Social Media Strategy

How to Build a Content Calendar (Plus a Free Template for 2014)

Screenshot 2014 01 06 19.09.40 How to Build a Content Calendar (Plus a Free Template for 2014)

badge guest post FLATTER How to Build a Content Calendar (Plus a Free Template for 2014)Creating a content calendar for your company from scratch is one of those tasks that seems ridiculously complicated at the outset but which, with a systematic approach and no scruples about stealing other people’s methods, can actually be fairly straightforward.

We have no problems with other people borrowing our methods we wanted to offer a content marketer’s guide to building a content calendar along with a free template for the 2014 calendar year.

The Goal of a Content Calendar

A content calendar is a shareable resource that marketing teams can use to plan all content marketing activity. The benefit of using the calendar format, rather than just a long list of content to be published, is that you can visualize how your content is distributed throughout the year. This allows you to:

  • plan content around key events in your industry or important dates;
  • see where you have gaps in your content plan, with plenty of warning to line up more content;
  • and make sure you have your content ready in plenty of time to publish.

In general the further ahead you plan your digital content publishing the better placed you are to produce a consistent flow of content that builds your brand’s perceived expertise in your chosen subject areas. Looking at the year ahead, you might see several industry or world events that you want to plan content around – the content calendar is a place to store and manage this information.

You might plan content on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis depending on how quickly your industry moves. You might need to be reactive or adapt your plans frequently – or how changeable your content production resources are.

Building a Content Calendar in Three Easy Steps

Step 1: Identify your topics/audiences

A brand will rarely be publishing content to only a single audience. Most businesses and organizations have several groups of stakeholders or customer types, each of which are interested in different kinds of content.

For example, a digital agency like my company, Manifesto, not only wants to produce great content for potential customers interested in, say, content management systems but also for potential new employees who want to know how good a company we are to work for.

Defining your different audience types is not the job of one person alone but should be the result of a conversation between all the externally facing departments of your organization: sales, marketing, customer services, HR, etc.

Though it’s likely that the main focus of your content strategy will be developing new business (i.e. generating leads), you’re missing a trick – and doing your colleagues a disservice – if you don’t consider other types of audience.

The other aim of this inter-departmental meeting – beside identifying your different audience types – should be to decide the weighting of content distribution between them. For example: 75% buyers of product A, 10% buyers of product B, 10% existing customers, 5% potential new employees.

You should already know how much content you’re capable of putting out each month/quarter/year. You could divide this up into person-hours or put a monetary value to it. Weighing content production this way will then help you determine exactly how much content you should be aiming to produce for each audience.

Step 2: Take stock of your content assets

It’s usually not necessary to produce all your content from nothing. Most businesses and organizations will have valuable and previously unexploited stocks of content assets just lying around waiting for an ingenious marketer to dust them off.

These content assets might take the form of:

  • slide decks from training sessions that can be re-purposed as videos, blog posts, or online slide decks;
  • data from your CRM system, surveys, or even finance department that can be turned into infographics or news stories;
  • expertise of your colleagues that can be tapped for video, audio, or transcribed interviews;
  • whitepapers that can be rewritten as a series of blog posts;
  • old blog posts that can be updated with fresh information or, if they’re all on the same topic, combined into an uber-post or whitepaper.

Re-purposing content assets really takes away some of the strain of having to come up with a bazillion new content ideas and helps you efficiently fill gaps in your content schedule. A single content asset can also often give rise to several pieces of content. For example, an infographic can support a blog post which analyzes the integrity of the data it was based on. You could also include a video which explains the wider ramifications of its findings.

In the worksheet named “Content Repository” in our downloadable template (right-click and “Save As” if you are a PC user) you have space to enter all your content ideas and assign authors before transferring them to the content calendar proper. You can then track each piece of content here as it develops, adding notes about related social activities and events, as well as keeping track of those ideas that never make it to press but which might inspire other ideas further down the line.

Step 3: Schedule, publish, promote, track, and tweak your content

Regular editorial planning meetings between all those involved in content creation should be scheduled well before the next publishing period – be it monthly or quarterly. This meetings can be used to schedule the publishing content from your repository with realistic time frames and to support social media activity, email newsletter inclusions, etc.

Your planning meetings can also be used to review the visit, engagement, and revenue (if available) stats from previous periods to assess which types of content are most successful (and perhaps need to be replicated) and which are less successful (and perhaps need to be rethought).

Analytics (both web and social) and revenue data can also be used to make tweaks to already published content e.g. titles, introductions, outbound links etc to optimize visits and engagement.

Screenshot 2014 01 06 19.40.22 How to Build a Content Calendar (Plus a Free Template for 2014)

Using Your Content Calendar Template

Rather than first fill up the content repository with great content ideas, and then use it to populate the calendar, use the two together. Important events will determine what pieces of content you want to produce and the changing availability of resources will determine when you’re able to publish certain pieces. Here are some guidelines for using your calendar:

  • The first column of the calendar sheets marks date periods in weeks (though you can make this more granular for organizations with daily content publishing activity).
  • The second provides space to fill in important calendar events which may affect your publishing schedule (e.g. for retailers, Christmas, or for accountants, the end of the Tax Year).
  • The third, fourth, and fifth are for marking important dates for each of your content topics. Such events might include trade shows, conferences, product launches, or other updates. You might need more or less of these columns depending on how many audience types you need to cover.
  • The sixth column lets you mark important company events which you might want to publish content on e.g. price changes, product launches, potential award wins, and campaign launches.
  • The seventh, eighth, and ninth columns are for scheduling pieces of content – color coded by topic/audience – and the tenth, eleventh and twelfth for scheduling supporting social media activity. Again, you might need more or fewer of these columns depending on how many pieces of content you have the resources to publish in each period.

Great content is at the heart of a good online marketing strategy. The content calendar (right click and “Save As”) provides a bird’s eye view so you can see what’s coming up, when is the best time to publish and your window of opportunity for pre- and post-publication content promotion.

We find working in this way really helps us stay on top of our content strategy – we hope you find it helpful too. Please do let us know by leaving a comment.

Related
  • TimN

    MS Excel is the calendar tool here and not a web-based tool?

    • http://www.divvyhq.com/ Brody Dorland

      Agreed @TimN…

      @Jamie – Nice work on this post. People definitely need to understand the “why” and “how” of developing an editorial calendar, but I think they also need to understand that utilizing a spreadsheet (excel, google doc) is going to be problematic for them as their content team expands, their amount of content increases and as their workflow process gets more complex.

      I spelled out some of the issues with spreadsheet-based editorial calendars here: http://bit.ly/JA9ayu

      Don’t get me wrong…if a single person, blogger, or even a small team is able to get by with a spreadsheet, by all means your advice and format is solid. I just hate seeing articles like this that have awesome advice, but push people into a format that won’t scale well long term.

      My two cents…

      • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ jaybaer

        Agreed that a Web-based tool ultimately scales better, but Excel is a great solution to at least get started.

        • http://www.divvyhq.com/ Brody Dorland

          Without a doubt! Even the process of “getting started” forces the issue to think about content strategy, consistency, sustainability…All good things.

      • Jamie Griffiths

        Brody – Thanks for your feedback. I’d hate to think I was railroading anyone into using any particular tool or format. The template is intended as a bit of extra value – an example of how to implement the ideas put forward in the post. If people find it useful for making a start with content strategy that’s brilliant but I’d never promote a one-size-fits-all solution.

  • shirleywilsonsocial

    Thanks for sharing the 2014 calendar and detailed guidelines that have worked for you. I have tried so many and it seems to be continual work in progress to find one that meet my needs. Look forward to trying this one out. Look forward to following more of your posts this year.

  • Susan

    When I click the link to download the calendar template, it comes up as gibberish. :/

    • Craig Adeyanju

      I’ve got the same ish

      • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ jaybaer
        • http://melaniekissell.com/blog Melanie Kissell

          Sorry, Jay … still not working. :(

          • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ jaybaer

            It’s a .xlsx file, so you need to have Excel to open it, presumably. Could that be it?

          • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ jaybaer
          • Craig Adeyanju

            Requested access to the document. See if you can grant me access. Thanks

          • Jacqueline Twillie

            I requested access also via google drive, no success clicking on the link above.

          • http://effectivefinancialmarketing.com/ Craig Adeyanju

            Thanks for granting me access, Jay. I can view the doc. now. :)

          • http://effectivefinancialmarketing.com/ Craig Adeyanju

            And thanks to Jamie for this helpful material. Looking forward to read more of your posts.

          • Craig Adeyanju

            Of course, Jay. But I’ve got Excel 2010 on my computer, yet I get strange characters when I click that link.

          • http://melaniekissell.com/blog Melanie Kissell

            I have Excel, Jay, but still no soap. I requested permission via Google Drive –thanks!

        • Craig Adeyanju

          Same old story, Jay. Thanks for helping though.

    • Devo

      Right click on the link and select ‘Save Link As’.

      • http://effectivefinancialmarketing.com/ Craig Adeyanju

        Perfect! This works. Thanks for helping, Devo.

  • http://www.transformyoursocialnetworth.com CoachLaura

    Totally awesome post and timely. Love to feature this as a giveaway to my http://www.SocialBuzzClub.com list. Interested?

  • http://www.frivjuego.co/ Friv juego

    A new year to come, hope there will be lots of good things about. Thanks for sharing calendar 2014 and detailed instructions have worked for you. I’ve tried a lot and it seems to be working constantly being conducted to find one that meets my needs. Really thank this share.

  • gracy

    THank you for this wonderful template.

  • Jochem Koole

    Good stuff. Thanks!

  • http://www.kizijogos.co/ Kizi jogos

    I am really impressed with your generosity. The sharing of information is vital that we appreciate very much.

  • Luke Hancock

    Ease-of-use is greatly appreciated

  • Jen McGahan

    Great idea to color code different events! Thanks very much for the good ideas and organization tips.

  • hollyrose

    I’m unable to open either of the templates…I just get garbley-goop (technical word you know)… I have a MAC…any ideas? thanks! Great article! Ooops! Never mind… it was Firefox causing the problems… Got it now through Chrome!

  • Michelle Phillips

    Thanks for a great post and the content calendar template. Very helpful!

  • http://www.crystalpulse.co.uk/ Chris Hart

    I just dropped this straight into Google Sheets, it works fine, theres your web based utility!

  • Cynthia Amador

    Great content calendar! Thank you.

  • samrex

    Here’s a Google Docs one I re-purposed from an old one I found in the public docs templates, feel free to rip it, share it, etc. It’s got an area for keywords, notes for the week, etc. http://bit.ly/R6AHuI

    • Paula Stei

      My PC wouldn’t let me open any of the documents from the initial post, so thanks a lot for sharing your template.
      Very useful!

      • samrex

        My pleasure

  • Regina Corley

    nice!

  • http://yasha.harari.org/ Yasha Harari

    goog that sheet … it’s so sweet. really spiffy and so neat. :) thanks for the share with we who care.

  • http://clippod.com/ Gaurav Gupta

    Here’s another tip Jamie – Try Google Calendar + ClipPod. We’re using it for planning and discussing our editorial and social media calendars and it’s worked out quite well so far.