Which sounds more exciting – planning your content for the next 6-12 months or planning a beach vacation? Okay, maybe that isn’t a fair match up, but creating a content calendar can be a fun, satisfying practice that sets you and your team up for success. And yes, even with a content calendar you will have the ability to be spontaneous or employ news jacking.
While you want to allow flexibility in your content calendar for the unexpected, you’ll have greater success, and save yourself stress (unintentional rhyme) if your content strategy flows into an actual content calendar.
Notice that I started with “content strategy.” According to the Content Marketing Institute, 62% of the most successful B2B marketers have a documented content strategy. Don’t confuse having a content or editorial calendar with having a content strategy. Just as you wouldn’t start throwing clothes into a suitcase without first making travel plans, you shouldn’t start throwing content tactics on a calendar without a strategy.
So, before building out your content calendar, ensure that you and your team can address these strategic questions:
- Who are you talking to, i.e., who is your audience? Does this audience vary by the platform you are using?
- What are your objectives? Are you trying to build brand awareness or are you working deeper in the sales funnel to create qualified leads?
- How does the content you create align with the overarching business goals?
- How will you measure the success of your content?
With the foundation of a content marketing strategy, you can start to build out the components of your content calendar. Follow my seven tips to efficiently create this useful document. If you need some additional ideas in order to get started, check out the free download from NISM on Creating a Compelling Content Calendar.
Tip #1: Look for evergreen content. Unless your organization is brand new, you will have some previously created content that has performed well for you. What are the topics that are consistently important to your audience? For example, in the HR community the topic of employee engagement is always popular. Is there new information or a different perspective that you can offer on this topic?
Tip #2: Repurpose. As a marketing professional, you should become a master recycler. And I don’t mean simply updating the dates on a blog post and republishing. Think about how a piece of well-performing content can blossom into other well-performing assets. Remember that great webinar you hosted last month? Could that become a series of blog posts? An infographic? An eBook? You get the idea.
Tip #3: Consider seasonality. By understanding your audience, you should know if there are particular times of year when they have greater needs for the products or services your company offers or when they are focused on a particular topic. In my earlier example with the HR audience, open enrollment is often a topic of increased interest in late summer as many organizations conduct open enrollment in the fall. How can your content help them address any concerns they have around timely topics?
Tip #4: Ask your audience. You don’t have to conduct extensive or costly market research; often a simple email survey to a current opt-in list will do. In addition to better understanding your audience’s needs, you’ll be better equipped to tailor your content. And don’t forget to talk to your customer-facing employees – they are often a wealth of knowledge. What questions or concerns are they frequently hearing from customers? Build out the content to help them anticipate and support the market.
Tip #5: Check out the competition. What are they posting about? Does their website have a resource center? What are they featuring on LinkedIn or on their other social channels? Industry conferences are also a gold mine for topics that are current and are resonating with your audience. As you look at the competitive content and conference agendas, consider how you can bring new information or a fresh perspective to that topic.
Tip #6: Assess your resources. If you are a lean team, will you be able to produce all of this content on your own? Do you have the budget to outsource or curate come of the content? Is the content you want to create design-heavy or require a special skill set? Start big, but also be realistic. If you don’t have the people power to create 12 videos next year, then you may need to scale back to 3-4. With content, quality is far more important than quantity.
Tip #7: Map it out. I like to start with a simple spreadsheet or word document before entering the calendar into a workflow or project management software solution. You can find numerous content calendar templates from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. Keeping it simple also enables you to easily share and discuss the plan with your internal stakeholders.
Thinking through the next six months, plot out the major themes and then branch into the specific assets you’ll create based on these themes or content “pillars.” Then consider the channels – social, email, website, etc. – where you’ll distribute each of these assets. Make sure that you can tie each of these assets to a measurable objective, otherwise you are just baking a cake that no one will eat.
Just as with any other marketing plan you put together, know that your content calendar is a living, breathing document – in other words, it needs to be flexible. Make sure that your calendar includes placeholders for weekly adjustments that can address or leverage internal and external news – especially important for social channels such as Twitter.
A content calendar is a great way to ensure you have a plan to offer relevant content that brings value to your audience. The calendar is also a helpful organizational tool to internally share your communication plan and make it easier for you to take that well-earned (and well-planned) vacation.
Author: Cindy Matalamaki
Cindy is an insightful and experienced marketing communications professional who enjoys writing content that connects and builds brand relationships. Her passion for learning enables her to help B2B and B2B2C organizations create successful communication strategies. When she’s not researching health and wellness topics (in a non-hypochondriacally way,) she loves running, reading, traveling and offering sometimes unsolicited advice to her three young adult children.
You can connect with Cindy on LinkedIn