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Manage Your Content Carefully or Risk Undermining Your Own PR

It’s among a business owner’s worst nightmares — a seemingly harmless Facebook page post or company tweet, made in the spirit of getting a few laughs, garners a firestorm of fury as the online community views it as inappropriate and offensive.

Even if a business has never had an infraction of that nature before, it takes only one such instance to hurt (or destroy) a brand.

People don’t always forget — or forgive — too quickly when you hit a nerve. Just ask US Airways, KitchenAid and DiGiorno.

Indeed, the words and the visuals that people associate with your brand will either strengthen it or detract from it.

That’s why consistency in how you present your brand through your online content is paramount. If you don’t make that a priority, you risk diluting your business’s value proposition, and confusing or infuriating your customers and prospects.

Whether you put your content in the hands of your employees or an outside agency, you need to make sure they are in tune with your company's tone, voice and values. You need to set expectations and establish some rules.

Here are some tips for accomplishing that:

Create a brand style guide.

A style guide helps ensure consistency across written and visual communications by documenting standards for grammar, tone, word usage, brand colors, logo usage, etc. Where written content is concerned, you can use your guide to identify:

  • Grammar, capitalization and punctuation rules you want to be followed (e.g., the Oxford comma and "Internet" rather than "internet")
  • How you want certain text elements displayed (e.g., “and” rather than “&”)
  • What words or phrases should be off limits (perhaps because of possible misinterpretation by or offensiveness to your audience)
  • How you want content formatted (e.g., titles, lists, citations, hyphens and dashes, quotes, etc.)

You might also consider providing examples of wording and sentence structure to illustrate the voice you want your content to project.

A good way to get started with your style guide is to (legitimately and legally) borrow an existing one and tweak it to meet your brand’s needs.

Create a social media policy.

Along with your style guide, crafting social media rules for team members who manage your social media account will help keep everyone on the same page. But realize your social media managers aren’t the only people in your company who use social media. Other employees, using their individual social media accounts, can also affect how your brand is perceived.

So, you might consider creating a general social media policy that applies to all employees to help protect your business from lost time and brand damage. Craft your policy to clearly communicate what is considered acceptable use of social media during work hours and acceptable behavior on social media as related to your brand. Be very careful as you construct your social media policy because your rules cannot violate employees' freedom of speech or break the laws that your state may have enacted.

Familiarize yourself with the National Labor Relations Act's rules that protect employees’ freedom of speech, social media-related laws at the state level, and the Federal Trade Commission’s rules about disclosures for endorsements, promotion, reviews and other circumstances involving incentives for mentioning your brand on social media.

As with any policies that have potential legal consequences, consult an attorney to make sure your rules do not violate any laws.

Coach your content producers.

Nothing can take the place of transparent communications and proper training. Coach your in-house and external content creators on how you want your brand represented. This is especially important when you have SEO specialists massaging your content. They need to know about the rules in your style guide, so they don’t manipulate certain words and phrases in a way goes against the grain of your brand.

Along with coaching, review content and offer feedback regularly. It’s far better to nip discrepancies in content consistency from the start than to wait until they’ve become ingrained habits that have undermined your brand.

Manage your content or face the consequences.

You’ve worked too hard in your PR and marketing efforts to let sloppy content practices plague your business. To help safeguard your company’s reputation, take the time and effort to set some clear guidelines and expectations for your internal and outside content creators.

Author Bio:

Dawn Mentzer is a contributing writer for Straight North, one of the leading Internet marketing service companies in Chicago that provides SEO, PPC and web design services. As a solopreneur and freelance writer, she specializes in marketing content — and collaborates with clients nationally and globally.