Speaking with one voice: a unified social media brand for The Elders
The Elders asked Folk Labs to harmonise their social media brand because they felt the design of their profiles was not accurately reflecting their credibility on the world stage.
An extensive initiative to audit, redesign and document their digital and social media brand led to us also redesigning their logo for use across all social media channels which has made a dramatic improvement to the consistency of their social presence.
Founded by Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela, The Elders are an independent team of former presidents and global political leaders working together for peace and human rights. Not bound by the vested interests of any nation or institution, they’re a truly independent voice, committed to promoting the shared interests of humanity. We think they’re a fantastic organisation and were delighted when their Communications Team asked us in to review how their brand was being expressed across digital and social media platforms. To gain a complete overview of the situation, we conducted a full audit of their digital brand, including their:
- email newsletters
- printed literature
- promotional collateral
- Twitter profile
- Facebook profile
- Google+ profile
- Youtube profile and channel art
- 12 months’ worth of graphical social media posts
We soon found that their brand had only really been designed for print applications. Documentation was sparse – just a four-page guide which simply could not meet their needs. With no creative support, the in-house Comms team were struggling to maintain consistency across new platforms and channels. In spite of these issues, much of the design work produced by the in-house team was great: individual posts were well-designed (especially considering there were no professional designers on the staff). However, our research revealed several key areas where we were confident we could help the team make significant improvements.
What we did
The audit proved the need for a complete rethink of how the brand was being expressed visually across all digital platforms and helped direct us to work on a much broader colour palette, approach to typography, the logo and avatar and to then use those components to build out a suite of assets and templates to enable the comms team to build their own graphics.
Image post types We simplified the types of basic graphic the comms team could post down from 15 to a more manageable five:
- Quotograph (a quotation alongside a portrait of the Elder who originally said it)
- Campaign message
- Key message
- Promotional post
And we developed a ‘content model’ for each post type so that each text element could be assigned a style from our typographic hierarchy. We created a flexible grid system to align each graphical element consistently.
Originally, we designed a separate wide-format version of our grid, specifically for use on Twitter. Then, one month after we launched, Twitter removed its bizarre (and, frankly, embarrassing) image cropping algorithm, rendering our research and careful design planning immediately useless. While this was really frustrating, it serves as a perfect illustration of just how little control brands like The Elders have over the way social media platforms work.
The most prominent area of custom branding for the current crop of social media platforms is the generic profile masthead image. Here’s what we created for Twitter:
Youtube profile masthead
Youtube ‘Channel art’ is more complex than other platforms. The image needs to be compatible with internet-enabled televisions as well as mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers. Each device defines its own individual cropping area, meaning a lot of safe zones need to be taken into account simultaneously.
What happened next
The Elders comms team fully launched their new social media brand programme across every channel in December 2015 and report positive feedback from followers and friends on each social platform. The initial change-over on Facebook has so far attracted over 890 Likes and approaching 100 comments and simply uploading the new avatar gathered nearly 100 Likes. The Elders’ social presence now appears united with a new level of consistency and harmony leaving an impression of professionalism and credibility.
Overall, we felt this project went well and The Elders’ Communications Team and stakeholders certainly appear to be satisfied with the results. We certainly are. Social media graphic design is difficult to do well. But we think we’ve really helped to unify and clarify the online expression of The Elders’ values and tone of voice. For organisations like The Elders, social media is now a vital channel for conducting outreach. However, design templates can only take you so far and we believe there is still a gap in the market for a highly usable, powerful design tool to help in-house communications teams produce strongly-branded social media content. Buffer’s Pablo application points to how this might work in future but it’s a long way away from being a professional tool for use by organisations like The Elders. Over 15 years ago, the web overturned graphic design and branding forever. The arrival of social media five years ago has had much the same effect on the discipline once again. Where once, digital branding mostly meant controlling the look-and-feel of an organisation’s website, now brands must create a bold presence within multiple channels simultaneously – web, video and social platforms: each with their own special quirks. This has led us to see the practise of social media branding as a new, distinct discipline, demanding skills in both digital and responsive design as well as a strong grasp of brand management. We very much hope we will be able to continue working with the Elders in future, to support the rest of their online activity.