The Social-Media Style Guide

Eight Steps to Creating a Brand Persona

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Brian Solis
Brian Solis
Anyone who has ever worked in corporate marketing, advertising or branding is more than familiar with a brand style guide. It's how we ensure that the brand is represented as intended through marketing aesthetics and messaging, including detailed usage instructions on font, style, color, language, placement, positioning, etc.

It's our bible, and adherence to its tenets and instructions is strictly enforced.

However, with the unstructured proliferation of social media within many organizations, the brand style guide is seemingly disregarded in favor of expediting the creation of profiles in social networks and the participatory engagement that immediately ensues (well, that's the idea anyway).

But everything the brand was intended to represent is no less important simply because new tools and services make it easier for anyone within the company to reach and connect with markets. The contents and purpose of a brand style guide still apply. In fact, the unification of a brand and what it evokes and symbolizes is paramount in this conversational medium to effectively attract, earn and inspire customers and advocates.

In social networks, the brand and how it's perceived is open to public interpretation and potential misconception.

Simply said, the style guide is more important than ever, and it is in dire need of innovation in order to humanize a brand voice, something that people can truly connect to online and offline. Therefore, we need to revisit our core and modernize our story, how we present it and how we intend to be perceived, setting the tone for engagement and resulting activity.

    The goal of a social-media style guide is to establish:
  • What the brand represents in the social web
  • Its characteristics
  • Brand personality traits
  • The voice of the brand
  • Attributes and voice necessary at the representative level
  • Procedures and guidelines for representation, accountability and workflow
  • Metrics for quantifying activity and the intended results

Finding the brand "voice" is not enough, however. The result should be intentional and aspirational in its design, calculation, presence and overall mission. In my new book, "Engage," I share a template to help brand managers define the personality, characteristics and overall identity for the brand as well as establish the voice and behavior of its representatives.

I call it the brand-reflection cycle and think of it as a way to uncover the important attributes that symbolize a brand, its personalities and its characteristics, as well as define and align the voice and personal brand of those on the front lines in social engagement.

Include brand managers and social ambassadors in this exercise to document the words that will personify the brand and what it symbolizes. The idea is to bring new ideas to the surface and discuss them in a collaborative environment to renew the value and intention of the brand, making it something truly engaging in the social web.

I suggest eight steps to reflecting on your brand and laying the foundation for a new, more socially inspired and relevant corporate culture and value system.

1. Core Values
The audience, surrounding environment, and the circumstances in which we are summoned contribute to our disposition and character. At the beginning, we need to form a common center of gravity to support the orbiting characteristics that support our mission and purpose. Essentially, we need to specify what we stand for and weave it into all we do.

2. Brand Pillars
Pillars are the support objects that serve as the foundation to sustain and fortify the brand. It is these pillars that establish the principal, central themes that convey our uniqueness and value, fortified through the social objects we develop and distribute.

3. Promise
The pledge that paves the way to brand meaning and direction is the brand promise. It should answer a simple, yet powerful question: What is our mission and how does it introduce value to those who align with our purpose?

4. Aspirations
No brand is an island, nor is it inanimate. As such, the attributes we define today must continually evolve. Our aspirations are representative of the stature and mission we seek today and over time. This is how we compete for the future.

5. Brand Characteristics
Defining the brand characteristics will help us establish the traits we wish to associate with the brand represented through our actions, words and overall behavior.

6. Opportunities
As we complete this exercise, the identification of the attributes that are not embodied allows us to find a path to greater relevance. It's a combination of who we are and what we offer today and also the opportunities that emerge that allow us to connect to those seeking solutions we had yet to identify.

7. Culture
The brand team must examine the culture of the company, not only what it is today, but ultimately how it should embody our aspirations so that it is readily identifiable in social media. People need something they can align with, and it is our culture that serves as the magnet to our purpose and aspirations. We are all in this together.

8. Personality
It is crucial that we contemplate, review and designate the elements that we wish the brand to illustrate and represent. This final step is to identify and bring to life the personality and character of the brand through conversations, social objects and stories. If the brand was a person, how would it appear? How would it sound? How would it interact with others? How would others describe it?

Everything begins with evaluating the brand's journey through the past to where it is today, and ultimately where it must travel to maintain and continually establish relevance.

As we usher in the era of the next web, the brand style guide requires a social refresh in order to embody purpose, engender affinity and earn relationships based on trust and value. In a social context, people aren't looking to earn friendships with avatars or logos -- they are seeking the attention of the people who personify the brand and the corresponding values they represent. It's not just the brand personality that requires examination and establishment. The personality, tenor and voice of the individuals representing the brand, combined with a meaningful culture and mission, contribute to the overall brand experience, whether it's in social networks or the real world.

The opportunity to update the brand style guide is so much more than a mere exercise. It renews our sense of purpose.

It is a chance to breathe new life into everything we create, where and with whom we share it and how we engage in online societies that contribute to the brand's universal legacy and the brand graph that weaves everything together.

Brian Solis is principal of FutureWorks and author of "Engage."
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