You have a plan, right?



When I work with clients, I’m never surprised that they don’t have editorial calendars in place, even if they have heavy content needs. Creating content for most businesses, after all, is simply a means to drive profit. When I work with writers, however, I am often shocked at how few use or understand the necessity of editorial planning. How can you drive strategy without a plan?

The short answer is you can’t, which means most content is created to fill short term needs without a larger goal in mind. This is not only an ineffective use of content, it’s a great waste of energy and resources. When you’re putting money into marketing and not following a strategy as outlined in your editorial calendar, you’re killing your ROI.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of wasting time or money, so I want to offer some tips on how you can create an editorial calendar that supports your overall business goals.

Elements of an Editorial Calendar

The idea of an editorial calendar can be intimidating, but in reality it’s simply a tool to outline what you will say, when you will say it, and where you’ll share it. While it can be complicated, for most companies it really doesn’t have to be. You just need to include a few key elements in order to move in the right direction, such as:

  • Publication date

  • Final draft date

  • Author (if applicable)

  • Topic of content

  • Details of content

  • Offers included in the content (if applicable)

  • Platform the content appeared

You can expand this list to fit your unique needs. You can also use this to plot and plan future content by simply adding “Planned,” “In review” or “Complete” to the end of the topic or description to mark the stage of content, or create a new column for “stage.” This will allow you to easily plot out future content, track topics to make sure you’re including enough variety and plan out known events, like holiday content.

For many small to mid-sized companies looking to manage basic content needs related to their marketing efforts, a chart similar to this will suffice:

Pub date

Due date

Author

Topic

Details

Offer

Platform

3/12

3/4

Jack Torrance

Winter Home Maintenance Tips

Keeping property safe in freezing temperatures & avoid cabin fever in the process.

None

Blog

3/18

3/12

Molly Ringwald

Classic 80’s Movies

List of the best movies to come out of the 80’s.

None

Blog

Y ou can also use a calendar-style layout for your planning, and a table for your tracking. I personally like this because seeing months laid out in this format offers a bird’s eye view. It is a helpful way of visualizing time, so to speak. It also works well when you need to integrate events into your content, like product releases, special offers or seasonal content.

Any calendar will work, including a day planner. You can also print one for free from sites like Calendar Labs or Free Printable Calendar.

This calendar is just one of the many styles you may choose from. Personally I find that a simple calendar, a pen and a few highlighters can be a great way of brainstorming and planning all at once.

 

Editorial calendars for more complex needs

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we will talk about a few of the ways you can use a content calendar to handle more complex needs. If you manage several social networks, are concerned with web content updates, need to track content alongside ad campaigns or manage content for multiple websites at once, this may apply to you.

Before you get started, however, you’ll want to consider how your content relates to your larger business goals. In other words, what’s the point of creating and sharing content? This simple question is one many don’t even ask, much less think through, but it is absolutely critical. Are you looking to drive social and web views? Would you like to build overall brand awareness? Maybe you’re looking to being a thought leader in your field?

In reality, all goals end at the same place – boosting profit in some way. They are, however, different paths to that end. By answering this question you can weigh your goals and more appropriately assign resources to creating content to support them.


What’s the point?

Thought leadership?

Build awareness?

Campaign support?

SEO strategy?

Once you have this question answered, you’re ready to move forward with your editorial planning. A good place to start is to separate content into frequency, deciding what you need daily, weekly, monthly and infrequently. Listing your needs out like this gives you a more realistic idea of your content consumption.

For most businesses, the only daily content that may be needed are social posts. Weekly content would be blogs and maybe emails, and monthly might be longer-form blogs, emails, presentations or website updates. Infrequent content may be related to web content, campaign needs or special projects. You can include seasonal content in this category as well.

An editorial planning exercise

Let’s walk through an editorial planning exercise to see how content can be used to support business goals. For this example we’re going to assume that our company’s primary goal is to become a thought leader in their field. This means we should plan our content, in topic, frequency and by platform, to support this goal.

We will say, for the sake of this exercise, that white papers, short and long-form blogs, LinkedIn articles and SlideShares or guest content on respected platforms are examples of content that fits our needs. Social posts related to our industry, along with comments on respected pages, are also in our list.

In this case, our frequency break down might look like this:

Daily: Comment on posts of respected accounts in your chosen field. Post relevant, non-promotional, original content.

Weekly: High-quality blog content.

Monthly: Guest article on respected website, long-form blog and a LinkedIn article.

Infrequent: SlideShare or white paper.

From here you can decide what your editorial calendar will look like, filling in daily, weekly and monthly slots to plan out your content landscape. You can also use this to decide what you need to include in your editorial planner. You may want to add keywords, metrics for page views or CPC if you’re running ads. This allows you to compare outcome to effort, which is a great way to gauge the amount of energy you should place future content projects.

Here is our simple planner with a couple additional columns for planning and tracking KPI:

Pub date

Due date

Author

Topic

Details

KW

Offer

Platform

Page
Views ≤ 30

3/12

3/4

Jack Torrance

Winter Home Maintenance Tips

Keeping property safe in freezing temperatures & avoid cabin fever in the process.

Home tips,the Shining,

Cabin fever

None

Blog

125

3/18

3/12

Molly Ringwald

Classic 80’s Movies

List of the best movies to come out of the 80’s.

Eighties babies, summer flicks

None

Blog

111

Please remember, your business may have other needs when it comes to content. These are just a few suggestions to get you started. Over time you will figure out what works for you and what just doesn’t make sense. In reality, the only wrong way to work with an editorial calendar is to not work with one at all!

Here are a few additional tips to help you get started:

  • Don’t use multiple calendars or tools for your editorial planning. This quickly becomes confusing and unwieldy. Pick a single method and stick to it. If it doesn’t work, adapt it to your needs or move to a different system all together.
  • Don’t try and go back in time to capture content you published before you started using an editorial calendar. A “from here on out” mindset will keep your efforts on the future.
  • Be flexible. It’s okay for your plan to change as you learn, grow or change goals.
  • Don’t over complicate things. If an Excel spreadsheet or Google Document works for you, use them.
  • Be specific in your topics, even including a proposed title when applicable and possible. This saves time in the writing process and is helpful when you’re assigning out projects.
  • Planned social should go into your calendar, but comments, likes and other interactions don’t need to be tracked. If you have an aggressive social strategy, however, you should track pages you like, follow or interact with.

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Editorial calendar basics