Survival of the fittest: top tips for creating a content calendar

From print to online, content marketers are fighting battles on many fronts. The best tool in your arsenal? A compelling content calendar 

When asked to reveal the secret of his creativity, American novelist, journalist and activist Jack London replied with a piece of practical wisdom: “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

It’s a sentiment that will ring true to many content marketers, especially those who are using content calendars as their figurative club.

Traditional print publishers have for centuries used editorial calendars to manage the publication of magazines, newspapers and books. In the digital age too, the need to organise content is increasingly important as publishers aim to attract advertisers and provide audiences with interesting, relevant content.

Step 1: Block out major holidays

Publishers looking to make a success of their content calendars could look to the title character in London’s novel Call of the Wild – a large St Bernard-Scotch Shepherd called Buck. His survival in the wilderness can be attributed to the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest.

Publishers alike can find ‘fitness’ for success by identifying and creating copy around important holidays and events in the year. Take advantage of national holidays and unusual national days to create fun, unique and contextual content that will chime with your customer base.

Another step can be to identify dates specific to the business – from events to product launches. But make sure you have the in-house resources to meet busy periods.

Step 2: The basics

Before finding his place in the world, Buck had to live among several packs and masters before recognising his true purpose. Content marketers must also understand their place in the world in order to create a purposeful content calendar.

One of the first steps is to have monthly editorial meetings to plan and brainstorm content ideas. Planning ideas around different content types should make the process a little easier: we’re talking about articles, Q&As, industry news, infographics, video and podcasts.

For companies with multiple target audiences, tailor each piece of writing specifically for one of these groups. In doing so you can ensure that content is relevant. The last step in the process is to make sure that every post is properly shared across social media accounts, with social media managing platforms like Hootsuite or Buffer helping to streamline the process.

Finally, social media analytics is a good way to understand what content is working and what is not. After a few months testing your new calendar, make sure to check so-called vanity metrics such as retweets and page views in order to get the most from your brainstorming meetings.

Step 3: What should it look like?

How it looks is up to you – and as long as it’s clearly comprehensible for all parties then it really doesn’t matter. Here are a couple to check out before heading to step 4 for some advice on how to make your own.

Wired editorial calendar
Forbes’ editorial plan
Step 4: The tools available

In creating a content calendar, there are plenty of tools at your disposal. Here are four of the best.

(i) Web-based project management application Trello is fast becoming the go-to content management system for publishers. Trello uses the Kanban paradigm for managing projects, a method for visualising workflow that was popularised by Toyota in the 1980s. From extensive customisation to its in-depth collaboration tools, Trello is a good place to start.

(ii) Google Docs. Sometimes the ideal solution is staring at you in the face and Google Docs stands up as a robust content platform. Creating a shared calendar takes a matter of minutes and there are several online templates that can be downloaded. While there are some limitations to using spreadsheets, the ubiquity of Google means that users can get easy access to their schedule.

(iii) DivvyHQ is an ideal content calendar for writers with a penchant for customisable tools. The cloud-based application combines online calendars, content management and collaboration tools. It is aimed primarily at companies with high volumes of content. With its straightforward calendar design, users can easily “divvy up” tasks all in one place.

(iv) Considering that many websites and blogs are powered by publishing platform WordPress, editorial staff would do well to check out its content calendar plugin – particularly useful for planning and scheduling blog posts. While it is a little light on features, the plugin is free to use and works well with multiple users.

Step 5: Quality, not quantity

Content marketing is going through a transition. All signs point to a shift from volume to quality – and it’s all thanks to today’s saturated media landscape. To help cut through the noise, content marketers must concentrate on a wide range of content types to engage their audience.

Every piece of content should be considered through the lens of the platform in which it will be shared, from Facebook to Twitter to YouTube to Instagram. Retroactively labelling content using the traffic light system – where green means high traffic – is a useful way of visualising how you might develop a content calendar moving forward.

Final thoughts

Whichever way you look at it, a freewheeling content strategy is liable to come off the rails. You need to be more organised. Content marketing is about appealing to an audience – and that means understanding the context of the sector you’re dealing with. An event that is important to them needs to be important to you, so that you can choose what content to base around it.

Get that plan in place before you start and make it accessible and clear for everyone involved in the process (and anyone who’s not yet, but might be in the future).

Survival of the fittest is all about adapting to your environment. That means making the most of the tools at your disposal and organising those around you with a clear, focused strategy.

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