How to Create an Editorial Calendar You’ll Actually Use
by Kathryn Brill, Social Media and Content Marketing Specialist
The end of the year is fast approaching, which can only mean one thing. No, not holiday food—planning your content marketing for 2019. This crucial activity involves budgeting, taking stock of the successes and failures of the past year, and often, putting together an editorial calendar.
These shiny documents often represent sincere hopes for the next year and a genuine desire to follow a strategic plan for content marketing. However, putting one together can be overwhelming, and frequently these calendars are abandoned quickly after hitting snags in the new year—or never used at all.
But when used right, editorial calendars are some of the most powerful tools a content marketer has in their toolkit. They can provide marketing teams with the ability to look forward strategically, rather than scrambling to create content in the midst of a busy schedule. Creating an editorial calendar offers marketers a chance to structure their content around specific messages. The calendar also gives ownership of content to the whole team, not just one person—everyone has a reference to use. And when the next year comes around, editorial calendars give a snapshot of the previous year’s campaigns that will aid in future planning.
So how can a team create a calendar they’ll actually use—and stick to it? As someone who’s created numerous content calendars, here are some strategies I’ve found to craft great ones.
Populate your calendars with a mix of content types. Ideally, the content you post—whether it’s on a blog, social media, or a website—should cover a variety of topics. This includes newsworthy or hot-button topics as well as evergreen content. There are two major mistakes related to this that marketers frequently make when planning out their editorial calendars. On the one hand, some marketers overestimate how much new content will be available to them, and are left scrambling for ideas when the time comes. On the other hand, other marketers populate their calendars with exclusively evergreen content and stick to it rigidly, unable to budge from their plans when something newsworthy arises.
There are a few ways to combat this. Make sure you have an even mix of evergreen content and space allotted for new content. If you already know that something new will be happening in 2019 but aren’t sure when, make a list of “unscheduled content” that can be added to the calendar as needed. Keep track of your evergreen content resources (perhaps by having a brainstorming session) so if you need to pull from existing material, you know where it is. And remember that many “newsworthy” events, such as national holidays, trade shows, and annual meetings, have dates and topics that you can learn about in advance and get a head start on preparing for.
Start slow. The first few weeks of the year are an overwhelming time. People are returning from vacation, new initiatives are launching, and everything that was once a plan is expected to become a reality. Many editorial calendars fail immediately because the ambitious ideas that sounded so great in December are impossible to execute in the rushed frenzy of early January. And once the calendar is abandoned, it’s never picked back up again.
But with the right kind of strategic thinking, you can launch your planned content marketing in January no matter how busy you are. For the first few weeks of the year, choose topics and concepts that you know will be easy to execute—or can even create in advance. Save the complicated social giveaways, in-depth white papers, and blog interviews with industry experts for the calmer months of the year. If you construct your editorial calendar so it ramps up in this way, you’ll be more likely to keep using it all throughout the year. (The same advice applies for busy times in your industry and for the end of the year, when most of your energy is focused on planning.)
Involve other departments. A common problem that marketing teams face when planning content, whether it’s for an entire year or just a few weeks, is generating content ideas. Many editorial calendars run aground when the marketing team realizes it doesn’t have enough content to fill the year. But there’s no reason why idea generation has to be the exclusive role of the marketing team. There are plenty of people in your organization who likely have expertise and ideas of their own to leverage. For instance, talking to your sales team about common questions that prospects ask them could lead to a series of informative blog posts answering these concerns. Another department might be doing a philanthropy initiative that would make a great Facebook post. You’ll never know until you ask around—and when you do, you’ll find it that much easier to generate more great content to populate your calendar.
These are just a few of the strategies that have helped me create editorial calendars that truly work—and that get used consistently. Go forth, and plan your 2019 content with confidence.