Social Networks Style and Usage Guides

The University of the Basque Country has finally released its Style and Usage Guide to Social Networks. It’s an adaptation of the Basque Government’s Guide, published in 2010.

I think every organization should have their own guide. Some would need a full book with examples and others just a couple of lines on “what-to-do-ifs”. It depends on many factors, such as the community manager’s age or skills, the type of organization, or the number of accounts and their users, among others.

Why should you think about getting a guide of your own?

As a company, there’s more to think about than just what you share. You need to tell the story of what you are and what you do, make your community interested in what you have to say, get them to participate with you and grow with you. When your company has more than one account (for instance, when there are different departments involved), you have to make sure everybody understands the whole picture and this is easier when you have taken into account some things in advance.

These are some points you should include in your Style and Usage Guide:

1. Standardize the visuals

Your audience might not read an update, but they will see your avatar. It’s important that everybody knows that this particular avatar belongs to your organization. No matter which department, center or whatever account it is. The visuals are your scent. Don’t confuse your audience; make things easy for them.

2. Netiquette

There is a common netiquette for the whole social internet. Rules such as writing in lowercase (capital letters are synonymous with shouting), mentioning your sources, hyperlinking, etc., have to be known and accepted by everyone using corporate social media. More than that, every social network has its own netiquette. For instance, mentions work differently on Twitter or Facebook, hashtags are ok on Twitter or Instagram, but not used that much on Facebook, etc.

3. Editorial tone

In the same way you have a scent by having certain common visual elements, you should have a scent by standardizing the tone of the posts. This doesn’t mean all of your accounts have to use the same language (that will depend on their own audiences.) However, it’s good to set the red lines. Are your official accounts allowed to make a joke, or to use jargon or emojis, or to use a trending hashtag?

4. Crisis protocol

There must be a list of phone numbers and a clear procedure because things happen very quickly when you are in the middle of a crisis. Who should you call (no matter the time of the day)? Who will be the spokesperson? Will you have a dark website? If yes, who will be in charge of it? There’s a tiny probability these things will occur, but you have to be ready, just in case.

5. Trusted sources

Many organizations like to post things only from their own sites. That’s alright, but boring. It’s good to diversify your sources, but you must establish which ones you trust. Newspapers or blogs might or might not be trustworthy. Again, set the red lines.

6. Networks

In which networks have you decided to have a corporate presence and why? Maybe the reason is the number of users they have, or maybe it’s the possibilities they bring to your content. Whatever your reason, it’s important to let your employees know. However, the Guide must be flexible and open to new networks or forums.

7. Account management

Will the account creation be centralized or will you allow everybody to open the accounts and manage them with (or without) any controls? There’s no perfect way to solve this, so once you’ve chosen your favorite, stick to it. In my experience, for big organizations, the best option is centralizing the creation while decentralizing the management.

8. Legal issues

It’s also good to include some model disclaimers or terms, so any center or department can easily adapt without needing further help.

And of course, you need to make sure everybody understands the different types of licenses for sharing online, from copyright to copyleft or public domain.

There are other important points to consider, like languages, if you live in an area with more than one official language or if your followers are multilingual; gender-inclusive vocabulary; some tips on analytics, because measuring is the only way to improve the results.

Some of the published Usage and Style Guides are creative commons licensed and free to reuse. If your organization doesn’t still have its own Guide, what are you waiting for?

Style and Usage Guide for the University of the Basque Country Social Networks can be downloaded at (Spanish)

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