Marketing & Media, Social Media

Have Some Standards! Maintaining Your Visual Brand on Social Media

Kelly Nylander, Creative Director

Man reviewing brand

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: They 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 on which you want to have a presence, whether it be Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), etc. 

Whole Foods and Arby’s, two of the more active brands on X, 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 Starbucks, opt to use only the brand’s iconic mermaid visual in place of its name. Popular fast-food chain McDonald’s has temporarily flipped its iconic Golden Arches upside down and rebranded itself as WcDonald’s, catering to anime fans as part of a global ad campaign. 

Figure 1: Arby’s X (formerly Twitter) Page Desktop and Mobile
Figure 2: McDonald’s X (formerly Twitter) Desktop and Mobile

Not every brand boasts the instant recognition of McDonald’s or Starbucks. So, when selecting elements of your brand identity to highlight, ensure they are unique and easily identifiable. Avoid using images of your brand’s physical location, such as a hospital exterior. If you opt for your full logo, including the brand name, ensure it remains visible even in the smaller version displayed alongside your newsfeed posts or replies. 

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 branded coffee cups (latte and cold brew) set in a swirled, creamy pistachio frosting to promote its pistachio latte and pistachio cream cold brew. They have also recently used this header space to promote various seasonal products. Coca-Cola simply uses its distinctive white swirl (or dynamic wave, as they call it) on a red background that is so unique to them, anyone in the world could recognize it. 

Don’t forget to review your brand’s social profiles on both desktop and mobile, as it is essential to ensure they are presented at their best across all devices. Paying attention to details like layout, image quality and responsiveness guarantees a seamless and engaging experience for your audience regardless of the platform they use. 

Figure 3: Starbucks Facebook Page Desktop and Mobile
Figure 4: Coca-Cola Facebook Page Desktop and Mobile

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 doctor showing compassion for a patient with the headline “for every care in the world,” demonstrating their goal—to care for everyone, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Johns Hopkins Medicine recently used an image announcing its 2022–23 U.S. News & World Report rankings. They’ve since updated their header to the iconic image of the original John Hopkins hospital. 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.

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. 

If you apply a filter or preset to your photos, maintain consistency by using it across all images. If videos or graphics are central to your brand’s content, ensure uniformity in color palettes, fonts and image styles. If your content is predominantly original, avoid using stock imagery, as it will be noticeable. 

Don’t overlook your captions! Tone and voice play a crucial role in crafting a brand identity that stands out on social media. Whether you opt for educational, friendly, quirky, snarky or something in between, maintain that tone consistently across all your posts to establish a memorable brand persona. This consistency should extend to responding to comments and messages, as well. Take cues from Chipotle, for example, which employs a casual, hip and on-trend tone in all their comment responses (e.g., “Love that for you”), adding a personal touch by signing off with the name of the responder. 

Consistency in your visual branding across content will enable consumers to recognize your posts instantly as your brand’s, even as they scroll through their newsfeed, without needing to pause and check the name or logo. Develop a brand style guide to ensure that anyone posting adheres to your brand standards. 

Regardless of the visual branding direction you choose, ensure that your graphics are in the correct dimensions, aligned properly for optimal appearance and that your design style remains consistent and on brand. Above all, stick to the standards that initially made your brand memorable. 

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