Style guides can often be a b*tch to read. I should know – I’ve spent more than 10 years of my career relying on guidelines set out by the 600+ page Associated Press Stylebook which I’ve never read.
It usually sits somewhere on my desktop, a lone icon at the corner of the screen haunting every moment I waste on the social media, whispering:
“Reeeeaaaaddd meeeee… spell your goddamn numbers out if they’re below 10…”
That’s the problem with style guides that go on at length to cover all bases, but are too unspecific to be useful to the people that need them the most.
These content creators are likely to either be a third-party company, a freelancer, or even the youngest kid in office. Sometimes content creation is a collaborative effort of everyone in the company – none of whom are professional writers.
In these cases, the one and only problem small businesses need to solve is maintaining a consistent standard of content while relying on a diverse pool of creators. In other words, it is about getting everyone on the same page so your company content doesn’t look schizophrenic.
You can do your own content style guide for free. Google “content style guide template” and you’ll fine more than three websites offering them for free, plus guidance on how to fine-tune the template to suit your company’s needs.
But beware – there’s usually a gap between what you want your company’s brand to be, and what it actually is. It takes an experienced third party to fully articulate a company’s brand message, and then translate it to actionable guidelines.
Who’s going to use the cheap and cheerful content style guide?
This is an instruction manual for anyone who will create content for you. This includes everyone from the business owner (you!), the marketing manager, the intern or even the odd engineer who likes writing in his spare time.
Anyone who is going to create content for you should read the guide at least once to know about the brand message they should convey.
What’s in the cheap and cheerful content style guide?
This is a basic, no-frills guide spanning between 4-6 pages. Anything longer will be difficult to digest. The guide is customisable and carefully tailored to your business strategy. A company selling industrial springs is likely to require a very different content style compared to, say, an online shop selling vintage kitchen appliances.
This means each document is unique and fine-tuned to be useful and relevant. Generally, each guide contains the following sections.
Section 1: Company background
This sets out the basis for the company’s content strategy. It includes a blurb about your company purpose, business goals, what buyer persona(s) you should be targeting, and what brand persona you should be channeling.
Section 2: Tone of voice
This explains how you should convey your brand persona in writing. The guide breaks it down into five personality traits that the persona should embody, and gives some examples on phrases that channel these traits together with phrases that don’t.
Section 3: Language guidelines and formatting
This is the driest but most essential part of the guide. It includes strict rules on formatting for headlines, titles and text so you don’t end up with weird looking posts. It also sets out basic spelling, numbering and punctuation rules – like an AP Stylebook cheat sheet.
Section 4: Templates
This sets out templates for the most common types of content created for your company. These include outlines for a typical blog post, Facebook post or even an Instagram update (complete with commonly-used hashtags). This not only helps to standardise your content, but also ensures that even an intern on her first day will be able to create a decent post without much handholding.
Section 5: Social media best practices
This offers some guidance on tried and tested social media strategies. It includes tips on how to drive community engagement, approved sources for sharing on the company’s official social media pages, and sources to avoid.