You already know the importance of using brand standards to guide your marketing efforts. But applying those brand standards to social media can be a challenge even for experienced marketers. From Facebook to Twitter to Vine, each platform requires its own nuances in tone, topics and frequency.

A social media style guide can help. A good style guide will make it easy to capture your brand’s identity across multiple platforms, and reap the benefits of a successful social media marketing strategy.

But what does a social media style guide entail? Is it a one-page document of recommendations, or a lengthy handbook? The answer depends on the complexity of your social media strategy and goals – though the more accessible the guide, the smoother its implementation will likely be.

I’ve helped to create social media style guides for B2B and B2C clients. In some cases, I used the document to guide my own content creation. In others, I helped clients disseminate those style guides to their own content marketing teams.

I’ve found that while style guides can vary, the most effective documents contain the following elements.

Elements of a Style Guide

Overall Goal. What is the goal for your social media marketing? Is it to provide a certain kind of content, engage a certain audience, or just advance your sales and customer service goals? While you probably have specific goals for each platform, putting your overall goal at the top of your social media style guide will help everyone work toward the same objective.

Voice. Will your content be written in first person or in third person? Will you refer to yourself by your company name, or “we” and “us?” And don’t forget about tone: authoritative or casual? Playful or serious?

Type of content. Like your goals, the type of content you share on social media will probably vary by platform. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set some guidelines around topics and media formats. Strive to accompany written posts with high-quality imagery whenever possible, balance stock with flow, and limit blatant self-promotion. You may also want to research other best practices for your particular niche.

Responsiveness. How will you encourage interaction on your social media accounts? And when interactions happen, how will you respond? Some companies reply to every Facebook post and tweet. Others take a more selective approach. Whatever you choose, set some parameters in writing.

Search goals. Hashtags aren’t just for Twitter anymore. A growing number of platforms support these searchable terms, making hashtags an important consideration for any social media style guide. You may want to focus on a few industry-specific hashtags, or even create your own hashtag. Just be sure you back your decisions with metrics and best practices.

Moderation. In general, it’s not a good idea to delete other users’ posts from your social media accounts. But you may want to set some parameters about what content is unacceptable. This may include profanity, defamation or even third-party solicitations.

Do you have a style guide for your social media marketing? Let me know in the comments section.