Although I would argue that the phrase “businesses should think like publishers” is overstating the case—no business should emulate Upworthy or Buzzfeed unless pageviews are their business—it’s certainly true that to make a mark on the modern web, a business has to publish content and be involved in content marketing to some degree. Blogs, guest blogs, case studies, press releases, and social media posts are all forms of publishing.
One technique that that businesses should adopt from the publishing industry is the style guide. If the phrase “style guide” brings to mind tedious classes poring over Strunk and White, you’re not alone, but that’s not quite what “style guide” means in this context. A company style guide is a set of guidelines for writers or other content creators. It outlines a company’s preferred style—the way they like things done.
Corporations have style guides, brand books, and various other documents that specify how the company should be represented to its customers and the wider world. Smaller companies, who previously wouldn’t have needed to invest in creating a style guide are beginning to find them an important tool with the potential to save a lot of time and confusion.
Creating A Coherent Brand
I’m all for individuality in writing, but when writing for a company, authors have to forgo their personal quirks and create content that presents a coherent and cohesive image to the public. Logos, wordmarks, and tag lines are the obvious way companies do this, but language localization, spelling choices, typography, grammatical standards, whether to use the Oxford comma, and so on also play an important part.
The job of the style guide is to communicate those standards to creatives. Social media is not usually managed by the same individual or team who write for a company’s blog, or who create its advertising copy, but it’s important that some details are kept consistent across both channels.
Likewise, when hiring freelance writers, it’s useful to have a way to get them quickly up to speed so that they can reliably produce content that embodies the company’s values and preferred standards of presentation.
Another use-case I’ve found for style guides is guest bloggers. If you run a relatively well-trafficked website with a blog, it’s likely you’ll have received solicitations from writers or agencies who want to publish content on your site. While you can’t expect guest bloggers to adhere to the minutia of a company style guide, you can ask that they conform to certain standards. It’s far easier to point them in the direction of your style guide or an abridged version of it created for the purpose than it is to engage in a lengthy editorial process.
Style guides don’t have to be complicated, at the minimum they can simply say “Write in standard English and proofread carefully;” what’s important is that companies create some guidance about how they want to be presented through content and in the process give that presentation some serious thought.Posted in: General