Content Marketing: To AP-Style or Not to AP-Style
A content marketing style that is inconsistently applied to your content or that is mismatched with your brand is going to be off-putting for your customers.
Not only do your customers want consistent spelling, grammar, and capitalization across your content — your customers also want a style that feels right for your content and your brand.
Deciding on a content marketing style guide early on is a must. You don’t want to start publishing and then have your marketing coordinator ask whether to use a serial comma in the next blog post. It’s a small detail, but one that matters. And the answer?
It depends on whether your business decides to AP-Style or not to AP-Style. That is the question.
There are pros and cons of each and deciding for your own business requires taking a few things into consideration.
Taking a Look Around
As you start to wrestle with this question of whether to use AP for your content marketing, stop and take a look at the writing around you. Refer back to favorite blogs or content pieces that serve as models for your content. Look at how they handle issues like the serial comma, what numbers they spell out, what words they capitalize.
If you’re a fan of newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, you’ll find a pretty consistent use of AP style. However, not all newspapers do it. Take a look at this recent Detroit Free Press story about 2 towns, not two towns.
The Benefits of AP Style
You may find there are certain benefits to adopting AP Style. The AP style guide is one you’re probably pretty familiar and comfortable with — to the extent that 7 instead of seven or dates written as 7/15/2018 instead of July 15, 2018 look weird. This is probably the same for your writers, who are likely coming to your company from PR or journalism backgrounds.
But besides the familiarity, AP is designed to be reader-friendly. That’s one of the reasons AP doesn’t like the serial comma as much Chicago Style does — the thinking is that the extra comma adds yet another character for the reader to process.
There may be other reasons you want to use AP style. To give your content an air of authority, to blend in with other similar content producers who use AP, to simplify the logistics of working with a rotating roster of content writers, or to take advantage of tech solutions, like the AP StyleGuard plugin for MS Word.
The Benefits of a Non-AP Style
Of course, you wouldn’t be alone if you decided not to go with AP Style. Thousands of publishers go with more informal style guides, both adopted and original. Many blogs and even some major publishers like The Atlantic, aim for a “conversational voice” that may be suited better to a style guide like Yahoo’s. You may want to think about whether your readers would also prefer a more relaxed style of writing.
However, casual doesn’t work for all businesses or audiences. Say you need to write authoritative content for a specialized audience, like doctors or therapists. In that case, your business should probably stick with the AMA (American Medical Association) or APA (American Psychological Association) style guides.
Keeping In Style With AP
If you do pick AP, make sure you keep up with its stylistic changes. For instance, as of June 1, 2018, “home page” is no more — it’s now “homepage,” as one word. The Associated Press makes small but important changes like this every year, usually to conform with how most people are using the language already.
What happens if you don’t change along with AP, you ask? The world wouldn’t end, but after a few years, you won’t be using AP anymore. You’ll have a hybrid that might be confusing to new staff writers.
Updating Your Non-AP Guide
However, it’s equally important to give your non-AP style guide a regular spring cleaning. It too will be a living document. And though it may not be influenced by how English speakers across the web are using language, you’ll find yourself wanting to make some changes to get the best use from it.
At some point, you’ll want to change a few things as you content marketing plan gets going. Others you’ll outgrow, while still other changes will be the additions you didn’t think about when you first wrote your guide.
Picking Your Side
You’ll notice we can’t tell you whether your business should AP or not AP. That’s an existential question you’ll have to decide for yourself. The important thing is to make a decision and go forth with your content marketing plan. If you want to switch sides down the road, you can. This is content marketing, not a Shakespearean tragedy.
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