Maintaining a consistent visual style is standard in brand marketing. So why do so many brands fail to follow those same guidelines on their social media pages?
Having a strong social presence is essential in almost all industries, and failing to carry over your brand standards to social—and, therefore, not taking advantage of your already established brand recognition—could be costly when you consider the competition for customer eyes. It is no longer optional to make sure your social profile is up to snuff if you expect to build a loyal following.
Profile Icons: The Need to Be Clean
Profile pictures need to have a clean and immediately recognizable image to represent your brand across the entire platform, from timeline posts to customer service replies. This holds true for any platform you want to have a presence on, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Whole Foods and Arby’s, two of the more active brands on Twitter, incorporate their name as a primary part of their logo and are therefore able to use their entire logo for their icon. Other brands, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, opt to use only their brands’ iconic visuals—the golden arches and the mermaid, respectively—in place of their name.
Figure 1: Arby’s Twitter Page
Figure 2: McDonald’s Twitter Page
Whatever part of your brand image you choose to showcase, make sure it is distinct and discernible. That is, do not use an image of your brand location (e.g., a hospital exterior), or, if you choose to use your full logo that includes your brand name, make sure it is visible from the small version that will appear next to any newsfeed post you make or any replies you send.
Subtle or Straightforward: Using Your Head(er)
For larger-scale images used in header photos, cover photos and other banner-like images, you have design options.
If you’re choosing to use an image as a cover photo, you can opt for a more minimalistic approach and use simple but high-resolution imagery that’s relevant to your brand. Starbucks has a straightforward but effective banner image: two coffee cups with the distinctive logo blended into a spring-like backdrop. They have also recently used imagery of people holding cups of coffee in front of a warm and inviting sky and a coffee cup on a honeycomb backdrop to introduce a new flavor. Coca-Cola simply uses its distinctive white swirl on a red background that is so unique to them, anyone in the world could recognize it.
Figure 3: Starbucks Facebook Page
Figure 4: Coca-Cola Facebook Page
Other brands use their header images in more detailed, informative ways, such as to announce awards, events or milestones. The Cleveland Clinic currently uses a cover photo with a black and white image of doctors that states, “The future of healthcare since 1921,” announcing that this year is its 100th anniversary. Johns Hopkins Medicine uses an image announcing its 2020–21 U.S. News & World Report rankings. If you do choose to highlight awards, anniversaries or upcoming events, make sure to change the headers when they are no longer relevant or risk appearing inactive or outdated.
Figure 5: Cleveland Clinic Facebook Page
And while other platforms have not yet caught up, Facebook allows you to upload a cover video, which you can use to highlight services, amenities or attractions. For example, if you are a hospital, a kinetic text video can highlight your main service lines. If you are a tourism brand, you might make an imagery-based video highlighting area attractions.
Content Branding: Predictability Isn’t Always a Bad Thing
Once you’ve established your visual brand elements across platforms, you need to ensure the content you’re posting is consistent, unique and exudes your brand persona.
Do you use a filter or preset on your photos? You better add it to all of them. Are videos or graphics the cornerstone of your brand’s content? Ensure you’re using the same color family, fonts and image styles—if you tend to post a lot of original content, the use of stock imagery will stick out like a sore thumb.
And don’t forget your captions. Tone and voice are vital to establishing a brand that is easily recognizable on social media. Whether you aim for educational, friendly, quirky, snarky or something in between, use that tone across everything you post to establish a memorable brand. This also goes for responding to comments and messages. Chipotle uses a very casual, hip, on-trend tone in all of their comment responses (e.g., “Love that for you”) and adds another layer of personal touch by signing the name of who responded.
Maintaining your visual brand through your content will eventually allow consumers to recognize a post while scrolling through their newsfeed as your brand’s—without having to stop and look at the name or logo. Create a brand style guide to ensure anyone who is posting adheres to your brand standards.
Whatever visual branding direction you take, make sure your graphics are in the proper dimensions and aligned correctly to look their best, your design style stays consistent and on-brand and your tone doesn’t falter.
Mostly, follow the standards that made your brand memorable in the first place.