How to set up a content calendar: Full guide [with templates]
Content calendars play a key role in content marketing. They can build the foundation of a predictable and consistent content engine. In turn, a well-running content engine is what’s needed to transform the content strategy into action.
Role of content calendars in the content marketing strategy
Content marketing focuses on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content. The main goal is to attract, engage, and retain a clearly-defined target audience. Measure by increasing brand awareness and generating leads or sales.
When it comes to content creation predictability and consistency are key. That often requires managing a multitude of writers/content creators. Having an influx of content ideas. Staying on top of all the content pieces that are being written, edited, and promoted.
A content calendar is a great tool to uplevel the way you manage your content creation process.
Why use a content calendar?
A content calendar allows anyone working in the content marketing team to have full visible of all moving parts while planning, writing and publishing content.
Improved Organization and Planning: A content calendar provides a comprehensive overview of your content plan. It shows all the topics, formats, and publishing dates for all your content pieces. This clarity helps maintain a structured and proactive approach to content creation. It ensures that you cover all necessary themes and ideas relevant to your target audience.
Consistency and Predictability: Consistency is key to successful content marketing. A content calendar helps you maintain a steady flow of content across various platforms. That fosters familiarity and trust among your audience. A consistent publishing schedule allows you to establish yourself as a reliable source of information.
Better Time Management: A content calendar allows you to allocate tasks and set deadlines for your content team, ensuring efficient use of time and resources. By planning your content you go from reactive mode into proactive mode. You can avoid last-minute scrambles and ensure that your team has sufficient time to create high-quality content.
Enhanced Collaboration: Content calendars ease collaboration among team members. They provide a shared platform to view, update, and discuss content ideas and plans. This transparency helps prevent miscommunication and duplication of efforts. And keeps everyone accountable for their tasks and responsibilities.
Adaptability: A content calendar enables you to quickly adapt to changes in your industry, market trends, or customer preferences. A clear view of your content plan allows you to identify gaps and opportunities. That allows you to stay relevant and engaging.
Process Performance Visibility: It’s hard to improve what you can’t see. A content calendar models the process of content creation - it makes it visible. It allows you to monitor and retrospect what is working and what isn’t by making all the bits and pieces visible. This allows you to measure how well your content creation system works. It can help you surface bottlenecks and inefficiencies that can be improved upon.
Essential Elements of an Effective Content Calendar
Strategic context: Context around the content marketing strategy. Who is the target audience? What are key channels? What is the publishing cadence per channel? What’s the voice and tonality you want to use? Answering these questions should allow you to pick the right content to prioritize. Additionally, it provides the guardrails and important context for briefing writers.
Content Backlog: A library of content ideas that fit the content strategy. These can come from the team, customers, and stakeholders. Making it easy for stakeholders to contribute ideas can be a great way to keep content ideas flowing in.
Content creation process: A main strength of content calendars is that they allow you to make all the steps visible that are needed to create, publish, and promote content. That allows you to better coordinate and collaborate. You can proactively manage all the content pieces that are moving and being worked on.
Common content creation stages are:
- Content Backlog: Here is where all the content ideas live.
- Planning: This is where a content brief gets written and made ready for hand-off to writers
- Writing: In this stage content gets researched and written.
- Editing: The content piece gets finalized. That includes editing, proofreading, SEO optimizations, etc. In summary, anything that makes this ready for publishing.
- Publishing: Content gets added to CMS, scheduled, and published.
- Promoting: It doesn’t end with content being published. Content needs to get promoted and pushed to your audience.
Calendar view: A calendar view allows you to have an overview of when and what type of content is published. It enables you to identify opportunities for cross-promotion.
Due dates & Publishing dates: Adding content due dates and publishing dates will allow you to coordinate around key deadlines. It points the team to content pieces that need attention. And sets expectations for stakeholders of what is in the pipeline.
Ownership assignment: Being able to assign owners and writers makes it visible who is responsible for a content piece. This can be the owner within the content team, the writers, the marketers promoting the content, etc.
Overview of writer workload: When managing a lot of writers it can be helpful to visualize what each writer has on their plater. This allows you to stay on top of what is going on and intervene early if deadlines seem to slip.
Playbooks: Playbooks can be powerful to formalize and set expectations on how things should get done. Playbooks provide a step-by-step guide on how to perform certain tasks. This allows one to hand off certain tasks to different people while removing any uncertainty about what needs to happen.
How to Create a Content Calendar: Step-by-Step
Content calendars are an integral part of an effective content marketing strategy. Here’s a detailed guide on how to create a content calendar:
Step 1: Set your content marketing goals and objectives
It’s crucial to define your content marketing goals, before creating your content calendar. These could include increasing brand awareness, generating leads, driving website traffic, or boosting audience engagement. Clear objectives guide your content planning and enable you to measure the success of your content marketing efforts.
Step 2: Conduct a content audit
Perform a content audit on your existing content. Aim to find gaps, opportunities, or areas for improvement. What topics are not or insufficiently covered? What content has worked well and what hasn’t? This will help you decide what type of content to include in your content calendar.
Step 3: Identify your target audience
Understanding your target audience is essential for creating relevant and engaging content. Identify your ideal customer personas. This includes their demographics, interests, pain points, and content consumption habits. Knowing for whom you write, will help you tailor your content to address their needs, preferences, and expectations.
Step 4: Establish content themes and content types
Create content themes and categories that align with your brand’s message and resonate with your target audience. This could include industry news, how-to guides, case studies, or thought leadership articles. This makes sure you cover a wide range of topics that cater to your audience’s interests.
Define your mix of content types and formats, such as blog posts, articles, infographics, videos, podcasts, or social media posts. Consider diversifying your content mix to appeal to different audience preferences.
Step 5: Determine the frequency and timing of content publishing
Define your publishing cadence and timing based on your audience’s preferences and your team’s capacity. Consider factors like industry news cycle, seasonal trends, or competitor activity. Maintain a balance between consistency and flexibility. Ensure that you can adapt to changes and opportunities as they arise.
Step 6: Assign roles and responsibilities
Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Who does what in the content creation process? From planning content, and preparing briefs, to content creation, editing, approval, and distribution. This ensures accountability and prevents miscommunication or duplication of efforts.
Step 7: Choose your tool
Decide on a tool for your content calendar, such as Google Sheets, Trello, Asana, Airtable, and others … The tool should at least support essential elements as mentioned above. Additionally, many tools provide automation features to further remove manual tasks and help to keep the team in the loop.
Step 8: Model your content creation workflow
Create the stages of your content creation process. Anything that needs to be done from the idea to the content being published and promoted. You can use “status” fields for that or many tools also provide some sort of Kanban view where stages are represented by a list. This allows you to see where each content piece sits. Also if there are any bottlenecks or delays within a certain stage. It gives you the visibility to manage the flow of your content production.
Step 9: Setup automation
Many tools offer automation features. Such as the automated creation of tasks/subtasks based on the content creation stage. Or automated digest emails, or Slack notifications triggered by changes on your content calendar. This can be helpful to codify playbooks directly into your content calendar process. For example: Automatically add a list of tasks when a content piece moves from writing to editing and assign owners.
Step 10: Populate the content calendar
Start populating your content calendar. If you start fresh consider starting with placeholders based on your defined publishing cadence. Then generate content ideas for your backlog and fill in the placeholders with the first content pieces you want to create. Doing a keyword audit to define topic clusters can be a great way to see the first ideas for your content calendar.
For each planned content piece include the content brief the publishing date, the content type, and an owner. The content brief includes the title, keyword(s), URL, short summary, and target audience.
Plan your content several weeks or months in advance to ensure a steady flow of content and avoid last-minute scrambles.
Step 11: Review, adjust, and update the content calendar
A content calendar is a living document. It should be continually refined and adjusted based on your team’s performance, audience feedback, and market dynamics.
Maintain flexibility in your content calendar. Be open to rescheduling content pieces, adjusting your content mix, or incorporating new content ideas. Encourage your team to provide input and share ideas. Foster a collaborative and dynamic content planning process.
Tips for Managing Your Content Calendar
Effectively managing your content calendar is critical for maximizing the impact of your content marketing efforts.
- Regularly review and update your content calendar. This is essential for ensuring alignment with your content marketing goals and strategy.
- Assess how well the content creation process is working. Retrospect and see where there are bottlenecks and areas for improvement. Encourage your team to provide input and feedback on how the process is working.
- Provide playbooks to codify how certain tasks should be done. This allows you to easily and quickly distribute tasks to the different team members. Here are some examples for playbooks:
- Set reminders for deadlines and milestones to keep your team on track and ensure timely content creation. This could include deadlines for content drafts, editing, approval, and distribution.
- Automate repetitive tasks as much as possible.
Regularly evaluate and refine Your Content Strategy
Your content strategy evolves. It is important to stay up-to-date with your target audience and keep your content plan up-to-date with new learnings.
- Monitor the performance of your content and adjust your strategy accordingly. Regularly analyze the performance of your published content. Use metrics such as page views, social shares, conversion rates, or the number of leads.
- Gather audience feedback. Collect feedback from your audience through comments, surveys, or social media interactions to understand their preferences, needs, and expectations. Use this feedback to tailor your content program to your audience.
- Stay updated with industry trends. Keep an eye on industry trends, news, and competitor activity. This can help you identify emerging topics, content formats, or distribution channels. Incorporate these insights into your content calendar and content program. This ensures your content remains relevant and engaging for your audience.
- Conduct regular content audits. Periodically perform content audits to assess your existing content inventory. Identify gaps or opportunities, and evaluate the overall effectiveness of your content strategy. This can inform what content or formats to focus on to drive desired results.
- Foster a culture of continuous improvement. Encourage your team to provide input, share ideas, and collaborate on refining your content strategy. Create an open content planning process that embraces experimentation, learning, and adaptation.
- Review your content marketing goals. As your business evolves, your content marketing goals may change. Ensure that your content strategy is in sync with your objectives.
A successful content calendar is in sync with the content strategy. As the content strategy evolves so does the content plan.
Content Calendar Tools and Templates
There are various tools and templates available to help you create and manage your content calendar more efficiently. Here’s an overview of five popular content calendar tools:
Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel:
Versatile, but limited in your visualization options. These tools offer formatting options, such as color coding, filters, and conditional formatting. It can be used if something simple is needed until you grow out of it as a team.
Trello is a project management tool that uses boards, lists, and cards to help you visually organize and manage your content calendar. Each card represents a content piece. You can move cards between lists to represent different stages of the content creation process. Trello also allows you to assign team members, set due dates, and add labels for easy categorization. Trello is easy to use, yet powerful for managing content calendars.
Asana is another popular project management tool. Asana is great for content calendars. You can create tasks for each content piece, assign team members, set deadlines, and track progress. Asana offers various project views, including a list, board, and calendar view.
Airtable is a flexible and customizable tool that brings spreadsheets to a new level. It allows you to create content calendars with a variety of views, including grid, calendar, kanban, and gallery. It is likely the best tool if you are managing a lot of external writers. Airtable is an excellent choice for teams looking for a more advanced content calendar solution.
When selecting a content calendar tool or template, consider your team’s needs, preferences, and workflow. A tool is only as good as the processes you have defined in your team.
Marketing Tools to use alongside your content calendar
A successful content engine requires a handful of tools alongside a content calendar. Here are a couple of examples that together can build a high-performing content system.
Content Management Systems (CMS):
CMS platforms like WordPress or HubSpot make it easy to publish new content. From being able to add it directly to the CMS to previewing it and scheduling for publishing. They also assist you with adding all the necessary metadata required for SEO.
Social Media Management Tools:
Distribution of content is key. Social media management tools, like Buffer or Hootsuite, allow you to schedule posts in advance. This enables you to coordinate and sync up content publishing times with your social media promotions.
Tools like Google Analytics are an essential part of the digital marketer’s toolbelt. It helps you understand how your content performs and resonates with your audience. Having data on content performance readily available can foster data-informed decision-making. This is especially helpful when discussing or reviewing content plans.
Many tools offer integration with collaboration tools, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. These integrations allow adding automation rules that push updates to your collaboration tools.
In today’s competitive digital landscape, a well-managed content program is crucial for the success of your content marketing efforts. A content calendar is an essential tool to achieve this. A good content calendar fosters the creation of a consistent and engaging content mix. It streamlines the content creation process and helps with better collaboration and alignment within your team. Furthermore and provides a holistic view of how you plan to reach your marketing goals.
Regularly review and refine your content strategy. Incorporate audience feedback, industry trends, and data-driven insights. Foster a collaborative and dynamic content planning process within your team. And encourage continuous improvement and adaptation as a content team. These are the ingredients that make up a successful content program.
By leveraging the power of content calendars you can optimize your content marketing efforts, and achieve greater consistency and predictability in your content creation. This is what ultimately drives better results for your business. Embrace the content calendar as a key component of your content marketing strategy. It’s how you build a predictable and scalable content engine.
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