So, you’ve got a content strategy in place. Now, you need to look at day-to-day implementation of your communication channels.
Enter your new best friend: The Content Calendar.Different people have different ways to approach content production processes. Some like being super organised and planning every Tweet and Facebook post to the last detail, while others simply fly by the seat of their pants. My general approach is somewhere in-between those two. Well, okay, actually I’ve been known to swing either way as well under different circumstances too. 🙂
But, truth be told, if you’re tasked to create content on a regular basis, especially on a variety of platforms on a level that’s past your average casual user, then having a content calendar will certainly make life a lot easier.
Now, when I’m asked what’s the best way to create a content calendar, I suggest looking at three important things to start with: Platforms and Purpose, Schedule and Frequency, and Tools and Gadgets.
Platforms and Purpose
First thing you need to do is to audit your different communication platforms where you need to create or promote content. This may include: Blog, Email Newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
Each platform should serve a unique purpose and individual approach. Your Facebook account, for example, shouldn’t just be a place to auto-post your Twitter updates and /or blog posts. Otherwise, you’ll be missing out on those particular platforms.
Sure, there will be overlaps amongst those platforms. There should be, otherwise, your communications would be completely fragmented and ineffective. But, there is a way to make them all work together in a complimentary way.
Schedule and Frequency
Once you know which platforms you’re using, you need to identify how many times you need to update each one. Would you be blogging daily, or would once a week or 2-3x a week suffice for your audience and your purpose? If you update once a week, or 2-3x a week, which days would they be? If you intend to post on Twitter 3-5x a day, what times are you looking at posting?
There are no hard and fast rules. This would depend on your audience, your goals, and your resources.
Once you know your schedule/frequency, you can allocate your content in your calendar accordingly.
You might also need to plan things a bit more if you have more than just one person creating and promoting your content.
Tools and Gadgets
There are a number of tools and gadgets that you can use for creating content calendars. This would really be dependent on your personal comfort levels and the first two points I’ve mentioned.
There were times when I just used a simple calendar print-out and wrote titles of blog posts on days that I need them to get them published. I’ve used Outlook Calendars, Excel Spreadsheets, CMS plugins, Google Calendars, Wikis, and a variety of lists and some lightweight project management and productivity tools. It’s best to give them a go and see how they feel for you.
For some recommendations on content calendar tools, please see my list below.
1. Spreadsheet Turned Calendar – Out of all the editorial content calendar tools that I’ve tried, I find spreadsheets to be the most flexible so far. And, out of all the spreadsheet tools I’ve used, I lean most towards Windows Live / Excel Spreadsheet. With Windows Live, you are able to have an access to that calendar through the Cloud. So, you can even collaborate with others. You’re also able to share and post your calendar in different ways. This can be a bit slow and clunky at times, but I think it’s still pretty good overall. And yes, the online version is free. An alternative is Google Spreadsheet. I’ve never really found this comfortable to use, so I go back to Excel.
2. Electronic Calendars – Whether you’re using MS Outlook, Google Calendars, iCal, or some other electronic calendar, you can easily turn these in to a content calendar by scheduling in your blog posts and social media updates in them. Admittedly, this will only probably really work if you have a limited amount of content that you need to produce. If you have several platforms, with a number of updates, and with a team of content producers, this will become too difficult to manage in the long run.
3. Project Management Tools. One example of this is Basecamp. Here, you can assign tasks, put them on a schedule, and have a “To Do List” available. There are also a number of others but this is probably one that I’ve used the most.
I have recently come across Contently’s Editorial Project Management Platform, which is a tool specifically created to manage editorial content. There aren’t very many of these types of tools in the market at the moment, so this is one to watch out for. I haven’t had the opportunity to play with it that much yet, so I’ll have to investigate further and report back. In any case, it does seem worth looking in to. There’s a free public version and a limited + version available.
4. Content Management System (CMS) Plug-ins – Depending on which CMS you’re using, some of them might have built-in content calendars. WordPress, for example, has EditFlow and WordPress Editorial Calendar plugins. Each one has pros and cons. EditFlow is geared towards a more complex editorial content creation, where posts may be flagged as ‘draft’, ‘scheduled’, ‘needs photo’, etc. The WP Editorial Calendar plugin is good for basic scheduling of content in your blog. Of course, the biggest limitation for this is that it’s only limited to content on your blog or website.
5. Hybrid Content Calendar Tools – Depending on your needs and/or your team’s editorial content calendar needs, you can always mix and match some of these tools.
Before you head off to create and revamp your own content calendars, here are some handy tips:
1. Plan for as long as you need to be prepared for, but allow for some breathing space and ad hoc updates. There are no hard and fast rules here. Many traditional media spaces tend to plan months, if not years, in advance. However, if your space is electronic, your content may not need to be planned for that far ahead, unless you opt to. For many, 1 to 2 weeks ahead is sufficient. For some, there is a need to plan for up to month. If you’re doing quarterly journals that need to be typeset, etc, then you might need to have a calendar that’s planned months ahead.
2. Consider themes and general guidelines. I find that if you give yourself some kind of structure, it’s easier to produce content in a more productive way. For example, when I took on the daily blogging challenge at NaBloPoMo (daily posts for one whole month) at my personal blog, I found that it was easier to write blog posts when I have a “theme” or “guide” for daily posting. So, my content calendar looked more along the likes of:
I’ve also done similar approach when creating content for professional blogs that revolved around different issues such as health, making money online, photography, sustainability, and fashion. I would sometimes create themes along the lines of interviews, profiles, featured tools, holidays, etc.
Now, if you can think of general themes that could apply to your website or communication platforms, then they could serve as handy guides when it comes to creating your content calendar.
3. Learn to curate and collaborate! Creating content can be quite full on, especially if you’re trying to come up with meaty, evergreen articles. That’s why it’s good to put in some systems that will make you an effective content producer. Curating content, for example, helps you to create content that doesn’t necessarily from scratch completely.
And, if you learn to collaborate, you can find guest posters on your blog and other relevant platforms. You can also offer to guest post for others occasionally, as this helps to build rapport and possibly find you a new set of audience to take back to your platforms.
How about you? Do you use content calendars? What tools do you use – and why? What’s your content process like?
Shai Coggins is the Manager and Chief Digital Media Specialist at Vervely, an Australia-based agency serving local and international clients. One of the company's main clients is Microsoft. Shai has been featured in a number of media due to her online work, including being named as one of Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list (2009).