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A Content Calendar – How to Build it Simply and Effectively

calendar

As a content marketer, you need to maintain a steady stream of fresh, reliable content that’s targeted to your audience at each point of the buyer’s journey. What you might not have discovered yet is the busy content marketer’s secret: Keeping your content calendar and your production process organized is essential to ensuring that content continues to arrive on time and within budget.

Your Content Calendar: An Introduction

The content calendar is a document (or app workflow, spreadsheet, or whatever other format you choose) that provides a single source of data that governs every aspect of the content production, publication, and promotion process. Its consistent use can help you address many problems with your content marketing. A working content calendar becomes your content bible, the same way long-running TV shows develop show bibles to track all the data points for each episode. One look tells you what you need to know and keeps you on schedule.

A workable content calendar (sometimes called an “editorial calendar”) can take any one of a number of forms. Examples range from simple lists in a plain document to complex databases or spreadsheets. The right content calendar for your needs is the one that provides the info you need, in a format you can access and use simply, without adding unnecessary data.

Diving into the process of creating a content calendar from scratch can be overwhelming. That’s especially true if you’re managing a team of more than a few freelance or in-house creatives. In fact, the bigger your team and the more narrowly functions are sliced between them, the more complex your calendar can get. How can you create a workable process to track your team’s content production efforts without getting overwhelmed?

Why Do You Need a Content Calendar in the First Place?

First, let’s examine the “why.” Let’s say you consider yourself to be an organized kind of person. You’ve got a task app, a paper-and-pen system for brainstorming, Google docs, searchable email — do you really need a formal content calendar?

Well, maybe not. If you’re a team of one, and the only person producing a small amount of content (a few posts a month), a full-fledged content calendar might not be necessary, strictly speaking. However, a simplified format might provide just the boost you need to take your content marketing to the next level. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • It encourages a more consistent production schedule and helps prevent gaps in content: Prevailing content marketing best practices include a consistent publishing schedule. Yet one of the biggest challenges for content creators and publishers is to maintain that kind of frequency. It’s all too easy to fall into long gaps of brand silence. A content calendar helps you avoid that by establishing a realistic schedule that keeps your team on track.
  • It organizes your ideas and in-progress pieces so you can make sure content gets published at the right frequency and in the right order: Apart from the best practice of a consistent publishing schedule is the strategy of what kind of content gets published and when. You need content that addresses each customer persona at each point along their path to a completed purchase. A calendar helps ensure that you’re publishing an optimal mix of articles, social media posts, podcast episodes and other kinds of content for every segment of your audience.
  • It keeps you focused on strategy: In much the same way, a content calendar helps you keep one eye firmly on the goal of converting readers into paying customers. You’re no longer just pushing out well-written pieces into the ether, hoping for something good to happen. You can focus on a conversion strategy and ensure your content is effectively executing on that strategy. It also helps you execute your SEO and SEM strategies more efficiently.
  • It helps team members collaborate on your content production plans: One of the best parts of working with a strong team of creatives is that collaborative power, which can exponentially improve your content’s performance. Maintaining and sharing a long-term content calendar enables every member of the team to participate in the planning, development and production process in a targeted way.
  • It frees up time for higher-level thinking and creativity: The bottom line is that anything you do to wrangle your diverse tasks into a manageable process will free up more time for the more creative work on your list. An organized calendar means that you can more quickly move through the preliminaries and get to the deep work of crafting good content.

Work Out Your Data Needs

Before you do anything else, decide: What do you need to see in your content calendar? Your specific needs will inform how you create the calendar, so it’s a good idea to at least start outlining a strategy before you start analyzing examples from other brands.

The specific fields or components of your calendar depend wholly on your strategy. Generally, however, you’ll want to address the following four questions:

  1. What kind of content are you publishing, and where will it be published?
  2. Who is the targeted audience for this content?
  3. What are the key deadlines for this content, including everything from draft to publication?
  4. Which team member is responsible for each part of the creation, publication, and promotion process?

You may also want to include space to track other data points, such as primary and secondary keywords, goals and metrics, published URL, document URL for the content itself, and the current status of each piece. If you’re running paid ad campaigns that involve a specific piece of content, you might want to note that in the calendar as well.

Examples of Content Calendars

Now that you have an idea of the kinds of data points you want to track in your calendar, use Google to search for, collect and analyze examples and templates of content calendars. Prioritize documents that come from brands of similar size with roughly similar audiences. After all, if you’re managing a team of three for a consumer brand, a calendar designed for a large B2B corporation won’t be the best role model to follow.

It’s best to do this after you’ve outlined your brand’s calendar strategy to avoid getting overwhelmed with possibilities that may or may not suit your needs. Additionally, restrict the number of examples you choose to analyze. Too many options will overly complicate things and can potentially lead to “analysis paralysis,” making it tough to nail down your own calendar’s features.

Once you’ve collected a handful of examples and templates, carefully review each for ideas that will benefit your content strategy and production workflows. However, resist the temptation to adopt another brand’s calendar template wholesale; the value of the calendar lies in how well it advances your brand’s specific goals and objectives.

Choose Your Platform

As you’re analyzing calendar examples from other brands, pay attention to the platform they use. In the early days of content marketing, brands often used simple document and spreadsheet templates. This approach can still work quite well for smaller teams, for which collaboration and access may be more important than user management.

More recently, marketing managers and editors choose task and project management apps such as Monday, Asana or Trello as their content calendars. This is especially useful for larger groups that need to be able to assign tasks to various team members and track large amounts of data over a long period of time. Of course, if you’re managing a team with several members, you’ll probably need an enterprise license for the app. That can significantly add to your costs, as both licensing and training costs can be considerably higher for more complex platforms.

Create Your Content Workflow

With this step, you move from calendar conceptualizing into creation. One effective way to approach this step is to take one theoretical piece of content from conception to post-publication promotion and analysis of metrics. This helps illuminate three key factors that will help you improve both the calendar and your content production system itself:

  • Your actual workflow as it exists now
  • The steps where you can improve or streamline the process
  • The steps you’re currently missing

Consider your content process as a single workflow from ideation to the final review. This helps you improve that process by ensuring the right person is handling each discrete task, for example, or streamlining the collaboration process to save time.

It’s also the right time to add steps that you’ve glossed over or neglected back into the mix. If your team has been solid on brainstorming topics but not that great on adding and optimizing images, you can add in a specific set of tasks aimed at improving and speeding up that aspect of content creation.

After you’ve outlined your new process in detail, assign each task to the right member of your team. You may also want to add a calendar-year preview of holidays and events so that you can align your content schedule accordingly.

Tips for Working With Your New Content Calendar

Creating your content calendar is the first and probably the most complex step. However, in order to reap the benefits, figure out in advance how to work with and maintain your calendar. These tips can help you make the most out of your results:

  • Schedule your content idea generation and assignments far enough in advance to keep the calendar populated and current. It’s also helpful to add in some “buffer” topics; if you experience unforeseen delays with a specific piece, you’ll have alternatives ready to go.
  • Carve out time on the team calendar to collaboratively brainstorm future content ideas. This will help you keep enough topics in the pipeline on a consistent basis and avoid content publication gaps.
  • Review the calendar daily and weekly to stay up to date. Also schedule a weekly preview to make sure you don’t miss upcoming tasks.
  • Ask for and get feedback from other team members about the calendar and how you’re implementing it. Remember, it’s a living document. Make changes freely to improve how it works for your team.

Experiment to Refine Your Calendar

Above all, just dive in. Try something. If creating your own brand calendar seems overwhelming, use another brand’s approach as a cookie-cutter template. You can always refine, streamline and improve as you and your team work with it over time. Start simply, then grow from there.

Thanks for reading! Do you want to create thought leadership articles like the one above? If you struggle to translate your ideas into content that will help build credibility and influence others, sign up to get John’s latest online course “Writing From Your Voice” here.

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