Category Archives: Messaging

Style Guides and Building Your Own

By Erica Dix

How do you know whether to write April 5, 2002, April fifth two thousand two, Apr. 5, 2002 or 4/5/02? That’s when it’s time to consult a style guide.

Style guides are created for writers in various situations to make decisions on how to express their writing in the most readable way possible for their audience. When most people hear the term style guides, they think MLA (Modern Language Association)  or APA (American Psychological Association). They think about creating bibliographies in school for essays and presentation. In reality, style guides are not really about citing sources, they are templates for creating content that is professional and readable.

Many people don’t know that style guides are actually an important tool for any business or brand that wants to maintain consistent style across all of their brand materials and content. Some businesses rely on an existing style guide but some companies prefer to throw the style guide out the window. Let’s talk about style guides and how you can start to develop your very own.

Common Style Guides and Their Uses

Before you start your own style guide, it is useful to understand which style guides exist for what  kinds of content. By understanding how the most widely used style guides are developed specifically for their audience, you can use them as inspiration for your own brand style guide.

MLA Handbook and APA Style: These are often the first style guides that people learn about from their high school English and Social Studies classes. MLA is made for the academic world, and takes a more formal and stylized approach compared to other guides. For example, MLA will spell out almost all numbers, only using numerals for numbers that would be more than one word, like 342 versus three forty-two. APA is also primarily used in academia, and is designed for the social sciences, with specifications for headings and footnotes. The differences in APA and MLA are centered around footnote and endnote styles. For example, MLA capitalizes every word in the paper’s title, whereas APA will only capitalize the first word of the title, and any proper nouns.

Associated Press (AP): This is the preferred style guide for magazines and news outlets. It encourages users to be quick, to the point, and media-savvy. For example, AP style does not use the oxford comma, which is the last comma in a list, since it may increase the word count, which is an important factor in journalism. AP also has different abbreviations for states and dates so be sure to check your work carefully if using the AP guide.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMA): This is a general style guide that covers a lot of the grammar details that other guides do not address. It is one of the most comprehensive and detailed guides, often used in publishing. They have less information in their citations, because the grammar and style of the body is much more important in publishing. Many corporate publications and branding guides rely on the CMA.

American Medical Association (AMA): This style guide is specific to medical writing. It focuses on accuracy and details, and is aimed specifically at people in the medical field. They include a lot of specifications regarding medical terminology that is not addressed in other guides, with updates that keep up with the ever-changing world of medicine.

If one of these style guides sounds relevant to your business, I encourage you to do more research and find out more about the recommended grammar and language rules that guide uses for its audience. In many cases, however, businesses elect to start from scratch and make their own guide, tailored especially for their needs.

  1. Audience Language. Does your business serve a community of professionals? You will want to adjust the style of your language depending on the type of people in your audience.  If your readers are accountants or engineers, you may want to use numerals instead of spelling out numbers. Consider the level of education and background you are speaking to, and impression that you want your business to make on its audience. While jargon is usually seen as something to avoid, when you are writing specific to an audience, it may be perfectly acceptable. Consider this as you develop your style guide.
  2. Company Identification. Believe it or not, there are companies that refer to themselves inconsistently in their marketing communications. Are you Widget Company, Widget Co., Widget Company, LLC or WCL? While you don’t have to use your registered legal name in every mention, you should be consistent about how you casually mention the company name.
  3. How will you write headings or titles? Choose a format for your headings, and make sure it is consistent throughout the document. When you name the titles of books, presentations, or other works, will you underline or use italics? Both are grammatically acceptable, but adding this distinction to your style guide will make your content sharper and more easy to read. Consult the best possible guide for you.
  4. Oxford/Serial Comma? Grammar details are an important part of a style guide. Does the koala eat, shoots and leaves (no serial comma) or does the koala eat, shoots, and leaves? Whether you embrace that last comma or not, you should establish consistency in your content for comma usage, capitalization of proper nouns, and other common grammar considerations.
  5. How do you want to write dates and numbers? This is a critical style choice that is often neglected by content creators. There are several ways to write dates, with varying levels of details and readability. (Mar. 3, 2018; March 3rd, 2018, 03/03/18, etc.) Depending on your audience and industry, your audience might have an easier time reading a date one way or another.
  6. If you are writing for a bilingual audience, will you include any translations or footnotes? First, decide if and how you will translate. You have a variety of options for how to do this. You can put the translation in parentheses after the foreign phrase, or use a footnote with an asterisk or superscript number.

Creating a brand is more than just a set of fonts and slogans. Every detail you present to your audience contributes to a bigger picture that tells your story. If you don’t have a style guide, your content will be riddled with inconsistencies, which will weaken your impression on your audience. If you need help developing a brand style guide for your business, Big Ideas Writing can help. Contact us today!

What Do I Put on my Business Facebook Page?

It’s the age old question of businesses everywhere: What do I put on my business Facebook page?

The personal is easy, right? Funny selfies, birthday and anniversary greetings, and great news about our kids, to name a few.

But what’s appropriate on business Facebook pages?

That all depends on your audience.

Every company has a different corporate culture and industry. How much of their information should be shared with their Facebook audience is an individual matter. However, Facebook, unlike LinkedIn or even Twitter, thrives on visual and energetic content.

There are many studies and statistics out there about what content is sure to engage and encourage clickthroughs and shares, but most agree that adding a photo or video to your post will best engage your audience—up to 2.3 times more engagement according to Hubspot. Other visual content, like infographics, are likely to be shared three times more than other content. In other words, it pays to “dress up” your posts.

For the past five years I’ve been curating, creating and posting social media content for businesses, and I never seem to run out of ideas for my clients’ Facebook pages. Below I give you 60 ideas for your Facebook posts, but all you really have to do is reach out with a BRANCH—an acronym I made up to help you remember “categories” and therefore inspire your content.

B stands for Behind the Scenes. Depending on the nature of your corporate culture, there are elements of your office, environment, and people which you can share to humanize your organization and make your Facebook friends feel more connected to you. You’ll be surprised at how effectively engaging these light, fun posts can be. Posts that I have seen/created in this category include:

  1. Office renovations (Ex. “So excited about our new conference room!” with photo of course)
  2. Video office tour
  3. Employee birthday (with their photo)
  4. New equipment (“Our new 3D printer will make our job so much easier!” with photo)
  5. Office celebrations or special days (Ex. “Our staff dressed up for Halloween”)
  6. Employee workplace achievement (Ex. “Employee of the month”)
  7. Employee industry achievement (Ex. president of association)
  8. Employee personal achievement of interest (Ex. won the Boston Marathon)
  9. Distinguished visitor to the office (with photo)
  10. Photos of merchandise being staged or ready for sale (“We are set for the sale!” with image of full warehouse)
  11. Images of awards you may have won
  12. Now hiring with link to recruiter site or website career page
  13. Organization support for a charity or non-profit (photo of logo in program, on t-shirt, etc.)
  14. Post a staff photo and identify everyone in it
  15. Post a photo collage of the workplace
  16. Post a “throwback Thursday” photo

R stands for Relevant. In other words, this is information your clients really need to know about your business. These are usually changes or things your organization has done that could have a direct impact on your customers/clients.

  1. New hours of operation
  2. New services
  3. New website
  4. New logo
  5. An infographic about your process or services
  6. Post an unexpected use of your product or service
  7. Post your business’ commercial or advertisement
  8. Ask for input on a product

A stands for Around either the industry, the town, or the world. These posts connect something the business is doing to something that is happening elsewhere. These can be shared articles or originally produced content. Posts I’ve seen/created in this genre include:

  1. Comments on a current event in relation to the industry
  2. Organization/participation in an upcoming trade show. (Don’t forget to put booth number)
  3. Organization at an upcoming event (Link to event registration)
  4. Organization or employee participation in an upcoming training
  5. Organization hosting or sponsoring an event (Image of signage)
  6. Organization support of local community (Ex. Image of sponsored team jersey)
  7. New laws, codes, regulations or political news that would affect customers
  8. Show a nostalgic picture from the business-first office, first dollar earned, etc.
  9. Product recall notices of interest to your readers

N stands for Nice, or nice things your customers have said/done for you, or things you would like to say or do for your customers. There’s no better third-party endorsement you can get, or any better way to generate corporate goodwill!

  1. Testimonials your customers have given you
  2. Photo of a thank you note from a customer
  3. Photo of a customer with your product that they sent to you
  4. Photo of a gift your customer sent to you
  5. A heartfelt thank you for a good quarter, season, etc.
  6. A promotion for a special sale to Facebook friends
  7. Engage your customers by holding a contest (Ex., “Name the new mascot”, “best photo with our product”)

C is for Content. This is information that your audience will value; either generated or shared by the company.

  1. Link to your latest blog post
  2. Link to one of your older blog posts that is relevant again
  3. Share an article from another source that will help explain an important topic to your clients
  4. Share a fun cartoon about a relevant subject that will make them laugh
  5. Post a video answer to an often-asked customer question
  6. Share statistics or a chart your customers would be interested in
  7. An inspirational saying with an image shared from another source
  8. An inspirational saying with image you create with your logo on it
  9. Recommend a tool or technique to help customers use your product or service
  10. Give a recommendation (or share one) to a vendor or product connected with yours
  11. Honor a timely or unusual holiday. For example, if you are a restaurant, wish everyone a happy National Hamburger Day
  12. Offer a free ebook or whitepaper
  13. Post a link to your company newsletter
  14. Provide a summary or important information that you received from a seminar or webinar
  15. Share a presentation you have through a slideshow or series of posts
  16. Share a recipe with a relevant ingredient, name, geographic region, etc.

H stands for Happenings. What is your business doing that’s new or interesting? Keep your audience engaged in how you’re actively participating with them and the community.

  1. Invitations to organization-sponsored events
  2. New product introductions
  3. Promote special sales events
  4. Stream live at an organization-sponsored event.

I’m certain there are hundreds more. What has been your most successful piece of content posted on your business Facebook page? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list! And if you need any help with your business Facebook page, please contact us.

How Finding the Right Corporate Message is Like Carving a Pumpkin

What does carving a jack o’ lantern and finding a new corporate message have in common?

Change.

For some people, change is the scariest word in the English language. To Americans in this election year, or businesses facing a marketing challenge, change can be as frightening as those movies they always seem to air on TV this time of year. But before a pumpkin can become a jack o’ lantern, it must undergo a true transformation, losing pieces of itself to become something even more fantastical and magnetic to everyone around it. This is not unlike a business finding the right corporate message.

One of the joys of being in marketing is ushering companies through exciting changes. Whether it’s a new website, launching a blog program or a complete re-branding effort, revamping the existing (or creating something new out of nothing) is always an exhilarating challenge that interestingly, has a lot in common with carving that pumpkin. For example…

You remove the top from where it sits. You have to shake up things a little to produce change, right? How else can you get an objective viewpoint unless you get the cooperative leader, CEO or founder of the company to take a different perspective on what’s happening with the company? Only then can we objectively assess the company from the outside looking in. It’s just a temporary move…we always put the top back on, don’t we? It’s important, though, to remove the top to welcome the change that’s yet to come.

You take a good look inside. Scooping and scraping away the sinewy, slimy threads of “pumpkin guts” is important to get to the smooth, fleshy, peach-colored innards that reflect any new light we put inside our Halloween creation. This reminds me of the research phase when I’m working with a company to find out what makes it tick. Inside a pumpkin we find the seeds. Inside a business, we find the people who can help the company grow and prosper.

You check out the competition.  Do you peek at Pinterest for jack o’ lantern designs before you put knife to pumpkin? Every company needs to be aware of what their competitor is doing before they can properly position themselves in the marketplace. They also need to know themselves. Not every face looks great on a tall oblong pumpkin. Some look better on a short, round one.

You carve the face.  After careful deliberation, a splash of creative planning and a deep breath, you begin the transformation of the pumpkin into the jack o’lantern. There is no cry of pain from a pumpkin, and it doesn’t have to be painful for a company either to launch a new brand, marketing message or positioning statement. Nothing too easy is ever worthwhile. Stick to the plan, implement it in a slow, steady manner and the change will happen painlessly, before you know it!

You set the light inside.  As you set a light inside, the pumpkin has completed its transformation into a jack o’ lantern for all to see! The business can get a new “face” too. It can give its target audience a glimpse into its center, and reveal itself in a new way with a fresh, compelling corporate message. While a jack o’ lantern attracts trick or treaters with its newfound light, the business can expect good things too, like new markets, more leads, perhaps a business award or just putting a good scare into competitors!

This fall will be a time of transformation for the country, just as it is for so many pumpkins out there. If it is time for a change in your company’s marketing strategy, remember that change doesn’t have to be scary. Feel free to contact me and find out how.