, the key to succeeding on social media is consistency.
Wait, we’re not done yet. There are a few more things to address when it comes to social media guidelines:
It’s important to make them friendly. The role of social media guidelines should be to empower your team, not limit their creativity.
The document should make it clear that the information provided is complex and important. Plus, people might be tempted to skim it and skip essential information — like sharing brand content on social media, for example.
Another thing the document should make clear is the importance of tone of voice on social media. Social media posts should sound natural — and everybody copy-pasting the same post word for word might diminish its impact.
This warrants repeating, so here we go — social media guidelines should NOT be used to police people’s online activity, and the document should emphasize this.
General stuff — how should I write my company social media guidelines? Where do I start?
When writing your company’s social media guidelines, you should use two guiding principles: conciseness and providing information.
What do I mean by that? That your guidelines for social media posting should cover these two broad departments:
Your brand’s mission statement (not necessarily on social media).
Your brand’s purpose on social media. The guidelines should elaborate the brand’s reasons for existing on each social platform. The reasons can be both inspirational: “We’re here to change the world”; “Help agencies & in-house marketing teams collaborate to create, approve, and publish social media content faster — sign up to Planable, it’s free”; “Share raccoon memes” or pragmatic, like recruiting, boosting brand awareness, promoting branded content/products, and so on and so forth.
Does this include social media marketing guidelines?
Nope. That’s a style guide. Pay attention, will you?
What should corporate social media guidelines contain?
Social media posting guidelines for businesses— give a rundown of the do’s and don’ts on social media
The “do’s and don’ts” format is perfect for listing out things super clearly, so start your social media guideline with that. Here’s a good starting point:
Do report any instance of harassment and bullying that you’ve experienced.
Don’t engage with trolls and bad actors on your own without consulting higher-ups.
Do list your employer in your social media bio (make sure to specify that it’s optional).
Don’t engage in flame wars with competitors, both direct and indirect, customers, followers, trolls or any member of the company’s social media audience.
Do express your own opinion on social media. If the bio mentions the employer, state clearly that the opinions expressed are your own.
Do share company posts, updates, events, stories.
Don’t share company secrets. *** This can include but not be limited to, upcoming features, marketing campaigns that are still in the works, financial information, or any matters that could be considered internal.
Do report any potential social media-related crisis.
Don’t comment, engage or get involved in legal matters related to the company.
***Oh boy, this one’s a doozy. Imagine accidentally sharing half-completed assets. Or documents relating to a still-in-the-works-and-totally-secret social media campaign. Or worse, your feelings. Soooo… it’s getting pretty clear what’s coming next, right? Planable’s comprehensive, multi-level approval process ensures that nothing, whether a .psd file, a typo-laden piece of copy or an entire campaign will go live without the approval from the right people. There’s, like, 4 of those security levels, so Planable offers lots of flexibility.
Include all your official accounts
A social media guideline should include links to all the company-branded social media accounts and encourage your team to follow them. This section of the guideline is also a great opportunity to offer a brief rundown of the company’s social media strategy, what the purpose of each social media account is, and so on and so forth. For example: this Twitter account is only for responding to customers; this Instagram account is for promoting company culture; Facebook is only for official announcements.
Access to shared branded assets and helpful resources
Many social media teams experience efficiency problems due to a lack of proper access*** to information and resources. Clarity in access and information is the cornerstone of social media collaboration, and it should be the same for your brand social media guidelines.
Therefore, make sure to include links to useful resources, both internal (ex: your company code of conduct, company documents) and external (legal resources, for instance). If your company uses social media tools, include them, too, together with links to tutorials.
You can use Planable’s library to access assets, pictures and other important files with just a few clicks. Oh, and you can also drop them there so that your team has access to them at all times. Just a few clicks away. No need to let your precious files gather dust in a folder.
Stress equal representation/inclusivity
Every employer, brand and company should promote inclusivity, both internally and externally, on social media — that’s a given, and companies that don’t do this have no excuse.
Still, unintentional screw-ups can happen. To prevent this from ever happening, companies should include inclusivity guidelines:
Use diverse imagery and icons. This includes stock imagery, emojis, and branded visuals.
All comments deemed sexist, racist, ableist, ageist, homophobic or hateful to any group or person should be swiftly reported and removed.
Make text accessible. We all like to flex our writing muscles from time to time (just look at my articles), but social media is not the right place to stress our presumed eligibility for the Booker Prizes. When writing a post, make sure it’s in plain language and accessible to people learning English as a second language or those with learning disabilities.
Write descriptive image captions for people with visual impairments. Most social media platforms allow the adding of alt texts.
Use inclusive pronouns (they/them/theirs/folks etc). On that same note, people should be encouraged to list their preferred pronouns in their bios if they wish to do so.
Use title case for hashtags to make them easier to read.
Include subtitles in video content.
As a general rule, your social media guidelines should encourage your team to practice kindness and positivity online. On the other hand, it should also emphasize that the business does not tolerate any form of online harassment, whether from or against employees.
This section should include guidelines and resources that educate on how to deal with trolls or bullies. Aspects such as who to report it to, how to react, how to identify trolls and bullies (sometimes they’re just angry customers who are being jerks), when to ban, when to block, and so on and so forth.
Team members directly responsible for your social accounts should have a separate set of guidelines covering these issues. The reason is simple — how they handle those sensitive situations could or could not reflect badly on your company. Nobody wants to go through a PR crisis because someone retorted with a “no u” to a troll.
The more technology advances and people educate themselves about cybersecurity, the craftier hackers become (that also sounds like a good marketing line for a movie; my DMs are open, Hollywood).
Anyway, as companies are moving away from paper and more towards digital, the potential for sensitive data to leak is greater than ever. I’m not going to give you a comprehensive cybersecurity checklist; what I will do is suggest a few tips you should include in your guidelines:
Choose strong passwords. A no brainer -— or so you’d think.
Use unique passwords for all social accounts.
Two (or multi) factor authentication is a must.
Be careful when choosing what personal and professional information you share.
Practice safe and responsible browsing.
Keep screen lock on.
Keep operating systems updated.
Dispose of data/equipment safely. Also applicable if you store data physically.
Email awareness checklist. For example, quickly identify fraudulent emails that pose as legitimate parties/organizations (hovering over the link before clicking).
What if I still screw up? Here’s how Planable can protect your social media posting guidelines
To answer the question I so cleverly addressed in the heading, with Planable, you won’t screw up. That’s because Planable is designed from the ground up with collaboration and safety in mind. Oh, almost forgot. Planable is a social media collaboration platform that helps marketing teams and agencies, both big and small, create, collaborate on and publish content seamlessly and swiftly. All that without dealing with those blasted logistical issues most social media teams usually endure.
But how does this relate to the subject of this article? Well, see, Planable has a few nifty features that will not only help you maintain your social media guidelines but also, like, not need them. Just throw those bad boys in the trash can use Planable. Joking, you should totally not throw your guidelines in the trash can. Unless…
Anyway, here’s a brief but sweet list of features that will ensure will help you maintain your social media guidelines:
Social media collaboration at its best
Planable is a tool made by marketers for marketers. One of the biggest conundrums marketers face is related to the logistics of just getting content out there. Is this visual on brand? Does the copy accurately convey our message and mission statement? Is the text inclusive? Will I unintentionally piss someone off if I post this? Does this opossum GIF complement the post, or does it detract from its meaning?
Those are all legit questions that any social media marketer worth their salt should ask. Where they shouldn’t be asked is in a clunky, 1000-cell sheet which acts as a makeshift HQ for the team’s social media efforts.
As luck has it, Planable’s collaboration-centric design is the right fit for teams that want to streamline communication and collaboration. Sign up to Planable, connect your social page, create your posts and invite your team to leave feedback. How does that work? Everybody can leave their thoughts in the comments right next to the post. That’s where Janice can suggest a few tweaks to the visuals, Mark can fiddle with the copy, and Jennifer suggests a different genus, preferably more memorable, for the GIF. It’s that simple.
A multi-layered content approval system
Once everybody gives their two cents about a piece of content, it’s time to hit publish.
Or not. Remember that whole “maintaining your social media guidelines” thing I’ve been droning about for the last, let’s see, 2148 words? Haven’t you been listening?
Sorry, got a bit carried away there. As I was saying, Planable offers a multi-layered approval system that prevents any post that shouldn’t be published, well, be published. By using it, teams ensure that the right people (whether clients or managers) have the chance to take a peek at the post and screen it for any brand/inclusivity inconsistencies.
Think of Planable’s approval system as the guard dog of your social media guidelines. The dog being Planable, and the social media guidelines being, well, the social media guidelines. Anyway, here’s how the approval workflow works:
None. For one-man shows, lone wolves, and any other expression that conveys the idea of something opposite to a team. This might contradict what I’ve been writing about for the, let’s see 2276 words, but Planable welcomes any team of all organizational characteristics.
Optional. It’s perfect for teams that want to invite people to share their thoughts but keep an open workflow and not impose any approvals. The gist of it is that you can set dedicated approvers in your workflow, but if they’re, say, out picking up a coffee, you have the freedom to publish that piece of content.
Required. No one and absolutely no one can hit that publish button until one of the designated approvers gives their OK. Once the post is approved, the post is set to be scheduled automatically.
Multi-level. Your widest safety net. With this setting, you can be 120% sure (compared to 119% for the previous settings) your social media guidelines will be maintained. With this feature, you can set complex, multi-level approval systems worthy of the fanciest of Venn Diagrams. You can add a stakeholder to each layer, which means every “OK” will push the post one level forward until the chain of approvers reaches its end.