Do businesses really need styleguides to tell organizational stories?

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

Or maybe it’s style guides (two words!). I don’t know. I don’t have one and when I googled it I found it both ways. Style guides can have two affects. I settled on two words! Somebody should update the headline.

  1. They can help us be clear and add some consistency
  2. They can bog things down when they go so far into the nitty gritty that they slow down content creation and more importantly content distribution.

The argumentative kind might jump in here and tell us how important style guides are! They make sure the reader doesn’t get confused because we spelled out etcetera in one article and abbreviated in another as etc.

Changes are your online reader won’t get confused at all. We are lucky if they even noticed and didn’t just skim over it.

Do I dare enter the debate around the Oxford Comma?

Seriously, you should use it when it helps you be clear:

It’s not about whether you love the comma or not. It’s about what makes the story clear to the reader! That also should be the goal of any style guide.

In the digital world, here’s where style guides could actually come in and:

  • make content consumption easy to the reader! That means it’s skimmable.
  • give readers the structure to find the information quickly.

One of my styles on here is to use:

  • horizontal lines to break up content
  • use tweetable quotes
  • short paragraphs
  • I could do better with sub heads! <Leaves to add it to the guide.>

But I don’t get hung up on things like over vs. more than and things like that. I try to use the words that get the point across in the most clearest way!

My style (guide) is to get the story out there. Because I can tell you this: Stories that get hung up in Approval Hell or maybe Style Guide over-editing.

Digital style guides keep readers on track

In digital marketing, style guides can sometimes make the storytelling more formulaic and that’s not bad necessarily:

  • Here’s where the headline goes
  • Copy that is always the same (on my blog, that’s the email sign up. Other sites have disclaimers – which I have at the bottom on articles) is in certain spots.
  • Then comes the new information or story.
  • Some calls to action maybe.
  • The photo is always on the top right.
  • There’s a subhead every 300 words
  • Images break up copy as well.

Those are the things that keep return visitors engaged. Of course, getting people to return to your site is harder than it sounds. Email can help with that. So can remarketing (aka retargeting).

The best style guides are the ones that keep things on track and that are actual guides. The ones that require a semester of studying abroad with them can really slow production down – and let’s be clear: We are in a content arms race.

So I’m not opposed to having a style guide and it can keep some things standardized. Keep in mind though, that I’m also a big fan of given subject matter experts and others the freedom to tell their stories. In their voice! So that might mean that not everything is written in the organizational “voice.”

That’s something else to keep in mind. Corporate storytelling can now involve many. Not just the trained wordsmiths. We want to make it easy for the experts and employees. If we throw the style guide at them that may just seem like more work and can even stop them from participating.

So use a guide to the level that it’s needed and that it helps content producers and the audience! Like anything in life, don’t overdo it!