Useful Tools: Blogs

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on blogs.

A blog (short for ‘weblog’) is a regularly updated site written in a conversational style. Blogs originally started out as online diaries written by individuals, but many businesses now also use them to regularly update their users with information about the latest happenings in their industry. A blog is displayed as a series of posts, usually in reverse chronological order (newest first). Blogs also usually have a comment function where users can reply directly to the post.

Blog posts are generally quite short (usually around 500 to 1500 words) and are usually written in a conversational, informal style. Like all web content, they need to be either useful, entertaining or both. Many business posts use lists (e.g. ‘10 ways to improve your search rankings’) as a way of conveying information quickly and easily. Other, more personal blogs, like those written by public figures such as authors, may give some insight into the writer’s personality or creative process and function as a way to develop a relationship with readers.

Having a blog on your site is a very effective way of maximising your search engine optimisation (SEO), as long as it’s updated regularly. Although there are lots of free sites where you can host your blog—Blogger and WordPress being two of the biggest—it’s a good idea to have it attached directly to your site (e.g. as any hits on your blog will also count towards your main site’s SEO. If you build a site on, you’ll automatically have a ‘posts’ page that you can use for blogging (if you don’t want to use it, you can elect for it not to be published).

The main purpose of a blog is to build relationships with your users. You want to encourage interaction, although it’s important to also moderate the comments section so that any offensive comments or users can be blocked. You can also interact with other bloggers in your field to develop relationships and possibly share links or guest post on each other’s sites.

The main thing to remember about blogs is that they need to be updated regularly, so starting one is a long-term commitment. Only get into blogging if you really enjoy it—it shouldn’t feel like a chore, and if it does, your readers will be able to tell. But if you enjoy writing and developing communities, a blog can really enhance your organisation’s website.

Useful Tools: Social media management tools

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on social media management tools.

With the proliferation of social media networks in recent years, it’s become increasingly difficult for businesses in particular to keep up with the demands of being on multiple platforms. In response, a number of social media management tools have emerged, which allow you to control multiple social media accounts from a single dashboard, as well as scheduling posts and suggesting content for reposting. In the case of Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, using a third-party tool is the only way to schedule posts for a later time, as this functionality is not available in the networks’ native interfaces.

Below are profiles of some of the most popular social media management tools, although like anything social media-related, new tools are emerging all the time, so it’s best to do your research to select one that best suits your needs.


Canada-based Hootsuite is the most popular social media management tool, with over 10 million users. It allows users to integrate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr and other social media accounts, as well as third-party services like WordPress and MailChimp, into a single dashboard. This lets users monitor feeds and schedule posts across multiple accounts easily, from both desktop and app versions (although the app’s functionality is more limited). Hootsuite has also released a beta version of an analytics tool for Facebook and Twitter, which lets you compare data for all the accounts you manage. You can also monitor your streams using keywords, which is particularly useful if your organisation is in the middle of a crisis and you need to keep a close watch on what people are saying on your social media.

In addition, Hootsuite’s Suggestions feature aggregates content that users can then search to find relevant content to repost. It also has an extension for the Google Chrome web browser called Hootlet, which makes it easy to share websites across your social media accounts. Hootsuite also offers comprehensive training in various aspects of social media strategy and practice through its online members-only platform, Podium.

Hootsuite has a basic free plan, with three social profiles, basic analytics and scheduling, which may be enough for a small organisation without a wide social media presence. However, to access its more powerful features, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan.


Although often held up as Hootsuite’s main competitor, Buffer is more of a content publishing platform than a comprehensive social media management tool. Hootsuite and Buffer offer similar things, but Hootsuite provides more features, arguably at the cost of usability, while Buffer’s interface is less complex and cleaner. Buffer focuses more on post scheduling and less on engaging and monitoring. The biggest difference is that Hootsuite will let you respond directly to content on your feed from your dashboard, whereas Buffer will only let you publish new content. Buffer is also better integrated with other automated scheduling tools. Buffers analytics also focus on the performance of specific posts rather than accounts overall, so if you post to your social media accounts outside of Buffer, data for those posts won’t show up in Buffer analytics.

Like Hootsuite, Buffer has a browser extension and app. It may be a better choice for organisations that want to keep their social media organised but don’t necessarily need the level of functionality or complexity that Hootsuite offers.


Edgar is a social media scheduling tool that, unlike Hootsuite or Buffer, recycles content so that your accounts are always active. Your content library is sorted into categories, such as ‘promotional’ or ‘inspirational’ (or whatever other categories you choose) and you can decide when to post content from particular categories to your networks. Once Edgar reaches the end of the content list in a particular category it goes back to the start and shares it again. The upside to this is that your social media accounts are always active. The downside is that if you don’t set up your content library properly or if you have too little content, Edgar will continue reposting the same things and essentially spamming your followers.

Edgar also lets you post native images to Twitter, which Hootsuite doesn’t (if you post an image to Twitter through Hootsuite you’ll just get a link to that image rather than the image itself). It also has a Chrome browser extension to allow you to post directly from the web. However, Edgar is significantly more expensive (US$50 a month rather than US$10 a month for the equivalent plan on Hootsuite), which may put it out of reach of many individuals and volunteer organisations.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is a social media management platform. It is more comprehensive than Buffer in the features that it offers, in that it goes beyond simply scheduling content. Like Hootsuite, it allows monitoring of social media platforms, campaign creation and implementation, and assigning tasks across teams. It integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+, as well as Bitly and Google Analytics. However, unlike Hootsuite it doesn’t yet allow integration of some of the less popular social networks like Tumblr and Flickr. Sprout’s interface is cleaner and easier to use than Hootsuite’s, but although it offers a 30-day free trial, the cheapest plan is $50 per month (per user), which only includes up to five profiles.


TweetDeck is a free, Twitter-only management program (now owned by Twitter) that allows you to monitor and post to multiple Twitter accounts. Because Twitter doesn’t have a scheduling tool in its native interface, you’ll need to use TweetDeck or another social media management tool if you want to schedule posts on Twitter. TweetDeck has both desktop and app versions and it’s free for an unlimited number of accounts (there is no paid version). However, unlike the other tools on this list, TweetDeck only manages Twitter and does not have any analytics or more sophisticated tools.

Useful Tools: Cloud storage

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Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on cloud storage.

Cloud storage—where your documents are stored online in ‘the cloud’ rather than on your computer’s hard drive—has been around for a while now, but many volunteer organisations still aren’t taking full advantage of it. As well as being a good way to back up your documents, cloud storage also provides a better way of collaborating on files than emailing them back and forth, especially if your files are large. By keeping a single copy of a file in a shared drive and instituting some practices for tracking edits, you can ensure that everyone on your committee always has access to the most up-to-date version. You can also share links to specific files or folders with people who aren’t members of your group, which will enable them to see only that specific document or folder.

Below are some profiles of three of the most popular cloud storage sites, although there are many more available. The main thing is to ensure that everyone in your organisation who needs access is set up with an account to whichever storage service you’re using. Accounts on all these sites are free for the basic model, but you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan if you want more storage. Most cloud storage sites also have apps so you can access your files wherever you are.


Dropbox, which started in 2007, is one of the original cloud storage sites. It has 2GB of free storage, although you can earn more by referring people (500MB for every person who signs up, up to 16GB). You can either access your files through the Dropbox site on your web browser or install a version directly to your computer so that it shows up in your file explorer, allowing for easy drag-and-drop.

Google Drive

Two main advantages that Google Drive has over its competitors are, firstly, it’s integrated with Google’s other products, such as Gmail, Calendar and Docs, so you only need a single account to access them all; and secondly, it provides much more free storage, with 15GB on its free plan.

Google Drive should not be confused with Google Docs, which is a collaboration tool that lets you create web-based text documents, spreadsheets or slides (stored online until you download them) that can be edited by multiple people simultaneously. Google Docs now sits within Google Drive. If you think of it in terms of your computer, Google Docs is like a mashed-up version of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, while Google Drive is like your computer’s hard drive, where everything is stored.


OneDrive (previously known as SkyDrive) is Microsoft’s cloud storage service. It works with Microsoft Office Online, meaning you can edit documents directly in your browser (much like Google Docs). It provides 5GB of free storage, but it is not as widely used as Dropbox or Google Drive, meaning many people in your organisation may already have accounts for one of those other services rather than for OneDrive.


iCloud is Apple’s cloud storage service, which it launched in 2011. Although it is an Apple product, there is a Windows version available, although this has to be installed on your PC rather than accessed through a browser. As well as storing your files, iCloud lets you back up your iOS device to it directly (provided you have enough space) and locate lost devices through the Find My iPhone service. iCloud comes with 5GB of free storage. In 2013, Apple launched iWork (a suite of office applications similar to Google Docs—Pages for word processing, Keynote for presentations and Numbers for spreadsheets). It also has iCloud Drive, which is a storage solution similar to Dropbox or Google Drive, although it’s not as user-friendly as these two and nowhere near as streamlined for collaboration.

If it’s properly managed, cloud storage can really help streamline your organisation’s processes. It can also be an effective way of maintaining an offsite backup of your documents (including your website) in case of a major technology failure or other disaster like a fire.

Useful Tools: Crowdfunding

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Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on crowdfunding.

‘Crowdfunding’ refers to raising money from a large number of people to fund a project, small business, charity drive or other enterprise. The most common way to do this is through an online crowdfunding site. There are a substantial number of crowdfunding sites around, and many focus on specific types of projects or industries.

Regardless of their targeted industry, crowdfunding sites tend to work in similar ways. A person seeking funding proposes a project, a funding goal and a timeframe. Supporters pledge to make a certain contribution, often for a small reward (the rewards increase in value the higher the pledge). If the funding goal is reached in the timeframe, the project is fully funded and supporters are contacted to contribute their money. If the goal isn’t reached, the project is not funded and no money is collected (an ‘all-or-nothing’ model). However, on some sites—particularly charity-focused ones—the proposer gets to keep whatever money is pledged, even if it falls short of the target (a ‘keep-what-you-get’ model).

A few of the major crowdfunding sites are detailed below. Some of these are for-profit sites, meaning they charge a commission and/or set-up fees, while others are non-profit. Do your research and make sure you choose a platform that suits your needs.


Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform for the creative industries—it focuses on helping artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers and other creatives fund their work. It uses an all-or-nothing funding model, so if your project fails to meet its target you don’t receive any money.


Indiegogo is open to all projects, from inventions to entrepreneurial start-ups. It is a for-profit enterprise with 5 per cent platform fees and both all-or-nothing and keep-what-you-get funding models.


Like Kickstarter, Pozible is focused on the creative industries, but has a wider scope of projects. Its fees vary, from 5 per cent for projects of less than $100,000, to 4 per cent for projects between $100,000 and $500,000 and 3 per cent for projects over $500,000. Its funding model is all-or-nothing.


Gofundme is a personal crowdfunding website, meaning it focuses on personal causes such as medical expenses, volunteering trips or funerals. Because it is charity-focused, supporters don’t get rewards for contributing particular amounts; rather, the premise relies on giving the supporters a feeling of altruism.

Gofundme also has a charity arm, where people can start a fundraising project for a charity from the organisation’s list of registered charities (which are all US-based) and then encourage their friends to donate.

Unlike other crowdfunding sites, Gofundme does not set time goals, so the campaign can continue for as long as the organiser wants. Its fee is 5 per cent and its funding model is keep-what-you-get.


Chuffed focuses on non-profit and social enterprise projects. It is a non-profit organisation and its funding model is keep-what-you-get. It does not charge administration fees.


Patreon also targets the creative industries, but unlike other crowdfunding models, it aims to provide ongoing rather than one-off funding (based on the traditional idea of patronage for the arts). While the aim of a Kickstarter campaign is to get support for a specific project, Patreon campaigns are about fans funding the creator rather than the project. ‘Patrons’ provide a tip of a specified amount either monthly or every time the creator releases a new piece of content, and can set a monthly maximum. In return, the artist will offer an exclusive package to their patrons, which may include things like complementary tickets, tutorials or a regular Q&A session.

In principle, crowdfunding sounds like a fantastic way to get a project off the ground, and there is no question that it has given life to projects that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day. However, it is also not something to be undertaken lightly, and its success rates are generally low. According to Kickstarter, 305,250 projects have been launched since the site’s inception in 2009, of which 107,799 have been successfully funded, giving it a success rate of around 35 per cent.

Before you launch a crowdfunding campaign think carefully about a few things:

  • Where will the money will come from? This comes back to having an existing audience.
  • How will you drive traffic to your campaign site? You will need a marketing plan for your crowdfunding campaign, which you should incorporate into your overall communications and social media strategies (see Part 1). This includes producing a professional-looking video about your project, as this is the thing that will (hopefully) be shared widely on social media. Don’t try to do this on a shoestring.
  • What do you offer that’s unique? Maybe you already have an established fan base and you’re offering them something that they desperately want—your next book/album/artwork/invention. But if you don’t, what is it about your project that will draw people in?
  • What rewards will you offer your supporters? Be creative here—don’t just give them a sample of your eventual product. Think about what will most encourage people to donate. You need to offer them something of value in terms of either a product or an experience.

Crowdfunding can be a great way for cash-strapped volunteer organisations to achieve otherwise unreachable projects. But, like all fundraising and marketing, it needs to be approached strategically, with a good understanding of what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it, or it is likely to fail.


Useful Tools: Online petitions

Photo credit: Archives New Zealand via / CC BY

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on online petitions.

The petition as a means of instigating change has been around for hundreds of years, but gone are the days when putting together a petition meant traipsing door-to-door collecting signatures. Now, anyone can start a petition with a few clicks and forward it through social media. There are a number of online petition sites, but is the largest and best-known. is a non-profit organisation that hosts online petitions for free. It bills itself as a social enterprise that aims to promote social change by giving ordinary people a platform through which to reach decision-makers.

The growth in online petition sites has coincided with a change in the media landscape that means journalists now source a lot of their stories through social media. Consequently, petitions that go viral on social media are likely to get picked up by traditional media and given greater exposure.

However, because there are now so many petitions out there on issues big and small, it can be hard to make yours stand out. Your choice of issue will be part of it—something that resonates with large numbers of people is naturally going to go further than something that is only important to a select few. However, although sheer numbers are important, it’s also important to consider who is signing. For example, you’re petitioning your local council about an issue important to your local community. You may have relatively few signatures because the issue is so localised, but if half of those signatures are from major community and business leaders, your petition will carry more weight.

As with all your other communications, your petition needs to be targeted and run in a professional manner. This means:

  • Tell your story professionally and succinctly, and make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Emotion can sometimes be a useful narrative tool, but decision-makers are more likely to be swayed by logic. Don’t just highlight the problem—put forward a solution too.
  • Target your decision-makers carefully. There’s no point sending a petition to someone who has no power to do anything about your issue.
  • Target your supporters. It’s good to get a large number of supporters if possible, but think also about targeting high-profile people who have an interest in your issue, as having some high-profile names will help add weight to your petition.
  • Deal professionally with your supporters. Keep them updated on any developments and let them know when you’ve reached a resolution. Also consider giving them information about other ways they can get involved.
  • Don’t feed the trolls. If you put forward a strong opinion, you’re likely to hear from people who oppose it equally strongly. Make sure you deal with any negative comments in a calm and professional way. Try to encourage conversations between people of differing views.

Used effectively, online petitions can be a good way for non-profits and community organisations to rally their supporters to a cause.

Useful Tools: Online graphic design sites

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Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on do-it-yourself online graphic design tools.

It isn’t usually possible or necessary for community organisations to hire graphic designers for everything they produce. Although important documents are best handled by a professional, smaller-scale projects like social media banners, some posters, blog posts, presentations and newsletters can be produced by untrained people using some of the great new tools now available online. Most of these are free for the basic package. Here we’ll take a look at some of the most popular tools.


Canva is an online graphic-design tool that uses templates and a drag-and-drop interface to allow people with no graphic design training to produce professional-looking graphics. It’s free if you use your own images or any of Canva’s free images, fonts and other design elements, or you can purchase upgraded elements for US$1 each and pay for your design when you download it. Designs can be downloaded as PNG, JPG or PDF files.

Templates include banners and posts for a variety of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest), infographics, posters, brochures, letterhead, book covers and many more. The templates are particularly useful for social media as they already fit the various social networks’ specified dimensions, so you won’t have to spend time resizing them.

Canva is integrated with stock photos, photo filters, icons and shapes, and fonts. It is one of a growing number of fully integrated online design tools, and is one of the most popular due to its user-friendly interface. It also recently launched an app so you can design on the go.

Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark is the latest edition to the Adobe Creative Cloud stable, and is a free online tool that aims to compete with Canva. It’s broken into three sections: Spark Post, Spark Page (formerly Adobe Slate) and Spark Video. Spark Post creates social media graphics; Spark Page produces photo essays for the web; and Spark Video produces animated videos using graphics and photos.

A major difference between Adobe Spark and Canva is where the final files are stored. Canva lets the user download a high-quality copy of their design, which they can then use however they want. In contrast, Adobe Spark designs are all stored on Adobe’s servers—they can be shared on websites or social media, but the viewer is always redirected to an Adobe site.

Adobe Spark is also designed for use on iPhones and iPads (it’s not yet available for Android devices). Spark Post, Spark Page and Spark Video each have their own apps.

Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Adobe Photoshop Sketch is an iOS app that lets you create drawings directly onto your phone or tablet and then export them to Photoshop or Illustrator. Designed for artists, it gives more freedom than tools like Canva or Spark. It also supports styluses and other drawing hardware.


The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is free, open-source, high-end image editing software. It is a free alternative to expensive image editing software like Adobe Photoshop and can be used for photo retouching, image authoring and image composition. However, its complexity is on par with Photoshop and similar software, so it probably isn’t the best choice for someone with no graphic design experience, or who isn’t prepared to put in the time to learn some of the nuances.


Prezi is online presentation software that integrates motion, animation and graphics, and is part of a growing number of visual storytelling tools. Rather than designing a presentation around a series of slides, like Microsoft PowerPoint, Prezi uses a limitless zoomable canvas to allow the user to develop flowcharts and other graphics and show the relationships between various kinds of data. It has been praised for overhauling the concept of the presentation and as a cure for ‘death by PowerPoint’, but some viewers may find the motion-heavy style nauseating. It’s available as a 14-day free trial, after which the user must sign up to a plan.

These tools can make it much easier to meet the day-to-day design requirements of your organisation, but remember, for rebranding or any significant projects it’s always best to hire a professional.

When to call in the professionals

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Because many volunteer organisations are operating on a shoestring budget, they’re often reluctant to spend money on professional design, editing or copywriting. This simplistic calculation, however, often fails to take into account the hidden economics of the decision.

Reputational damage. The longer-term impact on your brand from appearing unprofessional can have flow-on effects that outweigh the cost of employing a professional—such as failing to gain new members, or selling fewer tickets to your performance or event. Nothing turns people off faster than terrible design or sloppy writing. The assumption is that if you don’t know what you’re doing in these areas (or worse, you don’t care), you may not be great at organising the other, more important parts of your group either.

Money is obviously the catch with most volunteer groups, but you need to calculate the outlay against the return. If you’re running a fundraiser or a concert and a professionally designed poster will lead to more ticket sales, then it’s worth the upfront cost. Similarly, if you’re a theatre group producing programs, you’ll be able to charge more for something that’s well-designed and laid out (as opposed to put together in Microsoft Publisher, or, worse, Word!).

Time and opportunity costs. Unless you have volunteers with specialist skills such as graphic or web design, or editing, it will inevitably take them much longer to produce something of much lower quality than a professional. This is time they could be spending doing other tasks that better serve the organisation and that are a better fit with their skill set. In short, think about time as a resource. Are you spending it in the way that gets you the greatest return on your investment?

To take a personal example: I want to renovate my shed to turn it into an office. I could do it myself, fitting it around my other work, and teach myself the skills I need as I go. But I also don’t have the professional tools, so I’ll need to buy those too if I want to create something half decent. In summary, it’ll take me a lot longer than it would a professional, the quality won’t be as good, and I’ll have an outlay for tools as well. I’ll gain some skills, but I’m never going to be a builder and I really just want the shed done. I make as much or more than a professional builder, so in the end it makes more sense if I do what I’m good at and make money at it, and then pass that money on to the professional builder so they can do what they’re good at. Then I get a high-quality result without losing time that’s more valuable if I spend it elsewhere, and we’re all happy.

With this in mind, here’s a simple flowchart to give you some guidance when you’re undertaking a project with major design or writing elements.

Is this a big deal for our organisation?

Basically, what is the potential reputational cost of a poor-quality job? Things that fall into this category include:

  • Anything that involves your branding (new logo, slogan etc.)
  • Major events (e.g. annual fundraising gala, major performance)
  • Anything where you’re trying to attract new people to your organisation or sell products (e.g. markets/expos that may require banners or other publicity material)
  • Any foundational information about your organisation that potential members or supporters are likely to develop a first impression from (website, flyers, programs)

Do we have someone in the group with the skills we need?

Some groups are lucky enough to have people with either formal training in design, photography, writing, editing or related fields, or who are self-taught high-level amateurs. If you have a resource like this, use them! But most importantly, don’t take them for granted. Make sure you give them enough lead time and don’t have unrealistic expectations. Especially if they’re professionals doing it for free, remember that they’re donating potentially hundreds or even thousands of dollars’ worth of their time to help you. Make sure you credit their work appropriately, and at least give them some chocolate to show your appreciation!

Do they have access to the tools they need?

You can’t do decent graphic design in Microsoft Paint—it just doesn’t work. So if you’ve got someone with the skills but they don’t have the professional-level tools to do what you want (and you can’t provide them), then you need to think about hiring a professional.

Doing it yourself

If you do decide to do it yourself, make it as professional as you can by using all the free and low-cost tools available to you. Graphic design sites like Canva are discussed in this Useful Tools blog post, and you can now get high-quality printing for banners, fliers etc. done relatively cheaply. Someone with good writing skills will be able to do a basic proofread, although you won’t get the same level of detail as with a professional editor.

Above all, remember you get what you pay for. Good graphic design, photography, copywriting and editing don’t always come cheap, but they can make a huge difference to the success of your brand. Don’t just take the cheap option because it’s cheap—take the time to do proper calculations on whether you can expect to reap a large enough return from an improved image (and potentially charge higher prices for a professional product) to justify paying a professional.

Why your organisation needs a style guide

Many organisations, especially those involved in the media or publishing industries, have a ‘house style’—a way of writing that is particular to that organisation and is set out in their style guide. The style guide’s purpose is not to determine what is ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’, but rather to serve as a reference point if there is any confusion and to ensure consistency across the organisation’s brand. Your style guide will lay out how to articulate the brand voice you decided was appropriate for your audience during your strategic planning.

There are two types of style guides. Visual style guides are aids for designers and contain things like your brand’s colours, font, logos and templates. Content style guides contain details of your organisation’s preferred spelling, terminology, voice, and word usage. Style guides can range in length from a few pages to an entire book; for example, the Australian Government’s Style manual for authors, editors and printers, which is the basis for all Australian government writing, is over 500 pages long and is extremely comprehensive.

As well as providing consistency across your organisation, style guides are also useful if you’re working with a freelance editor. Providing your editor with a style guide will speed up the process and ensure their edits are consistent with your brand.

Your style guide is a living document, so it should be updated regularly to take new usages into account. It should be easily accessible within your organisation, whether it’s produced in hard copy, published on your website or stored in a shared drive.

Visual style guide

Visual style guides set out all the elements related to your brand’s appearance, presentation and design. This allows you to ensure consistency across all your publicity material, whether physical or online, even if you’re working with different designers. Your visual style guide may include:

  • Logo size and placement (and how not to use the logo)
  • Colour palette (including hex codes/RGB for web use and CMYK/Pantone for printing)
  • Fonts (for headings and body text)
  • Any iconography or patterns that your organisation uses in its design
  • Photography style (including examples for reference)
  • Graphics style (including examples for reference)
  • Web-specific elements (such as navigation buttons or error pages)
  • Content templates.

Creating a visual style guide is a specialised skill, so it’s best to work with a graphic designer on this. Your designer can prepare a style guide as part of working with you on your overall branding, including designing your logo. If your organisation is likely to produce a lot of publicity material, a visual style guide is vital to ensuring brand consistency. The quickest way to appear unprofessional is to have a variety of fonts, colours and styles across your brand.

Content style guide

Style guides for written content contain details of the way your organisation expects its content to be written. These may include:

  • The version of English spelling that your organisation uses (e.g. American, British, Australian, Canadian)
  • Which dictionary/thesaurus should be used to check spelling or usage (e.g. Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Macquarie)
  • Preferred spelling of words commonly used by your organisation (e.g. Asia-Pacific not Asia Pacific)
  • Use of inclusive language
  • Any specific points of grammar, such as active voice
  • Specialised punctuation, including the use of bullet points or numbered lists, and the organisation’s preferred use of hyphens, en-dashes and em-dashes (but not punctuation that should be commonly understood, like the correct use of apostrophes)
  • Formatting
  • Accepted acronyms and abbreviations (which ones are acceptable without spelling them out in full)
  • Terminology (how organisation-specific terminology should be explained)
  • Words that should be avoided
  • Capital letters (especially if there are organisation-specific proper nouns)
  • Headings
  • Numbers and measurement
  • Tone and register (casual, informal, formal)
  • Brand voice
  • Reading level
  • Phrases
  • Methods of citation
  • Any stylistic devices unique to the organisation.

Style guides can be structured in different ways, but the main thing is that they have to be easy to navigate. They’re not designed to be read cover-to-cover; rather, your writers will use them as a resource that they dip in and out of. For this reason, they need to have a clear table of contents and ideally an index as well. If you’re publishing it online, the contents page should be hyperlinked to the relevant sections.

The other important thing to note is that you don’t have to develop a guide completely from scratch. There are a number of comprehensive commercial style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style (which is over 1000 pages long) that you can use as the basis for your organisation’s style guide. Think of the contents of your style guide as being in addition to the comprehensive guide, rather than repeating things from it. For example, most Australian government departments have their own departmental style guides based on the official government Style manual for authors, editors and printers. The convention is to first consult the departmental guide and, if it doesn’t contain specific guidance, to then consult the Style manual. This way, you’re prioritising your brand-specific style, but can still give your writers general guidance through the use of a commercial style manual. Many of these manuals, such as Chicago, now also have extensive online support. Developing your style guide this way will also allow you to keep it short (ideally no more than five pages), meaning that it is more likely to be used.

When developing your style guide, make sure you consult the people who will actually be using it—your writers and editors. They’ll be able to tell you if there are different usages in the organisation and help you select the most appropriate. Have a plan in place to regularly review and update the style guide, and a method for keeping track of possible changes in the interim. Your style guide is a living document and will need to adapt to evolving language, such as words going in and out of fashion or changing in meaning. This is especially true in organisations that deal with technology or media, where language changes fast.


Useful Tools: Google Analytics

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Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on Google Analytics.

Analytics is data about traffic to your website—such as how many people are visiting, where they’re from, which pages they visit, how long they stay, where they’ve been referred from, and the conversion rate (how many users achieve your goal for them, such as buying a product or filling out a contact form). Analytics data is useful for improving your search engine optimisation by showing you what keywords users are putting into search engines to find your site, and also for determining the effectiveness of your marketing—you can run a marketing campaign with specific goals, such as getting more people on your mailing list, and then use analytics to see if it has worked.

Depending on which provider your website is with, you may have basic analytics data already built in, but Google Analytics is the provider preferred by most websites.

 Google Analytics

 Google Analytics is a service offered by Google that allows you to monitor traffic to your website. It is the most widely used website analytics tool. The basic package is free, although there are also paid packages that offer more in-depth resources.

Although Google Analytics is free, your website provider may not support it, especially if you’re using an all-in-one provider such as or Wix rather than building your own site. For example, both and Wix only support Google Analytics as part of their paid plans, although they also have basic analytics tools built into all their plans.

Google Analytics provides basic high-level data on its dashboard, as well as reports that give more in-depth information about who’s visiting your website, where they’re coming from and what they’re doing when they get there. Your website profile can also be linked to a Google AdWords campaign to integrate your analytics and marketing.

Other providers

 Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of other analytics software providers and the cost of their packages.

Analytics can provide you with important insights into your site’s performance and the effectiveness of your overall marketing and communications strategy. If you’re serious about improving your organisation’s outreach, you need to ensure you have access to an analytics tool and learn how to use it effectively.

Useful Tools: Facebook ads

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on Facebook advertising. 

What is it?

Over the last two years, Facebook has been positioning itself as a ‘pay-to-play’ platform, meaning that businesses and organisations now need to advertise in order to reach substantial numbers of people (including, controversially, their own followers, whose loyalty they have arguably already earned through unpaid means). Facebook ads usually contain a graphic or video plus some text explaining the ad. You can also link the ad to an outside site, such as an event ticketing page on your website. Note that Facebook now penalises ads with pictures that contain large amounts of overlaid text, so the best option is to use a picture or video with little to no text. Facebook ads show up in users’ newsfeeds, as well as on Messenger and Instagram.

How does it work?

When you design a Facebook ad, you customise it to the needs of your organisation, nominating a targeted demographic and budget. There are three different ways to advertise on Facebook, and they all offer slightly different features.

  • Boosted post. This option allows you to pay money for a post you’ve already published to be promoted more widely. It’s the easiest way to advertise but also the least effective as you have only limited control of targeting and can’t set an advertising objective.
  • Ads Manager. Facebook’s Ads Manager tool allows you to set an objective for your advertising—for example, clicks to your website, page likes or event responses—which will target your ad to people most likely to respond. You can also target your advertising to very specific audiences, including custom profiles that you create, and you have greater control over your budget and schedule. When used properly, this can be a very effective way of advertising.
  • Power Editor. The Power Editor is the next level up from Ads Manager, providing all the same functionality plus extra conversion-tracking features; however, it is also the most complex to learn.

How much does it cost?

You set your own budget and you can nominate whether you have a daily budget (a maximum amount spent per day) or a lifetime budget (a maximum amount spent over the life of the ad). You’ll reach more people with a bigger budget but you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot for the ads to be effective.

Where can I find out more?

There are many good online resources about how to maximise your Facebook advertising—including how to design an effective ad—so, as with all advertising, do your research before you jump in. The Facebook Business page is probably the best place to start, but there are also many third-party resources out there. At a minimum, you need to have a good understanding of your target audience, your advertising objective (how you want your audience to respond to your ad) and your budget. The good news is that Facebook ads are a very affordable way of advertising and, for many organisations, will be much more effective than other forms if used correctly.