How to Create a Content Calendar: The Check, Align & Flex Method

It’s easy for someone to say you need a content calendar, but how do you build one? As content becomes more and more important (for branding, SEO, thought leadership…), not only do you have to come up with content ideas, but also a schedule to produce them.

To tell you the truth, I advocate building an editorial schedule to everyone who will listen, however I rarely take my own advice. You’ll see blog posts that are sometimes a week apart, sometimes two and often more.  So, I researched how different marketers approach content calendars, and distilled it down to three main ideas that should help both of us build something that works and stick to it.

 

Check

It’s great to have a plan, but who will do the work?

First thing to do is to check your resources. Writing, podcasting, photography and video production, for example, all have different time, equipment and human requirements.

If you plan on having a vibrant YouTube presence – that means purchasing a good camera, lighting equipment, editing software and definitely a good microphone on top of having a space to record. Add in some hours for editing and publishing and soon you’ll get an idea of true cost of video presence.

Go through the same process for each of your digital marketing channels and then compare that to your resources. Do you have someone on staff who can do the production, photography or writing? Will they need additional training? Do you currently have the required high-quality equipment? Here is a short checklist you can use to asses content creation requirements:

  • What equipment will we need?
  • What software will we need?
  • Who will do writing / photography / production?
  • How much time will they dedicate to content?

There is one other option. You can always choose to outsource some of these tasks. There are many community management, online video and copywriting businesses sprouting up, and you should be able to find some help locally. Alternatively, you may consider hiring a freelancer on UpWork.

 

Align

You figured out what resources you need and who will do the work. Now let’s talk alignment. This is a good time to whip out a physical calendar or a sheet of paper (don’t worry – I have templates for you at the end of the post).

Most businesses have a seasonality of some sort. Retail stores make lots of sales around Christmas, non-profit organizations reach out to corporate donors before financial year end and the local snow removal business tends to be busy in the winter (just a guess). So, business goals lend themselves well to chunking – and your content should support your business goals. Let’s align them.

What does this look like? Let’s say you lead a non-profit organization and amongst other objectives, there’s a need to attract more qualified volunteers in the summer and you also have a fundraising event in May. That would be one chunk. In this period, you would want to support these goals with the content you produce. For example, the start of May would be a great time to produce some volunteer profiles and donor profiles, promoting those through your social networks, some paid advertisements (Facebook promoted posts for example) and PR efforts. Each piece of content would also include a call to action (Click here to join / volunteer / donate) that takes viewers to dedicated landing pages. You would repeat this process to create 3 or 4 similar chunks, spacing them out over 12 months.

Each of these chunks should also include a ramp-up and a wind-down period. Following with our example, this may mean asking your Facebook community to nominate or vote for a “volunteer of the year” before you shoot the profiles. If the campaign period is a month, a ramp-up may be a week or two – attracting attention and naturally introducing the main campaign . On the other end, with every new volunteer you could create a series on why they decided to join and their first experiences. Recording the fundraising event, any speeches and perhaps interviewing some of the attending donors would also create some follow-up collateral. Add to that some Thank You’s from your organization and you’d have enough content to stretch the original campaign by another month or so – while still creating a valuable experience for your community through recognition.

In the example above,  we created a market presence and awareness of who the organization is, what they do and how they recognize and celebrate their donors and volunteers. This goes a long way with establishing trust and thought leadership. Now apply the same thinking to your own calendar.

Combined with a smart content development strategy, this should give you a great starting point. I say starting point, because things change – and that’s what flex is all about.

 

Flex

As much as we’d like to think our plans are the best plans to ever grace the planet… things change. And sometimes you need to go off course to avoid looking like you’re out of touch with reality. Inappropriately scheduled tweets or status updates are one social media faux pas to avoid. Other times you should take advantage of the momentary opportunity.

One example of flex would be Oreo’s SuperBowl blackout tweet – timely, creative and well-received (garnering over 15,000 retweets within an hour). Chances are their status updates were loaded up with some pre-planned tweets mixed in with live coverage, but their responsiveness paid off in spades with major media coverage and positive sentiment.

 

Moral of the story being not to pack your content schedule so tight you have no room to adapt. Instead, create 3 or 4 major “content seasons” and leave breathing room for timely and relevant updates. In fact, Some marketers base their entire content strategy around timeliness and use newsjacking to increase exposure to new audiences.

 

Additional Resources and Templates

Want to keep following the white rabbit, Neo? Here are some more excellent articles and resources on content calendars:

Marc Pitman at FundraisingCoach: Content Calendar Templates for Social Media

Content Marketing Institute: 23 Checklists, Templates, and Guides

Dechay Watts at SproutContent: 7 Editorial Calendar Tools

CoSchedule: Content Calendar Resources and Templates

 

There it is. I hope this helps you plan, and deploy your content marketing in a more intelligent way.
 

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