If you’ve ever forgotten to wish your best friend a happy birthday, it’s probably because you didn’t mark the occasion on your calendar. Don’t be that friend.
For brands, missing—or not capitalizing on—opportunities to reach your audience is the business equivalent of forgetting birthdays.
For content marketers, nothing combats this better than a content calendar.
A content calendar is a schedule of the what, when, and where of your content. What the content is. When you plan on publishing it. And where you’ll promote it. An overarching content marketing plan often consists of interplaying editorial calendars and social media content calendars—both of which should ultimately go hand-in-hand when your content gets delivered out into the real world.
You can’t have content worth promoting on social media without building that content first. A content calendar typically includes upcoming pieces, status updates on content-related tasks, any promotional activity you’re planning, any partnerships worth exploring, and refreshes to existing content.
If your brand wants to be effective in the digital spaces your audience already lives in, you’ll need a content calendar. It requires some effort and some thinking, but it’s worth the energy.
First, you’ll need to know where to start.
Start with the basics (and a few good questions).
Before snazzy smartphone apps, we had these things called maps and traffic reports. The former showed you how to get someplace, and the latter told you what might put a dent in your ETA.
Content marketing calendars work similarly—but without all the rubbernecking.
When considering how to create a content calendar, begin by anchoring to a content strategy.
Know your target personas. Create messaging that’ll be compelling and relevant for your readers.
Know your voice and tone. Make sure your communication strategy looks, feels, and sounds like you. Everywhere.
Know what your goals are. Understand what you want each asset to do for you. Whether it’s social media engagement, lead generation, or ushering site visitors through the sales funnel, know how to define success for each piece of content you create and distribute.
When you first start building out your editorial calendars, think through one quarter at a time. What content does your audience need? What content will be timely? What channels will be important?
The answers to those questions can often guide or reorient the content creation process. For example, your audience’s questions in Q2 may look a whole lot different from their questions in Q4. And that’s okay. Your editorial calendar should plan for the conversations and channels that will resonate.
Thinking about content at a high level helps you get to your quarterly goals and iterate (whenever that’s required). It also leads to better marketing results. In one experiment, a well-constructed social media content calendar was shown to drive a whopping 3,150% increase in clicks (CoSchedule).
The bad news? All this content marketing planning requires elbow grease and priority-wrangling (more on that later).
The good news? There are some pretty sweet benefits.
You’re grounded (but that’s a good thing).
There’s a Saturday Night Live sketch from the ’90s that features Will Ferrell donning a fake beard and aggressively performing a cowbell through line for a rock band. There’s just one problem: the band is confused about a cowbell’s role next to drums, guitar, and breathy rock lyrics. (Without betraying too much of the joke’s premise, Christopher Walken’s band manager character believes they could actually use more cowbell.)
A good content marketing calendar should be about less cowbell and more cohesion. Less arbitrary content and more stuff your readers actually want to consume. Fewer irrelevant channels and more places your audience already lives.
A content calendar helps you plan ahead. Is there a holiday coming up? Is Tax Day keeping your audience up at night? Know the milestones or moments you’ll need to orient your content around.
A content calendar helps you stay on schedule. You promised three blog posts next week, but one of them is a 6,500-word behemoth—will you need to push back some deadlines? Align what’s being promised to your real-time content creation process. Whether you’re managing expectations or planning to reset them, stick to the dates on the calendar and be honest about what you’re able to deliver and distribute.
A content calendar helps you focus on the right channels. Is TikTok worth a content distribution strategy next month? Will that new infographic look good on your most important channels? Make sense of the channels you’re working with and what kind of content works best for each.
Grounding your content marketing approach with a good calendar helps you pivot, iterate, or scale as needed.
But you still need the people who can help execute all this.
It takes a village (to do it right).
If you’re signing up to make the fancy duck entrée for a DIY potluck, but the most you’ve ever done in a kitchen is microwave Hot Pockets, you may want to stick to bringing the drinks and cups.
When looking ahead on your content marketing calendar, consider the types of content you need and what resources you’ll need to create them.
Resources will include tools and platforms, from graphic design software to project management platforms to calendar-hosting platforms. But resources will also include the people you’ll need to get the work done—from planners, to writers, to designers, to developers.
If you’re planning for a Q&A piece with a financial expert, leverage a writer who may have a journalism background or understands how to lead good interviews. If it’s a dense, comprehensive ebook for people interested in Roth IRAs, maybe steer clear of the whimsical copywriter and opt for the more technical writer.
Thinking about a cohesive content marketing calendar requires that you align stakeholders and team members around the content strategy goals. Get everybody on board to make sure no resources are left hanging.
Then look even deeper.
Leverage your subject matter experts. Think of internal and external SMEs as boots on the ground. (Really valuable boots on the ground.) Not just for the great interviews, Instagrammable quotes, or thought leadership. They can help fill in gaps in content with topics they intimately understand—things your readers want to learn more about.
Listen to what your sales or field reps are saying. Ask your sales team members about the kinds of questions they keep hearing from prospects and buyers. Are there any common themes? Do any objections keep popping up? Look at these questions as guideposts to help prioritize the content that’s coming up in your pipeline.
In fact, brands are 67% more successful when their marketing and sales are aligned on content and priorities. A content calendar helps bridge whatever gaps exist for your brand.
Building the right team to deliver your content makes the difference between everybody enjoying the potluck or a line forming for the bathroom because of an off-the-rails duck roast experiment.
Utilize the team, leverage their skills, and prioritize your upcoming content.
Give yourself a head start.
There’s a plethora of resources that can help you start plugging holes in your content marketing calendar.
Need an editorial calendar? Check.
How about a social media content calendar? Check.
Build your content marketing calendar one asset at a time, one channel at a time, and with the end in sight. Tie everything to your overarching content strategy goals and remember to lean on the expertise of both the subject matter experts and the team members who surround you.
It takes a whole village to ensure every cog of your content marketing engine is humming. A content marketing calendar is the schematic you need to make sure the engine works at all.