The truth about content is that it’s a messy business. Take a look at 10 different content creators and I bet you’ll find 10 different styles of writing. In some cases, the differences will be pretty small. Maybe comma usage varies among the group or one person has a Penchant for capitalizing Words at Random (why does anyone do this?!?). In other cases, the differences in writing styles will be much more pronounced — so much so, in fact, that you might be able to tell who the author is just by how it’s written.

Now, imagine working for a company where there are literally hundreds or even thousands of people creating content. Oh, and keep in mind that most of them probably aren’t professional writers. They’re probably sales, customer service, or product people, who just happen to also be responsible for creating customer-facing content from time to time. Can you imagine just how different the style of all of that content would be and how much its quality would vary?

And don’t forget that people often use different words to say the same thing. Take three different writers and they might all have their own way of explaining a company’s products and services. They might even use slightly different names for them — the ones they’ve been taught to use within their department but that aren’t necessarily quite right.

Welcome to Content’s Wild West

At many companies, content is effectively a free-for-all. Sure, there may be some editorial guidelines in place for people to follow, but chances are that nobody outside of the department that created them actually does. And, since there’s so much content being created by so many different people, it’s virtually impossible to police it all. Editors can only do so much, so there’s probably plenty slipping through the cracks and into customers’ hands, even if it’s not quite right or totally on brand.

That’s actually a much bigger problem than most people realize. When a company publishes content that sounds like it’s being written by lots of different people, and when the quality of that content varies along with its use of terminology, it does two things:

  • It confuses people. Content is most companies’ main touch point with their customers. If the content is inconsistent it makes it seem as though the company isn’t speaking with one voice, which can be confusing. It gives customers the impression that the company has a split personality because it sounds one way here and another way there. Plus, if everyone is describing the same thing in different ways or using slightly different words, that can really throw customers off.
  • It degrades your brand. Let’s face it, confusing isn’t a good attribute. Neither is inconsistent, sloppy, or all over the shop. When a company publishes content that reflects lots of different styles of writing, use of terms, and overall ability, it sends a negative message to customers that ultimately degrades your brand.

I liken content at many companies to the Wild West. Anything goes and the result can be chaotic and dangerous. Suffice it to say, it’s not a good approach.

Governance Is the New Sheriff in Town

While it’s great for individual writers to have their own style and voice, when they’re writing on behalf of their company they all need to write the same way to avoid the issues I raised above. For that to happen, you need governance.

Governance can come in lots of different forms. It can be a style guide like I mentioned earlier or a team of editors who enforce the rules. But, while this works really well at small organizations, the problem is that it just doesn’t scale. At large organizations, most people don’t consult style guides. Or, if they do, it’s their own department’s rather than one that’s intended for the entire enterprise. And while editors can play a role at mitigating these issues, you’d need an army of them to churn through the huge volumes of content most large companies create. Suffice it to say, it’s not a very cost-effective approach.

A better solution is to use technology. Content optimization software, for example, not only checks your content for the basics like grammar and spelling. It also enforces all of your company’s unique style guidelines, and ensures that writers always use the company’s preferred terms, words, and phrases. And, since this works right in the authoring tools that people actually use (think Google Docs and Microsoft Word, among dozens of others), it’s hassle free. Plus, it scores your content, which makes enforcing your standards a breeze. All you have to do is tell people that their content won’t be published or distributed unless it meets a certain score. Boom, instant enforcement.

Be a Content Hero, Not a Content Outlaw

Content is important for your business. And while things can easily get messy, it doesn’t have to be that way. Rather than resign yourself to living in the Wild West, how about bringing some law and order to your company’s content? If you’re a small organization, style guides and a few crack editors may do the trick. If you’re a large organization, however, you might want to consider something a little more powerful.