Your content calendar is the hub for everything you produce about your brand. It dictates your publishing schedule, content workflow and collaboration.
However, a content calendar is not just about what you want to say to the world — it’s about what your audience wants too.
In talking with our customers day in and day out, we often hear a similar story. Let me summarize it this way…
Our marketing and content teams are just reacting and creating content that the business wants, kind of like a content vending machine. However, we recognize that we need to have a customer-centric strategy that dictates what we produce, and our content calendar needs to be centered around what those audiences would find valuable.
So how do you find out what they want?
Ultimately, you want to create a content calendar that is packed with content topics, themes and ideas that your followers and fans will love.
Let’s talk about some of the methods that you can deploy to ensure your content ideas are relevant and meaningful to those you most want to attract and engage. But first…
Why Do You Need a Content Calendar?
Every content marketer feels it at some point. It’s a realization. It’s a disappointment, a mistake or missed opportunity. It’s that point at which your brain just can’t keep up with all the content balls you’re juggling and you’re waiving your white flag.
You need a content calendar.
When you’re creating articles for your company blog, you may not be bound by the strict deadlines required for a regular print publication. But this doesn’t mean that you can fly by the seat of your pants without any real schedule or deadlines either.
It also helps you to juggle and keep track of the tasks of several different people, allowing you to manage the content process both on a day-to-day basis and with a longer-term view.
As you progress through the year, it’s likely there’ll be various events such as product launches that you’ll want to draw attention to in your content. Seasonal content can also be a great way to attract the attention of your audience. Without planning this out in advance on a content calendar, you run the risk of getting too wrapped up in your day-to-day tasks that you forget about these upcoming critical dates or leave it until the last minute to create related content. Planning out your content on a calendar in advance avoids this unfortunate scenario.
There are so many advantages to using a content calendar! From eliminating that stress of remembering everything that needs to happen, to bringing more visibility to your hectic schedule, to higher productivity and reducing the chance of missing deadlines. Your content marketing is about to get a makeover.
So how exactly do you get started creating a content calendar?
How to Build a Content Calendar That Works for You
I’ll be breaking down all the steps you need to build your first content calendar that is tailored to your team’s needs and preferences. Let’s jump in and get started.
Step 1: Align Your Organizational Departments
Because every company, organization or brand is unique, the core structure and organization of your content calendar will be as well. Sure, you can do a quick Google search online and download any editorial calendar template, but it’s structure and formatting may not be suited to the uniqueness of your organization.
That’s why the first step is taking stock in your organizational structure. Are you a simple company with a simple offering? Or are you a multi-faceted organization serving multiple markets with multiple business units and geographical locations?
The complexity of your organization needs to be considered before you bring on something to manage it. A small business or small team may be just fine with a single content calendar as content volume for a handful of channels is easy enough to manage. But multiply that by multiple business units and teams, you’re gonna need something more robust.
That’s why you want to choose a content marketing software solution that enables customizable configurations. You should be able to configure by channel, business unit, department, and geographical region.
With a robust calendar solution, you can allow groups to have their own schedules, work in their own space, and share their visibility across other teams as needed.
Step 2: Establish Accessibility and Enable Collaboration
The great thing about a content calendar, provided it’s in some sort of cloud-based environment, is that it can be accessible to a variety of people across different teams and departments.
With a content calendar, you offer everyone true transparency. So, when conceiving your first content calendar, you’ll need to decide who can access it and what permissions they should have. Some need to be able to edit and revise as necessary; others may only need to view what’s going on from a high level.
Take the time to map all the parties involved in content creation and decide based on your analysis who should have access and what type of access they need. You can create both shared and private calendars, depending on your team and the type of content you produce. This flexibility also enables you to control and broaden access.
At the same time, your content calendar needs to be a place where ideation and collaboration can occur. Your content team must embrace collaboration and it has to be easy for them to do so. Ensure that your content calendar is built to allow for notes, comments, files, and more so information can be shared and discussions can occur.
Having a space to park ideas is also essential to an effective content calendar. Anyone who is involved with marketing should be able to offer up ideas for content here. It could also be a place for content requests. With this as part of your content calendar, it enables seamless collaboration.
Step 3: Decide How Far Out to Plan
How far out should your content calendar go? This depends on many factors, including the volume of content you produce, your sales cycle, who your audience is, and much more. To create your first calendar, you need to know how far out you are planning.
A good rule of thumb is to do at least three months but be aware that what you plan to produce in three months may very well change because of external or internal shifts.
Step 4: Decide What Information to Include
For your content calendar to be meaningful and adopted by your team, it has to contain the right information. But what should it include?
It can be as detailed as you want it, and usually, more detail is better. But don’t go overboard. It might not take much to create a management nightmare. Most content calendar will typically include information like:
- Due dates
- Content themes
- Content formats
- Working Titles
- Publishing and promotion details
Plan out exactly what you want to include in the calendar that will keep you the most organized and enable your team to collaborate without restraints.
Step 5: List Your Topics and Article Ideas
The first step is to get all of your ideas for content jotted down where everyone can see them. If you’ve only done broad research into the type of topics you want to cover, this is the time to be more specific and come up with some rough article titles and content ideas with related keywords you want to target in each piece of content.
The amount of content you plan out in advance will depend on how much content you intend to publish and how fast your industry moves. If you’re writing mostly about evergreen topics, you can plan further in advance.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to plan out your content at least a month in advance, although many companies plan six months or a year ahead. Planning this far in advance doesn’t mean that you can’t adjust and adapt your calendar as you go along.
Source: Association Headquarters
Step 6: Plan Out Your Content Formats
Next, your content ideas and topics need to be mapped to the most appropriate content formats for each subject.
Some topics may be ideal as a blog post, while others may work better as a video. For topics that you want to really cover in depth, you may want to consider producing an ebook.
Don’t forget about emails and social media posts. These can be valuable content in their own right, as well as be used to promote content on your brand site.
Step 7: Decide on a Publication Frequency
Sticking to a regular publication schedule that you can sustain with high quality content is more important than producing a high volume of crap content.
Decide how regularly you can produce and publish content based on the resources you have available, and plan out your content based on this schedule.
Don’t try to be too ambitious. It’s better to aim for one blog post a week that is well-written and produced, than try to stretch for three that end up being rushed and of lower quality.
Step 8: Plan out Your Tasks and Deadlines
Each piece of content you produce will have several tasks associated with it and you may well have several people assigned to work on it.
For example, for a single blog post these tasks might include:
- Write the post
- Edit the post
- Source images for the post
- Format the post
- Publish the post
- Promote the post
When scheduling your content, you’ll need to allow plenty of time for each of these tasks, especially if different people are working on them.
You can probably see how quickly this can start to become overwhelming, particularly if you’re working with a large team and trying to manage a high volume of different types of content. This is why it makes sense to use a calendar specifically designed for content marketing, rather than messing around with various spreadsheets and calendar apps.
While planning your tasks and deadlines, a powerful feature of any content calendar is being able to find what you need quickly. You’ll want to build your calendar with the right search and filtering options so you can instantly narrow the scope.
By filtering, you can gain insights into where gaps may reside in your content strategy as you’re able to filter to see content that is associated to certain topics, keywords, buyer stages, and more.
Step 9: Determine What to Automate
Content calendars can make your operations run ship shape, especially with the ability to automate certain features. So, what exactly can you automate on your content calendar? Well, that certainly depends on what platform or technology you’re using. Obviously you can’t really automate anything with a spreadsheet. But you can automate a lot with a robust content marketing platform like DivvyHQ.
First, you can build out templates for workflows, campaigns and content formats so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. This saves you much needed time because there’s no more manual formatting, updating, or distributing.
The other major thing you’ll want to automate is notifications. Your content calendar is a living, breathing thing that’s always changing, so whenever a project is updated or a deadline changed, people need to know. They’ll receive automated notifications on their dashboard as well as emails, improving your team’s communication.
Step 10: Ensure You Have Analytics Capabilities
Your content calendar has a lot of important data that tells the story of what you are producing and how it’s being published and distributed. So, you want to set up your calendar to ensure you can understand this data and what it means to your content workflow success.
Within your content calendar, you should have assigned goals or KPIs to each of your projects. You want to be able to measure against these and keep track of them so you can make adjustments in your calendar as needed, such as focusing on new topics or different keywords.
Step 11: Time to Implement!
Now that you have your foundation ready, it’s time to build your content calendar. Ideally you would have a user-friendly technology solution that allows you to quickly configure its settings, get content projects imported (like demonstrated below), and train your team on how to use and administer it.
Step 12: Be Prepared to Start Over
Don’t underestimate potential hiccups or adoption issues that may arise while you build your first content calendar. Organizational change is hard, especially in large institutions who have done things a specific way for a long time. Stay positive and spend some one-on-one time with team members who may need some help getting comfortable with a new way of planning.
If you have different content teams for different brands or different regions, you might need multiple content calendars that need you to start with another team’s calendar as a template or even from scratch.
Tailoring Your Content Calendar to Your Audience’s Preferences
There are several ways to capture and harness their interests. Hint: It’s all about data!
Content Marketing Analytics
Whether you’ve been doing content marketing for two months or two years, you probably already have data to shape your future content plan. Understanding your content analytics is the first part of understanding your readers. Look at these key metrics:
- Page views for posts and other content – these numbers quickly tell you which topics are popular (and which aren’t)
- Amount of time visitors are spending on content pages – this gives you a gauge on topical relevance and content quality
- Content with the most social media engagement (likes, shares, comments)
- Conversions on gated content like eBooks and whitepapers
- Most watched videos
You may find some very worthwhile insights in this data. For example, you may find that your audience shares infographics the most on social media, which would indicate you should probably create more infographics to boost engagement.
You may also find that your long-form content, say blogs over 1,000 words, has more views than shorter content. This could indicate that your fans crave more details as they try to find solutions to solve their challenges.
Next, you need to have fully developed buyer personas. Buyers personas, as you know, are much more than demographics. The Buyer Persona Institute explains, “built from real words of real buyers, a buyer persona tells you what prospective customers are thinking and doing.”
The fundamentals of your buyer personas should include:
- Foundational demographics (titles, industries, education, experience)
- What are their priorities?
- What are their pain points?
- How do they define success?
- What are the barriers or objections they may have to your company, product or service?
- What impacts their buyer’s journey?
- What are their decision criteria?
- Where do they go to research and get information?
By developing a buyer persona and answering these questions, you’ll know what matters to them, as well as where they may be seeking content to ensure yours is easy to find.
Ask Them What They Want
You can research your fans more by asking them exactly what they want. Create a survey and send it to your best customers to gain targeted insight into their informational needs (template below, if you’re interested). Most people aren’t shy about giving you their opinion. Whether it’s positive or negative, this is another avenue to collect more data so you can optimize your content calendar with content your audience really wants to read or watch.
Looking at the Logistics
Another part of delivering content that’s going to be consumed by your fans is looking at the logistics of when and how you distribute content.
Pay attention to what times you seem to get the best responses. This could vary for many different industries, but if you can determine when your buyers are most likely to click your social media posts or open your emails, you can use this to optimize your content calendar.
In addition to looking at your own data, you can check on some aggregated data on the best times to use social media . It only makes sense to use this to your advantage. If your fans aren’t early birds, then hold off on that first post until they’ve had a few cups of coffee.
In addition to time, how you distribute content is just as meaningful. Maybe you’re killing it on LinkedIn but falling flat on Instagram. That’s probably because your audience isn’t looking for answers there. Focus on platforms that are showing signals of your desired behavior and put your energy into those.
Data to Insights to Beloved Content
If you’ve deployed the methods above, you should have some powerful data at this point. Now you just need to put it together using a content marketing platform that lets you build your calendar, manage your content production workflow, and deliver content that resonates.
If you run into roadblocks or need some guidance regarding content calendar best practices, we’d certainly love to help. And before your brain explodes and you start throwing keyboards at your boss, why not schedule a demo today!