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.