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The Importance of a “Useful” Style Guide

Content really is “king.” As marketing and public relations continue to blur, having clear, concise, on-message content can make or break a campaign. So, how do we make sure we are all working on creating content that is aligned, boosts SEO, reinforces messages, and is consistent? Why an editorial style guide, of course.

Some organizations have a tailor-made Editorial Style Guide and some just use the AP Style Guide. Whatever it is, having a standard for how you communicate to your audiences reinforces your brand, create more impressions on messages, and, let’s face-it, takes the guess work in how to “word things.”

I have created many style guides for the organizations I have worked for and have found that they change depending on their business model; how they approached what channels they used and what stories they pitched. We had a definition of what made us, us.

You can go as far as creating a guide that outlines how and when to use a comma, to just creating a content library of boilerplates, key messages, and industry jargon.

I went to Twitter and asked:

Since I am new to having my own personal Twitter account (see why in this past blog post), I didn’t receive a ton of responses, but I was thrilled with this one in particular:

Why? Because it is honest and effective. Understanding your audience really can define what your style guide should look like. Are you trying to reach reporters? AP Style is your go-to. Are you trying to reach moms? A more conversational style with be the best bet.

Whatever your audience, before you jump into creating a guide, research them. Find out how they like to be talked to. Then start from there.

If you’re struggling with the next step, there are many how-tos out there. My favorite is by Kapost. They outline 4-Steps to Creating Your Own Editorial Style Guide.

  1. Meet with the people who edit content before it goes live. – What are they having to fix every day? What could make the copy more polished? The recommend you go as far as giving them a questionnaire with some copy to see what they edit to give you an idea of their preferences.
  2. From that, draft a style guide that addresses the main problems you discover. – “The key is to make it work for you.” They have a great template to get you started and to develop some ideas of what you might like to include.
  3. Get feedback from stakeholders. – Make sure the guide can be universally implemented- digital, print, advertising. Ask those developing that copy and editing it to take a look and make recommendations. Also, getting buy-in for implementation is a big key here.
  4. Regularly update the guide. – This is a living document. As trends, organizational objectives, and channels change and develop, so should the guide. It should be a useful tool that is regularly accessed. Having outdated guidelines won’t help the cause.

Don’t be afraid of creating a document like this. It can be comprehensive or targeted; long or short. The purpose is to get everyone on the same page and writing stellar content that grabs people’s attention.

Hope this was helpful. If it wasn’t, let me know. Have anything to add? Use the comments section or connect with me at @JenAalgaard or on LinkedIn.

[Special THANK YOU to Kapost for being my inspiration for this blog. You are one of my go-to references for all things content marketing.

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Measurement: Ain’t Nothin’ but a Thang’

Ok, so I giggled when I wrote that headline, because I would never consider myself to be cool enough to say something so…cool. The point is, measurement of ROI doesn’t have to be crazy serious; it can be as simple as a little math.

The topic of simple ROI calculation came up when one of our branches wanted to track the ROI of a radio remote with the number of tacos he gives away. See, if you attend the event and apply for a job, you get a voucher for a free taco. They just count the number of vouchers given away and there is the ROI. It is so simple!

Now, I would’t advocate for everyone (or anyone, really) to use free tacos as a measurement tool, but it can be really easy to quantify ROI.

(Return – Investment)
————————–
Investment

What you got back, minus the amount you invested, divided by what you invested gives you a percentage of return.

Now, most campaigns require more complex mathematics, but you are still striving for getting more than what you put in. The key is to establish what you would consider success; what is the percentage that makes the effort worth while?

I am reminded of a fantastic article from Marketing Mo that breaks down how to determine ROI success. Return on Investment – Formula and Use breaks it down for you. They outline three main buckets that marketers might consider as return:

  • Total revenue generated
  • Gross profit: revenue minus cost
  • Net profit: gross profit minus expenses

Then you can break it down further. Are you trying to acquire customers? Drive sales? Increase engagement? Ultimately, it is about making data-driven decisions and showing the worth of a robust marketing and communications strategy. We are all fighting for those precious budget line-items and it’s time to make sure you are being smart, proactive, and thoughtful with yours. In the end, it all comes down to simple math.

Ideally, though, just math alone doesn’t define ROI. Let’s not forget about qualitative data, but that’s for another blog post.

Communicating Across Generations

Communicating Across Generations by Jennifer Aalgaard was originally published on Getting Smart.

Boomers, Millennials, Gen Xers and Greatest Generation, who is your target audience? When communicating across generations most likely it isn’t just one. Most of us are trying to reach a mix of individuals, but how does each generation like to be reached and how do we combine them.

First, lets define who the generations are, as outlined by The Nielsen Company:

  • Greatest Generation: Born prior to 1946
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964
  • Generation X: Born 1965 – 1976
  • Millennials: Born 1977 – 1994

Next, let’s understand each generation.

Greatest Gen

Also known as the “silent generation” and “traditionalists,” they are the more reserved generation. They grew up in times of crisis and during the greatest financial hardship our country has ever seen. They are a group of people that believe in hard work and saving pennies. Having grown up during times of crisis, many in this generation don’t question authority and when they give you their word, they mean it.

Baby Boomers

Historian Landon Jones said that exactly 9 months after WWII ended, “The cry of the baby was heard across the land.” Between 1946 and 1964, there was 76.4 million births, making the Baby Boomers 40% of the nation’s population. The children of a generation who struggled through the great depression, their parents ensured they wanted to for nothing, but appreciated hard work. They are a very age conscious generation so never call them “old.”

Generation X

Generation X, often not so fondly called the “middle child” generation, is smack dab between the two of the largest, and most distinct generations — Boomers & Millennials. They are a very economically conservative generation due to growing up during double-digit inflation (1979-1981) and the stress their parents faced during times of unemployment. Unlike their parents, they then to not favor relying on institutions of the government for long-term security, which makes their loyalty stay at two-weeks notice. Because of their lack of loyalty, they have had to become flexible to changing times and needs, making them creative and entrepreneurial.

Millennials

The first generation to grow up with high-speed internet, this generation is constantly changing, moving and have high expectations. As a very educated generation, Millennials are an independent group, but prefer to work in teams. They feel enormous pressure to succeed and understand their position as a generation and the uncertain future of institutional support. The most tolerant generation, 89% believe in equal treatment, tattooed (4 in 10), social (75% have smart phones and social profiles), and single (4 in 5). Millennials are tolerant, enterprising and hyphenated, are very much in the emerging “GenDIY.”

Four groups, four very different life experiences. How are the best ways to communicate with each? Let’s break it down.

Greatest Gen

  • Face-to-face: Relationships mean everything
  • Succinct: They don’t like to have their time wasted
  • Cautious: They want to know about your and your business before deciding to act
  • Value: After growing up in the great depression, value is incredibly important

Boomers

  • Engage: Dubbed the “Me” Generation, they want to feel like you are talking directly to them
  • Keep promises: Give them what you say you will and they will be with you forever
  • Clear: Get to the point, but avoid controlling language. You’ll lose them if they have to search for your message.
  • Show flexibility: Boomers appreciate options

Gen X

  • Be informal: Informal communication styles make them feel comfortable
  • Use Tech: Email is the best way to reach them
  • Feedback: Ask them for feedback and they will happily oblige
  • Keep It Short: Gen Xers have short attention spans, so don’t get lengthy in your messages

Millennials

  • Action: Use verbs and action oriented words
  • Go Online: They grew up with the internet, you can always reach them there
  • Don’t Speak Down: They will resent you if you talk to them as if they are stupid
  • Be Funny: Use humor and don’t take yourself too seriously

This is by no means exhaustive, and everyone is different. Not everyone will fit into this analysis, but for the most part, you can generalize each generation’s motivations and expectations. As a communicator, it is crucial to understand how to reach these audiences and this is a great start to create messages to test on your audiences.

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Social Media & Strategic Communications in 2015

Social Media & Strategic Communications in 2015 was originally published on Getting Smart.

Let’s start with social media.

Facebook Isn’t Dead. Contrary to what many people may be saying about how Facebook is dying, it is still a great tool for the right audience. It is still has the largest social media audience and why would you turn your back on that? Figure out who you are trying to reach and see if they are present on the platform and Facebook away. Teachers are a great example of who still have a large audience on Facebook.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet? There really is NO question. You may notice that from a personal perspective I am not very active on Twitter. Primarily because I have spent most of my career writing and posting tweets for the companies I work for, but I have been selling myself short. Not only is it a good idea to be on Twitter, it is imperative to my career and to my company. Twitter is the KING (or Queen) PR channel! 140 characters can open a whole world. So, there really is NO question, just do it and here’s how.

Leverage Twitter Chats. So you’re on Twitter, now what? Join a Twitter Chat. Twitter Chats are a great place to start learning who is who, what are people talking about, and how they like to be spoken to. Once you are comfortable with how a Twitter Chat is run, start your own.

Instagram? Only if you have something to show. Don’t just have a social media account for the sake of having one. To really make it worth it, you have to be active, consistently active. Instagram is a great example of this. Instagram is GREAT, fabulous even, if you have images to share that are relevant to your brand. So many people fall into the trap of starting an account on the “hot” new social platform without the content or audience to back it up. Review the platform and find out if it is really worth your time, if not stop and revisit it again in six months.

Content is No Longer King. The king has been dethroned and been replaced by images and video. Our brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text so it is not surprising that platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Vine have exploded. We have even seen the Facebook newsfeed taken over by images and video. A picture is worth a thousand words and in the world of social media, much, much more.

And now, strategic communications.

Integrated, integrated, integrated. The other day I was driving down the road and was listening to an advertisement on the radio and as I heard the final tag line, I looked up and saw a billboard for the same company with the same tag line and later on Twitter. Why is this important? Because I remember this product. I am not even in the market for this product, but here I am talking about it; remembering it. When creating a marketing communications campaign, it is crucial to ensure all channels are saying the same thing. Marketing pioneer Dr. Jeffrey Lant says it takes 7 touches for someone to make the decision to act on a message, don’t spend time and money on multiple messages, when one great message can do all you need.

Transparency Will Make or Break you. We are in a 24/7 news-cycle and with a large percentage of the world using some sort of social media, being truthful and open has never been more important. Ever notice a company on the nightly news when they admit fault immediately? Rarely. Be honest immediately and any crisis can be managed.

Blog about it. Gone are the days that we require media outlets to tell our story. Brand journalism has taken on a new form and it isn’t content marketing, nor is it sponsored content. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It is meaningful, quality storytelling. Own your brand and tell the story you want to tell on your website through a blog. Share your blog on social media and watch your brand, followers, and/or customers grow.

Mobile and More. 60% off all internet traffic is mobile and is rapidly increasing. Smart phones and tablets have revolutionized how content is accessed and consumed. So, if you do not have a mobile site, you need one. If your mobile site doesn’t have a lot of traffic, you’re not doing it right. If you are finalizing your plans for 2015 budgeting, include dollars for mobile, it will make a STRONG impact.

Personalization – Not Just a Teaching Model. Consumers increasingly demand a more personalized experience both online and in person. The millennial generation is a fast-moving group who embrace change and as they take-hold as the target sales market, we must be more flexible in our outreach efforts. Reach them on their level, how they want to be and when they want to be reached. Provide a true experience, even in your storytelling. Connect with them with your messages and they will come.