A content calendar is a centralized tool used by marketing teams to plan all of their future content marketing assets. It is also the place where the content manager, or the person in charge of scheduling your content, sets publication dates.

Why you need a content calendar

As a general rule, the further out you plan your digital content assets, the more likely you are to meet your deadlines and be more easily able to provide your target audience with high-quality, relevant content. A well-planned content calendar takes a bit of time and energy to create, but it ultimately saves you a lot of time and headaches and keeps your team on track week to week.

Most critically, though, an effective content calendar keeps your readers engaged by ensuring that you’re producing content that is meeting their needs, rather than just pushing product or becoming stagnant. Well-thought-out, polished content that was intentionally planned, instead of being rushed out the door last minute, is more likely to earn you clicks and win you qualified leads.

Why you should use a calendar format

The calendar format makes it easy for the entire marketing team, as well as interested executives, to see exactly what pieces of content are coming down the pipeline, and how they’re scheduled throughout the year, in conjunction with other events or marketing campaigns.

The calendar format also ensures that your content is ready in plenty of time before your push dates. Being able to clearly see when each piece is going out helps you enforce deadlines with your team, in addition to making it much simpler to see what gaps you have in your content marketing plan well in advance, so you have plenty of time to plan and produce additional pieces to fill out the calendar, as needed.

Depending on your needs and how quickly your industry moves, you might plan your content on a monthly, quarterly, or 6-month basis. It’s a good idea to have your calendar planned at least a month out so you have time to make last-minute adjustments.

Build your content calendar in 4 steps

Step 1: Identify Your Target Audience

First, identify your target audience. An organization will very rarely only be writing to one type of consumer – there will often be several different audiences, including existing customers, potential customers, your competitors, and your potential new employees. However, before you begin producing content you should have developed a very detailed buyer persona of your target customer. This should be a joint effort between your marketing, sales, customer service, and executive teams, and you should all be on the same page as to whom you’re trying to target your marketing efforts.

This inter-department meeting is also a good time to determine how much content you can actually expect to produce during the month, quarter, and year. You can think of this in terms of production hours, budget for freelance writers or marketing spend. Once you know how much content you’ll be able to realistically create, you can divide this up by your content distribution (number of written pieces, video and audio assets, white papers, ebooks, etc) and make decisions about priorities.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Existing Assets

It’s very unlikely that you’ll be producing all of your content from scratch. You probably already have loads of potential content lying around, just waiting for a creative content marketer, like yourself, to turn them into a valuable asset.

Some of these potential new pieces of content might be:

  • Slide decks that could be converted to ebooks
  • White papers that can be broken up into blog posts
  • Old blog posts from previous writers you could refresh
  • Video or audio content from past events that could be combined into new clips
  • Data from your CRM system can be turned into fascinating infographics
  • Old interviews or materials from your colleagues that you can leverage into subject matter expert content

Repurposing assets that you already have can fill up lots of space on the first months of your new content calendar while your writers are hard at work producing new pieces. It can also be useful for filling in gaps that you may have in content production and takes away the stress of having to generate 30 new ideas every month. Think about the ways a single piece of content might be able to be repurposed into multiple other things. For example, a video might be able to be broken up into several cool graphics for use in social media, a white paper might have data that could be made into multiple infographics, and an old ebook could become half a dozen new blog posts or copy for a new email marketing campaign.

Step 3: Generate new content ideas

After you’ve made a thorough list of the potential new content pieces you can create based off of materials you already have, the next step is to continue generating content ideas until you have the number you need to fill out the calendar, based on the number of pieces you have determined that you want to create each month, quarter, etc. This can be done by your content manager, or during a brainstorming session with the entire content team.

Ensure that all of your content ideas for the next planning period are on-topic for your target audience and on theme for the month or quarter, and are not overly random or intended to just fill up space. The better and more detailed your ideas are, the easier time your writers will have creating the pieces, and the better the finished product will be for your readers and potential customers.

Step 4: Schedule, publish, and track your content

Now that you’ve finished generating the entire number of content pieces you need for your next planning period, insert the content pieces into your calendar and organize them by theme, marketing campaign, event, or any other method your team deems best. You should also consider using a color-coding method to designate the type of content each idea is intended to become. For example, you could highlight blog posts in purple, ebooks in red, videos in green, and white papers in blue.

Be sure to schedule regular planning meetings with your editorial team to address any concerns or hold-ups, and to discuss the content coming down the pipeline for the next month or quarter. These meetings are also a good time to discuss timeframes and deadlines, as well as make the relevant parties aware of what pieces need to be included in social media schedules and email newsletters.

Now, schedule and publish your content, push it on your social media channels and watch it grow.

Tips for Content Calendar Success

  • Schedule your content for all of your social media channels as far in advance as possible, and continue to fill out your social media scheduler as your content pieces are completed.
  • Add important dates like webinars, events, product releases, ebook launch dates, and conferences to your content calendar as soon as you’ve locked down dates. This will give you plenty of time to plan content campaigns around these events and ensures that all of the assets you need for them will be finished on time.
  • Test all of your content ideas before adding them to your calendar. Ask yourself these questions about every potential piece:
    • Does this idea match our brand and content mission?
    • Is this idea relevant to my target audience?
    • Is this content interesting and engaging?
    • Will this content encourage sharing, commenting, and other social media engagement? Would I share it myself? If not, tweak the idea until you can say yes.
  • Remember to schedule regular meetings with your content team to revisit your calendar to be sure it still meets your needs. This is also your opportunity to identify weak areas that need to be tweaked and to offer support to your writers and content managers. These planning meetings should also be used to review the performance, engagement, and revenue of all of the content from the previous period to see what’s working and what’s not, so you can make adjustments, rework underperformers, and repromote popular content.

Content calendar templates we love

Here are a few content calendar templates we love to get you inspired to create your own:

Your calendar isn’t written in stone

Your calendar is now ready to help simplify your life and make keeping your team on track that much easier. But don’t rely on your calendar completely – be sure that you’re still paying attention to news and changes within your industry and subject matter so you can take advantage of news stories in your content and social media. Be flexible and willing to adjust your calendar as these things come up. And, remember to watch your analytics. If something isn’t working like you anticipated, adjust it or, if you need to, pull it. Your analytics are a valuable learning tool – use it!  Finally, watch your competitors. Digital marketing moves quickly, and new ideas hit the web every day. Don’t be afraid to scope out the competition for new content ideas and inspiration.

Want even more tips and expert advice for your content marketing strategy? Schedule a free consultation with a Big Leap content pro today.