The Importance Of A Structured Content Planning Session: Your 5-Step Plan

 In Content Planning

It takes time to create a piece of content that is useful, accessible, and high-quality. But the hard work doesn’t start with your content.

Where it really begins is during your content planning sessions.

Here, you pour the cement foundations of your grandiose content skyscraper —  so it’s important to get it right. To help you nail it, let’s break down the five-step plan of the perfect structured content planning session.

Always Be Prepared With a Research-led Culture

The first stage of your content planning session begins before your team has even sat down together. It’s something that you’re doing all the time, even unconsciously: research.

Research helps you get a feel for what is trending in your industry niche right now, as well as finding out what questions your audience is asking (Quora and Reddit are particularly good for curiosity research and idea validation). Just as Sun Tzu said you should know your enemy, so too should you know your customer by identifying what matters to them and why.

And you don’t need to necessarily set aside a specific time for your team to sit down and consciously research either — you should be making niche research and familiarization essential to everyone’s jobs, and ensuring that your team members have access to relevant books, podcasts, blogs, training sessions, conferences, etc. on a regular basis.

The more knowledgeable and ‘embedded’ your content creators already are, the more fruitful your planning sessions will eventually be.

Try tools like Feedly to help you create a company bank of industry resources — it’s a handy little app that curates content from a wide range of online publications, making it easy to read around your industry niche. The paid version of Feedly makes it possible for colleagues and teams to share content curation set-ups with each other, encouraging knowledge sharing. It’s all about creating a consistent knowledgebase for your team.

Go a step further and start your own internal knowledgebase and content idea repository (an invaluable resource for inducting new content creators).

Find the Ideation Method That Works for Your Team

Content ideation is often the hardest part of any planning session.

Coming up with a good idea is seen by many as akin to alchemy, and it’s true that the chemistry in the room has to be right for sessions like these to work well. Foster an open culture where everyone feels supported — both the extraverts and introverts.

Don’t get stuck: there are plenty of exercises to help you achieve ideation success with ease. Here are some firm favorites:

Start freestyle

Personally, an approach I always find useful is what I call “shouting into the abyss”. Simply thinking aloud with your team, saying what comes to your mind (no matter how ridiculous they may seem) and bouncing ideas off each other is a great way to form ideas by building on vocalized narratives.

Go digital

Use the plethora of web-based tools available to easily generate ideas too. BuzzSumo and are two tools that I’ve seen successfully employed in content planning sessions for swift content ideation — the ideas thrown up by the tools are a great starting point for internal discussions. On the paid side, DivvyHQ’s new partnership with Concured, an AI-powered content strategy and ideation platform, brings a beefy “what’s trending now” feed from which to pull ideas.

Structure it around a focal point

Alternatively, you might want to look further ahead and consider possible seasonal campaigns and content ideas. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday are all classic flash points for excellent seasonal content for your editorial calendar, but industry-specific events such as conferences or product drops also play a role in this.

Flip it on its head

Don’t fall into an ideation free fall.

One of the best hacks I’ve found for my content planning sessions is simply working backwards. Rather than generating an idea for a piece of content and then letting that guide you, first identify a need you have within your business and reverse engineer it from there.

For example, say you’re launching a new feature for your product — you need to create a piece of content that educates your audience on what that feature does and how it works. Now you know your need, you can better understand that kind of content that your planning session needs to generate.

Of course, each method’s efficacy depends on your team: how they work, how they think, and how they collaborate.

Identify Your Goals to Identify Your Path

But your content isn’t just for display purposes only: it needs an objective. How will it benefit your business?

Some examples for content purposes include:

  1. Education: content that teaches your audience about your product or service and how they can benefit from it.
  2. Promotional: pieces used to market a new product or feature that you want to raise awareness of.
  3. Lead generation: draw in new customers with interesting or useful content.
  4. Increase subscribers: content that typically uses a lead magnet to build your email or social contacts list.

It’s worth making the point here that every stakeholder in your business should be a part of your content planning session. Your content is the face of your brand, and virtually everyone in your business has an interest in the final product.

When you’re identifying your content’s goal, each stakeholder should have a say in its position pertaining to them.

However, we all know that a camel is a horse designed by committee. Too many voices leads to a stagnant planning session in which nothing gets done.

It’s therefore worthwhile to use a content collaboration platform to guide ideation and apportion out sign-off for each stage of your content. This ensures each team has control over their own duties, using a visual schedule to shape content as it develops.

This collaborative approach will help you create content that goes the extra mile for your business.

Choose the Right Format That Works for Your Business

I don’t need to tell you that content isn’t just a 1000-word blog post. Content is a diverse spectrum spanning articles, video, audio, interviews, podcasts, infographics, presentations, competitions, and many, many more.

As such, it’s important that you employ a variety of different formats in your strategy. But it’s not just for cosmetic purposes. Your format should aid your content’s objective, working together to provide value both to your audience and your overall content strategy.

As a team, consider which format best serves your content’s purpose. For example, consider the different types of content required by a modest starter ecommerce store compared to multichannel retail business like HomeDepot. The former will need a lot of social ad content, short-form blogs, and in-depth product pages to boost SEO — the latter, a more sophisticated content strategy that covers seasonal landing pages, long-form guides, as well as vlogs and reviews.

During the planning session, it’s a good idea to create placeholders and ‘buckets’ for the different content formats you will need to create so that you can keep on top of production.

Work Together by Playing to Your Strengths

So you’ve got your idea, you know its purpose for your business, and you’ve identified the format is going to take. Now it’s time to create it — but who should it fall to? While it can be tempting to simply let the individual who came up with the idea take charge, it’s not always the right course of action.

Instead, you should play to your team’s strengths whilst playing attention to your content’s goal. The best content is always collaborative, and team cohesion is absolutely crucial when your business is creating content. Personal passions, pet hates and, yes, egos must be shelved in pursuit of a shared common goal.

99% of the time it won’t be a single individual working on a piece of content, so identify the individuals within your team that possess the necessary skills to make your content shine (this is where the importance of creating a strong team really comes into play).

Every journey starts with a single step, so it’s important you put your best foot forward. Implement a strong structure to your content planning meetings, and you’ll soon create a fecund environment that spawns great content time and time again.

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