So you’re working on an inbound content marketing strategy. You’ve got your buyer personas (target audience). You’ve done your content planning (content offers with supporting blog and social media posts for each persona and each funnel stage). And you’ve got your SMART goals in place. So you’re totally ready to go, right?
Pump the brakes, my friend.
No content marketing plan is complete without a calendar to organize it. Why? Because without deadlines the world would be darkness and chaos. Put less dramatically: without deadlines and a fully organized content calendar, it’s really easy to get off-track. Then all that hard work you put into your content planning would be for naught. For naught, I say!
In the rest of this post we’ll help you set up your content calendar so you can take all that brilliant content you’ve brainstormed and ensure it actually gets published.
Step 1: Choose a format and create a basic content calendar
Ideally, you’ll have a quarter’s worth of content at least assigned out to your staff, if not fully created. Remember that part of the reason you’re doing this is to have content ready to go ahead of time. Like, a couple months, if you can. This gives you a buffer in case Laura forgets she’s supposed to design that social image or Frank gets pulled off writing the middle-of-the-funnel blog post to work on the Durker campaign. That’s classic Laura and Frank, amirite?
So, in order to avoid that sort of mix-up, you’ll need a format that is easily shareable with your team, and deadlines that aren’t completely unreasonable.
HubSpot offers an extremely robust content calendar for Excel and Google Sheets that comes pre-built with color coding, a year’s worth of dates, and a social scheduling calendar. If you’d rather build from scratch, Excel and Google Sheets are the two most customizable, easy-to-use platforms for your calendar.
Set it up with easy-to-read headings at the top and fill in the appropriate fields from your content planning. We’d recommend including:
- Proposed title
- Focus topic/keyword
- Due date and publish date
- Who will review the content
- Associated offers or posts
- Targeted buyer personas
Here’s a very basic example of what your calendar might look like for your pet store’s blog, if you had a pet store.
Set your ideal publish dates for each piece and make sure the internal due date leaves enough time for final edits and revisions before publication.
Consider getting estimates from your team for each project, whether you’re talking about a blog post or a 60-page ebook, so you don’t over-schedule one department or team member. The content calendar is supposed to make your content marketing easier, not more stressful.
Step 2: Get your team involved
Now that you’ve got the skeleton of your content calendar—and a little time to review it, because you did plan a few months ahead, right?—this is the ideal time to set your team loose on it. There’s nothing worse than pouring hours into a calendar and having no one use it.
You’re going to get a lot of feedback, whether you want it or not, but after sifting through everyone’s comments you’ll likely find that you can make your calendar better. It could be by adding fields you hadn’t thought of, building in a section for future content suggestions, or fleshing out the reporting (we’ll touch on that again in a second).
Ultimately, your goal is to get your team excited about this calendar, which should serve to make their lives easier by holding everyone on your marketing team accountable and creating greater transparency. And who doesn’t love transparency?
(Okay, maybe that guy.)
Step 3: Track your success
While the content calendar is obviously an invaluable tool for guiding your content decisions in the future, it can also give your team insight into past content successes. Adding in fields that give you a sense of how many pageviews, leads, and/or social media mentions a piece of content resulted in is a simple and solid way of tracking your progress so you can figure out how effective your efforts have been. Just keep your calendar open and make updates during your monthly reporting.
In addition, tracking these metrics right in the calendar allows you to see what content is successful at any given time when you’re planning the next round of content. Re-visiting that content a year later and freshening it up is an easy way to save yourself some time and energy, and make your content go the extra mile for you.
In general, if you think of the content calendar document as more than a publishing schedule, it will be a real an investment in your marketing team’s success—which will drive the team to actually use it. That brings us to step #4.
Step 4: Stick to your content calendar
This is the final step, and it can be a difficult one. Even when you have amazing and talented writers, editors, and designers; actually hitting due dates and getting all your offers, social posts, and articles out when you planned to is a genuine challenge.
So don’t lose your mind over it, and remember that the content calendar should be a living document—it can change when necessary. If an unplanned project comes up that needs everyone’s attention for the next month, just roll with it. See if there’s a way to stretch the content you’ve already created for a little while, or tackle a simpler project you had planned for next month that you can squeeze in now.
When massive unplanned projects aren’t getting in your way, keep things humming along by dividing and monitoring. Make more than one person responsible for checking in on your content calendar and sending out reminders if a deadline is looming. If you find yourself weeks behind, it’s probably time for a little team-wide soul searching, plus a few adjustments to the calendar itself.
Keep everyone on track and you’ll be producing consistent, quality content that really will impress the audience you care about most. That will be worth celebrating.