Creative best practice for social media
Find best practice advice for social media images and videos.
Social media is a predominantly visual medium, which means visually engaging creative is essential. It’s important you try different approaches to visually representing your brand and messages, however there are some best practice approaches that will set a strong foundation for your content.
Social media professionals are often asked to publish content that isn’t right for their platforms, audience or objective. Often this is due to a gap in understanding what works well for social media and your audiences. Help internal stakeholders understand the reasoning behind content decisions (and what you need from them to help meet their objectives). Try using platform data, A/B tests, training sessions, lunch and learn events, factsheets and industry publications to educate and empower colleagues.
Got branding questions?
If you have any questions about branding social media assets, email the NSW Government Brand Team at the Department of Customer Service at:
In general, for both video and images, it’s best to:
- design for mobile-first
- use the right file size and dimensions for the platform
- create social-first images (that is, make assets specifically for the platform, rather than using television commercials, web banners or flyers)
- make sure the copy and creative are linked and complement one another
- choose creative informed by customer insights and what has worked on your page before.
When storyboarding and writing videos for social media:
- know who your audience is and target your content to them directly
- use simple, direct language and avoid jargon
- tell a good story
- stick to one key message per video
- deliver the most important messages early in the video, as social viewers watch less than 50% of videos over 6 seconds
- feature people in the first few frames so you can connect emotionally with your audience
- consider putting a call to action and other contextual information in the post text instead of in the video
- keep videos short and snappy (we recommend videos of less than 15 seconds for most platforms but review your platform's watch times to see how long your audience is likely to watch your videos).
When designing and producing videos for social media:
- follow the recommended specs (including aspect ratio, video length and style) for each platform your video will appear (there is no one size fits all rule for all platforms)
- always design for ‘sound off’ and include captions for accessibility
- avoid using text outside of captions and supers, unless you’re creating an infographic or diagram
- close with the Waratah logo if your video will be used in advertising or by a third party (for example a news outlet or non-government page)
- choose an enticing custom thumbnail that will grab users’ attention
- pick the right keywords for your video title (for example, “How to write captions” rather than “captions_youtube_v4_FINAL").
From an NSW Government branding perspective, captions on social media videos should:
- use Montserrat or Arial as the font, if available
- be large enough to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (no smaller than 9 pt)
- not take up more than 20% of the screen
- not cover any vital information or branding or supers (meaning they may need to move up or down the screen at different times)
- always be reviewed before you publish the video.
See the accessibility section for further guidance.
Video supers (titles)
Video supers are a great way to introduce your audience to your talent and establish authority.
- you should ensure supers are easy to read, which means making sure they:
- are large enough to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (no smaller than 9 pt)
- aren’t unnecessarily long
- appear on screen for long enough to read in full
- don’t interfere with the captions
- have accessible contrast.
You don't need a super to introduce every person in the video by name and job title. Consider the context of the video and whether adding this information enhances the key message in the video.
When choosing or creating images for social media:
- Be authentic. Choose photos of real people, animals and places that feel natural and not staged.
- Aim for NSW. Try to pick Australian and/or NSW images or make sure the location or subject is not distinguishable (that is, don’t use an image with cars driving on the right-hand side of the road, or a landscape that can be identified as being overseas).
- Have high standards. Resolution and lighting can make or break an image. Avoid using low-quality photos or photos that are blurry as they can lead to poor engagement.
- Sometimes low-res is okay. For example, some memes or GIFs use images of lower quality for humour. In a crisis or emergency, low-resolution or poor-quality images might be all that is available.
- Show diversity. NSW is home to people of different cultural backgrounds, gender identities, abilities, and interests. Images on our social media channels should reflect this.
- Be sensitive. If you’re selecting an image for a sensitive topic like domestic violence or mental health, make sure it is appropriate and consider what your audience might be feeling. You should also always:
- check with the team responsible for the initiative, service or topic
- stay away from front-on detailed images, especially of faces, and use angled or cropped shots instead
- focus on showing the service or solution
- pick images that use soft lighting or shadows
- avoid stereotyping the intended audience in a way that is offensive
- test with customers, if possible.
You won’t always have access to good quality, relevant images. Stock imagery can be an acceptable alternative if these criteria are followed.
Free government image libraries
There are several NSW Government image libraries including:
- Destination NSW
- Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
- Environment, Energy and Science
- Department of Premier and Cabinet
- Transport for NSW
If you see an image that you’d like to use posted by a NSW Government page, reach out to page owners and ask for permission to share.
Free stock photo libraries
There are also several free image libraries online that you can use to source images for your posts:
Make sure you check the copyright requirements of each image and provide credit as necessary.
Illustrated images and videos can be a great way to capture your audience’s attention and efficiently communicate a message. You should refer to the NSW Government Visual Identity System and follow existing guidance to make sure illustrations are on-brand.
An example of this is the animations created as part of the COVID-19 campaign work.
Memes and GIFs
Sometimes low-res is okay. For example, some memes or GIFs use images of lower quality for humour. In a crisis or emergency, low-resolution or poor-quality images might be all that is available.
Consider A/B testing different content types to determine what resonates best with your audience.
Emojis are part of the vernacular of social media and should be used by agencies wherever appropriate.
Emojis can be used to:
- communicate sentiment, including humour or excitement
- shorten or simplify copy, for example, to list items
- encourage people to take action, for example, click a link.
Common sense should be exercised when using emojis, for example:
- use a variety of skin tones for people emojis
- use caution when using emojis when addressing serious, sensitive or formal issues
- avoid using emojis in place of words where possible as this impacts accessibility
- avoid using multiple emojis in a row as this can cause issues for people using screen readers
- seek advice when using emojis to communicate with culturally and linguistically diverse audiences to ensure they deliver the intended meaning.
Emojis can impact users with accessibility requirements. Please see accessibility on social media to understand how to use emojis in a way that creates a good experience for everyone.
Hashtags are a powerful tool that allow you to expand your reach and tap into relevant conversations.
When using hashtags:
- only include hashtags when they’re relevant to the post (for example, if you’re linking your post to a broader conversation, event, initiative or movement)
- use title case (also known as 'camel case') for hashtags (visit accessibility on social media for more information)
- add hashtags to the end of your post or in the comments section (where applicable) rather than throughout the post copy for optimal readability.
Many people primarily use social media to connect with friends, family and community. Because of this, the kind of copy that works for social media is different to other forms of government communications. Government social media accounts need to match the tone of each platform to effectively communicate with their audiences.
For maximum impact, social media copy should be:
- purposeful and with a single call to action
- playful (emojis, humour or popular culture references should be used as appropriate)
- considerate of advertising requirements, where applicable (for example, adhering to recommended post lengths to capture attention and avoid truncation)
- made for the platform (for example, if you’re posting the same message across Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, consider how these audiences differ and tailor the message)
- channel-appropriate (for example, avoiding URLs in Instagram copy)
- aligned with the creative.
There will be instances where this guidance will not apply. For example, during a bushfire emergency, the Rural Fire Service may create posts with multiple links and lots of text to provide important information without requiring their audience to click through to their website.
The same guidance applies to creative for social media advertising as for organic content. However, some platforms have additional requirements for creative used for advertisements. You should familiarise yourself with the creative requirements for the platform you’re advertising on before creating content or briefing a supplier.
Social media videos in peer-reviewed campaigns (above $250,000) should close with the NSW Government-branded social media credits.