Develop Your Digital Identity With a Savvy Online-Centric Employee Style Guide

You did all the requisite research before starting a rebranding effort, carefully reviewed logo designs and selected the perfect logo to help move your organization forward. With that behind you, it’s essential that the language in all company material supports the rebranding initiative, and that’s hard to do:

• The logo change and rebranding may result from a merger or acquisition, and two organizations often possess different cultures and styles.

• The current style, and current style guide, may be outdated but pervasive and everyone is comfortable with them.

• A lot of employees produce material for your organization; many of these people are content experts, not professional writers—and style guides bore them.

Logo and graphic guidelines are usually produced by a third party; the style guide should be produced internally. That way it will fully reflect the philosophy of rebranding, your organization’s culture and the specific needs and skill levels of your employees.


Do the rules of grammar change? Your style guide centers on the basics and still seems useful.

The new logo won’t rebrand the company on its own; it just signals a change. The current style guide doesn’t reflect rebranding, and was probably written before the digital age. While some specific elements may remain unchanged, creating a new one will emphasize that rebranding the organization requires full participation of all staff members, and goes far beyond changing logo, typeface and color palette.

Most important, whatever drove your organization’s decision to update its brand must drive your organization’s use of language. While the use of paper declines, we rely more on the written word than ever before: e-mails have replaced many phone calls and often convey the first image people receive of your organization.

Promotional material we put online is usually longer than paper versions, without printing costs driving size. We send broadcast e-mails with ever-increasing frequency, leading people to “more information available online.”


You’ve researched the interests and perceptions of customers, potential customers, members of your organization and stockholders. And you’ve conveyed to all employees the purpose and philosophy of the rebranding initiative. For the style guide to work, you have to add another layer: your employees. Employees must carry out these philosophical changes daily, and must have tools they can use to do the job.

Some larger organizations employ professional writers or use a cadre of freelancers. If this describes your organization, your new style guide can be more technical, since writers and editors are conversant with the rules of grammar and regard language as craft. In some ways that’s easier; you can rely on professional style guides and just add the information specific to your company, and worry less about the basics.

However, using professionals requires you to over-emphasize when the rebranding philosophy trumps grammar and syntax. If you use freelancers you must include in the style guide information that makes the brand identity clear to people who work for other organizations. In either case you should emphasize two seemingly contradictory goals:

â–¶ Flexibility: This is a transition, and not every effort to reflect the organization’s identity will work.

â–¶ Consistency: The material produced for the company must convey the organization’s identity, not the writer’s or editor’s identity.

Someone in the company who worked closely with rebranding and understands the philosophical changes should supervise the work of these writers and editors to ensure they make the transition to the new brand identity. In addition, many professional writers and editors were trained before widespread use of electronic communication; they must adjust their perceptions of the written word to the electronic age. And require that they resist the most common fault of writers and editors: putting rules ahead of content.

Other organizations use staff members to produce almost all materials. If the majority of your users are not professional writers and editors, make the style guide something that they can digest. Forget some of the most technical questions of grammar and syntax—including all those questions will bore most employees and prevent them opening the style guide a second time.

Think about the common mistakes staff members make, and include those in the style guide. Think of employees who are awkward or inept writers, and write the style guide for them.

For professional writers and editors, freelancers, or full-time employees, use “before and after” examples to make your point. This is the easiest and least judgmental way to bring everyone on board, to help all employees see how much more clearly the new graphic designs and language reflect the image of your organization.


This is the digital age. Most style guides give a nod to electronic communication, but it deserves more than that. Address the following with specificity:

• How to write e-mails that convey your company’s image and stay within professional bounds;

• When not to use e-mail;

• How electronic communication is different: your message must hit people immediately, shouldn’t make them scroll down the page and should take into account shorter online attention spans;

• How and when to use broadcast e-mails;

• Use of graphics online vs. graphics in print; and

• Online fonts vs. print fonts.


Finally, you will not bring employees on board by turning into the style police. Make it clear in the style guide why the changes in language are necessary and important, recognize your organization’s limitations when rolling out widespread changes and emphasize repeatedly that rebranding is an important and ongoing process dependent on everyone’s support. PRN

[Editor’s Note: This article was excerpted from the Digital PR Guidebook, Vol. 3. Go to for more information.]


This article was written by Adrienne Lea, director of communications for the American Society of Nephrology. She can be reached at