Today, almost every brand experiences the challenges of content creation, whether it be maintaining a blog, sending out a monthly newsletter or even just a company brochure. We hear all the time that “content is king,” and brands are finally recognizing this. Many are implementing a content strategy into their marketing plans and while that is great, a lot jump right in without completing a fundamental first step: Creating a content style guide.
Many people think of style guides as only being used in the context of print media, but your own company’s guide will not only streamline your writing process by providing standards to keep content consistent, but it also helps writers understand your brand voice and the audience they should be writing for.
When we set out to create the Hireology content style guide we decided on a few goals that we wanted to accomplish right from the start.
At Hireology, we have many different teams that touch content on a daily basis and we wanted to make sure that any employee, no matter their position, was provided the right tools to confidently write for us.
Consistent language and styles help elevate your content and make it feel more trustworthy to a reader. Even something as simple as deciding if you want to abbreviate or spell out the months of the year should be decided on and stuck with.
Document and teach others our brand voice and tone.
We also wanted to make sure that we documented the voice and tone of the company so that every piece of content we publish sounds like it came from Hireology.
With these things in mind, we set out to build our content style guide. Here are the steps that we used and can hopefully help you create your own.
Find some inspiration
There a many great content style guides that exist already and can help you lay a foundation for your own. Pillars like The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style have been around for many years and are still widely used today. They are good starting points, but won’t be able to offer much for internet-specific topics. We really liked MailChimp's content style guide as a reference, but do some research and see what works best for your company.
Decide your writing principles
Determine a few high-level principles that can help your writers easily understand the overall theme of the guide, and tell them what you’re trying to accomplish with your content. Government digital services agency, 18f, has a great list that gives a quick overview of their goals.
Here is what we decided on for Hireology:
Hireology helps business owners build successful companies by assembling better teams. Every piece of content we publish should strive to do these things:
- Be clear
- Be concise
- Sound human
- Be honest
- Be kind
Find your voice
How would you describe your brand’s personality? How would your customers? Figuring out your brand voice is a very important step in creating your style guide because it affects everything you write. Your voice should be a reflection of the people behind your company and its core values, as well as help you genuinely connect with your readers.
The five core values that Hireology was founded on made documenting our voice easy. They are an integral part of our company culture and come up daily, so we tried to translate them into personality traits. If you don’t have core values or mission statements to look to, there are lots of different ways to help you get started.
Listen to the language used by the company. How do people speak to each other? How are they communicating with customers? Interview your CEO or founder and talk about how and why the company started. Try to note what parts of the conversation illicit an emotional response. You can also try an exercise like Mailchimp’s “this but not that” list. Here is our own example of this.
- Enthusiastic, but not annoying.
- Expert, but not elite.
- Conversational, but not inappropriate.
- Supportive, but not overbearing.
- Informal, but not unprofessional.
Any of these tips should help put your company’s voice into words. If you want to expand it further you can include different content type examples and the appropriate tone for communicating with your readers.
Guidelines for grammar
For this section of your guide try to focus on use-cases that apply to your company. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, but easily scannable so that someone could easily figure out whether or not you use an Oxford comma, or how you format the time of day. We also made sure to include a list of Hireology-specific words and the proper way to write them. This helps keep things like product names consistent.
Once your sections are in written, go back and edit them. No one will read your style guide if it is overwhelming or things are hard to find. Make sure that you keep it as brief as possible, and easily searchable so your writers will get the most out of it. Also, try to get lots of feedback from multiple teams throughout the creation process. Team members in different roles might be able to provide you with some different perspectives and ideas.
Make sure that your style guide is easy to update. Think of your guide as a living, breathing plant that should grow and change as your company does. Try to make edits to it whenever you need to, as all healthy plants need pruning from time to time.
Now go forth and start your own content style guide. This very small investment should give you a solid return in time and quality of your content. It will help everyone in your company feel more empowered to write confidently. And most of all, it will help you communicate with your customers better.
On top of content branding, the power of process begins with your employees and how you hire them. Download the free eBook below to start building a better team for the long run.