Many times, planning is the part that can make or break the progress we expect to see when it comes to promoting our brands. And with additional content channels like social media, blogs and e-newsletters, it can be easy to get overwhelmed.
My biggest secret for keeping it all together? Content calendars.
A content calendar is a document that holds all of the dates, times, key words, information and specific post types for any publication–be it your online channels or traditional print materials. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to talk about content calendars from an online perspective.
How to set up a content calendar
Content calendars can be set up using any platform, but I find the most success from using an Excel spreadsheet. I also like to use tables in Word when it comes to content calendars set up specifically for blogging. Whichever platform you use, I suggest the following:
- Utilize tabs (in Excel) or merged cells (in Word) to create headings for each month of the year
- Use shaded areas to organize the layout so it’s easy to see month to month or even date to date
- Prepare a synopsis or strategy page (or tab) at the beginning of your calendar where you can keep track of things like key words, content categories and trusted sources from where you can curate content when needed
Once you have your basic template set up, you can add to it as needed to fill in your content for each channel. I like to keep a separate content calendar for blogs and one master content calendar for all social media channels. Cross-referencing each calendar is also a good way to interpret the whole picture of where and when your online content is published.
Next, you’re ready to stick in your content. And I’m not just talking about something like “Talk about something related to key word #1”. I’m talking about actually planning what you’ll say and when you’ll say it (don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty of opportunity to have real-time conversations, too). Below, I outline the basics of what you’ll need.
Even if you don’t have a ton of extra time (who does?) you will still be doing yourself a huge favor if you put together a content calendar that contains the following 5 elements:
1. Key words and content categories
Using your business plan and goals as a guide, decide what key words you want your audience to know you for and the categories in which your content will fall into. Keep your content categories to between 3 and 5 broad areas (things like “in the community,” “company news,” “market trends,” etc.) and then expand by listing additional key words to support those content categories. Be sure that all of your content you put out can fit easily into one of your establish content categories.
2. Holidays and key events
Set up a column in your content calendar where you can list holidays and key events. These can be quirky things like “National Chocolate Day” or legitimate company events such as an employee picnic or customer appreciation event. Take it a step further by researching common hashtags or other information that is pertinent to these events and put them right in this area for future reference. This is also a great area to make note of blog posts that will be going live, newsletter publish dates or other types of communication your organization puts out.
3. Your content
Using your key words, content categories and events as a guide, plan out exactly what you’re going to say on each channel. For instance, if your content category is “company news” and you have an appreciation event coming up in two weeks, a Facebook post such as “Join us on September 14 as we recognize our employees and customers at our annual picnic event.” would work. You can put a link for more info or a call to action such as “click ‘like’ to show your appreciation!” Get creative, but put it all on the calendar so you aren’t stuck thinking about specifics the day you need to post content.
4. Due dates and authors
This can apply to all types of content calendars, but it works well for planning blog content especially. Make a column that is dedicated to listing the date the post is due and who the author is. On a social media content calendar, you can do the same by adding information on who the “owner” of the post is (or, the weekly “owner” of content for specific channels, etc.) and the specific dates each post will go live. This is helpful when it comes to planning content ahead of time; you can choose to do one week out, two weeks, one month, etc.
5. Trackable “posted” columns
You’ll want to keep track of when the content was published so be sure to include a column where you can write in the date (and time!) your content was posted online. If you use a third-party application to schedule your content, you can instead call this your “scheduled” column and still utilize it to track the time in which the content is scheduled to post. This is helpful when it comes time to add more content (you’ll be able to see what is already scheduled to post) or, in the event that something happens where you may need to pull a post down or unschedule it from going live, you’ll know which platform was used to schedule it and at what time so you can go in a delete/edit/etc.
And there you have it. The basics of a content calendar. As you move along in your content marketing and online content strategies, you can add elements along the way. But for now, start with these 5 pieces and you’ll be well on your way to producing consistent, relevant content for your audience without all that overwhelming stress that you may have been feeling before!