If you’re anything like us, you’re using the first few weeks of January to map out your organization’s goals for the year. While some new year’s resolutions revolve around keeping the staff fridge clean, others are decidedly more high-level.
In 2015, more marketing departments are trying to operate like newsrooms, and as such, the content calendar is becoming an increasingly important tool in guiding communications initiatives. 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.”*
As the day-to-day noise of nine-to-five sets in, the content calendar provides some structure through times of chaos. And while what you’ve outlined doesn’t necessarily have to be set in stone, organizing your objectives and planning your communications will help you allocate resources, talent, and budgets.
A successful content calendar identifies communications opportunities and “newsworthy” events within your organization. It then matches these items with the most appropriate platforms and the frequency with which you’d like to communicate on each platform.
Let’s break it down.
The best way to get started would be to do a quick inventory of your communications channels. Here’s a list of some to get you started:
- Email newsletter
- Facebook page
- Google +
Now that you’ve identified your channels, the next step is to decide the frequency of communication on each channel. Set realistic goals for yourself and your team given your resources and budgets. We’d all love to be able to write a blog twice a week and tweet five times a day, but are these goals sustainable throughout the year? Here’s what your frequency column might look like:
- Blog — 2 blog posts/month
- Email newsletter — quarterly
- Facebook page —updated 2X per week
- Twitter —updated 3X per week
- YouTube — quarterly
- Google + —updated 2X per week
- Tumblr — updated 3X per week
- Instagram —updated 3X per week
- Vine —updated once per week
Once you’ve decided how often you’d like to share content, it’s time to figure out exactly what content you’ll be sharing. There’s owned media (articles and posts developed by your team, tailored for your audience, and shared on your channels) and then there’s curated media (content that you’ve found that’s relevant to your sector but not created by you). Both are recommended for a healthy media mix. Ideally, the owned content would support your organization’s initiatives, campaigns, and events, while curated content can be used as “filler” in between. This isn’t to say that filler content should be fluff—on the contrary, filler content should be insightful and important to your audience.
A good way to decide where you need filler is by first plotting out where you don’t. Map out which events and items within your organization lend themselves to “coverage” throughout the year. Remember, your operating like a newsroom now, so approach this task as an editor and seek storytelling opportunities. Not sure where to start? Here are six tips to make sure you don’t miss a beat. And, just to be sure you’re organized, we’re including a downloadable template to help you out.
1. Include important internal dates
This may seem obvious, but before looking outward for items to include in your calendar, you should look inward. Your organization has its own internal clock and lifeline which can be adapted into stories. For example, when is your organization’s anniversary? Which events happen every year? If possible, look through your agenda or social media presence from the year prior to refresh your memory. These events will provide the basis of your communications planning. Here’s what that might look like:
Jan —Get the rest of the year organized
Feb —35 years as a registered charity
June —Annual carwash fundraiser
Sept —Annual gala fundraiser
Dec — Annual Holiday Party & food drive
2. Find holidays that match your organization’s mission
There are holidays for everything. For example, did you know these holidays even existed?:
- National Save Your Hearing Day—May 31
- World Smile Day—October 7
- Cut Your Energy Costs Day—January 10
The list goes on. The point isn’t to make a big deal out of every little holiday, but instead to pick a handful that match your organizations values and mission. These holidays can be adapted as content and leveraged as storytelling opportunities. They may not be as important as your internal dates from #1, but you’ll be glad you have them on hand down the line.
3. Find ways to showcase company culture
4. Note big marketing events
If you know there’s an annual conference your marketing team will attend, jot it down. Ask yourself how can you creatively cover these events in ways that will draw people in? For example, for a big industry event, maybe you want to budget to send a photographer to take photos of the event. You can then post these photos on Facebook or your blog in order to attract people to your website or brand page.
5. Decide what you’re going to do for obvious holidays and start planning ahead
Major calendar events present interesting opportunities for creative content. This is especially true when it comes to social media. At first blush, you may think events such as Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day have nothing to do with your organization, but (if executed properly) these events could be unique opportunities for engagement.
6. Get Imaginative about what constitutes as content
Take inventory of your current content assets from the year prior. This can include blog posts, training presentations, data from your research, whitepapers, etc. Begin to think about how you can repurpose this material for the new year. Better yet, jot down when in the calendar year new content will be created either by you or your team. For example, maybe you know you’re speaking at a breakfast club in June, or the CEO is giving a presentation in September on the impacts of your work in foreign countries. Likely these events will generate other forms of content such as slide decks or even speaking notes that can be repurposed for newsletters, blog content, and even social media updates.
Now that you’ve identified the newsworthy events and content opportunities for your organization, you can allocate items to specific channels to help meet the quota you set out earlier for yourself. Start planning which items make sense where. Remember that not all events are restricted to one channel. For example, you may use Facebook, your blog, and your newsletter to promote a fundraiser gala to donors ahead of time, but at the gala itself maybe you’ve decided to document the event in video to share it on YouTube afterwards. Or maybe you have someone live-tweeting photos or Vines from the gala. The point is that one item or event can have various iterations and spin-offs on different platforms.
One of the final steps is to identify where you can curate content from to help round out your media mix. If you’ve set the goal of updating Facebook once per week, look at which weeks don’t have any news items. Label these as “curated” and develop a list of places where you can find great content to share here when it’s time. While filler content can be scheduled out ahead of time, we wouldn’t recommend it working too far ahead. There’s too much changing in the world to be able to plot out tweets or posts 6 months in advance. For this reason, we recommend bookmarking websites and blogs that inspire and speak to your organization’s mission. These can be revisited later and drawn from when needed.
Now that you have all this information in front of you, you’re better positioned to start adding items into your marketing calendar. While up until this point we’ve suggested noting items with pen and paper, this is where the digital calendar comes in handy since items can be moved around and edited with ease. As you plot all of the above, you may find strategies to organize yourself even more: for example, if you’re using Google Calendar or iCal you may want to have separate calendars for each channel. You can colour code calendars based on channel or based on the type of content (i.e. corporate culture items are blue, holidays are in red, etc.).
We hope we’ve helped you understand the benefits of creating a content calendar and inspired you to better plan your organization’s communications. Don’t forget to download the printable template to get you going!