Busy? Me too. When used correctly, an editorial calendar can help you with just that.
- Save yourself hours of planning every week
- Slay unnecessary stress
- Recognise your content team’s capacity
- Optimise future content strategies
- Stay in control of your content marketing operations at all times
The flip side of these goals are issues that we have encountered in the past two years when planning or creating content for our clients. They are also issues that we have resolved with the creation of a working editorial calendar.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a senior content marketer or head of content. You might be agency-side or you might be in-house.
Whichever is true, introducing a content calendar could make your life easier. This post will show you how.
“Help – I’m struggling to organise my content”
I’m going to write honestly about my experiences in this area in the hope that this is helpful.
It’s almost two years since I started writing for Zest Digital. Our content requirements were small and the approach we used for planning them reflected this. If you’re a young agency or a small business, you’re probably familiar with the level at which we were working. We blogged on a weekly or monthly basis for several clients, using a variety of internal systems to manage upcoming posts.
This approach worked just fine at the time, but it didn’t scale with business growth.
As our agency grew and the industry changed, work began to build up. My task list also changed in other ways. The types of content I was creating increasingly shifted from blog posts and articles to landing pages, case studies, editorial pieces, white papers and other long-form content.
Juggling tasks became more challenging. Everything was listed but I couldn’t visualise my workload. My resting blood pressure began to climb. (I’m being melodramatic.)
We needed a better system for planning and scheduling content if we kept growing. The answer?
What is a content calendar and how does it help you?
In 2015, 69% of agencies used an editorial calendar for content marketing. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but in case you’re a little unsure, an editorial or content calendar is a calendar populated with the dates and times of scheduled content pieces.
- If you write nine blog posts every month, add them to the relevant dates on your calendar.
- Maybe you outsource all your content. Use the calendar to remember when each piece is due back.
- You might be working on a white paper or other long-form content. Get those revision dates down, so you know you’re on track.
The benefits of such a calendar are clear. Reduce stress. Plan more efficiently. Use it to stay in control of your content marketing at all times.
In practice, actually implementing an editorial calendar can be somewhat trickier. There are numerous different ways you can create a digital calendar of your own. I’m going to show you how we created ours.
How we created our content calendar
We can break down the process of finding and setting up our content calendar into two key steps.
- Finding a suitable calendar
- Setting up tasks
The following recommendations are based on our experiences only. For best results, this advice should be tailored to suit your business and content marketing requirements.
1. Choosing the right calendar software
Newsflash: You’re going to need a calendar for your content calendar. 56% of marketers use content marketing-specific software to manage their content workflow and distribution, but they don’t all use the same software. And that’s not including the non-content-marketing specific systems.
Your calendar is going to form the core of this process, so choose carefully. When searching for calendar or planning software, take your time and shop around. Here’s several pointers you might want to consider.
- How sophisticated are your content marketing needs?
- Does the timekeeping or project planning software have a visual calendar?
- Does the software synchronise across whole teams?
- Can you sync the software with your existing core software?
- How easy to use is the software? Is it intuitive or will it require training?
- How much does it cost?
To keep core systems manageable and to a minimum, we have always trialled software for its project management or resource planning applications first. This ruled out specific content management solutions like those provided by Contently. (A man can dream!)
If you’re in a position to test specialised content calendar software, that’s awesome. If not, don’t worry – there are still ways you can plan and track your publishing schedule using a calendar.
Like thousands of other work teams, we currently use Basecamp. It was December 2015 that I first realised the software’s content calendar potential. By syncing the product with my Gmail, I could instantly connect every client project with my Google Calendar.
It took a few hours to manually sync each project, but at first glance my prayers had been answered. My calendar began to fill with the same tasks that populated our clients’ “to-do” lists. I had created my calendar.
So how did I do this?
2. Setting up your tasks
Linking your Google Calendar to your projects is easy. Note: These instructions are for Basecamp 3.
1. Log into Basecamp and choose a project.
2. Choose the “Schedule” tab and click “Subscribe” in the top left-hand corner.
3. Basecamp will provide you with a “Subscribe with Google Calendar” link. (Note: If you use Outlook, there is also an option for this.)
4. In your Google Calendar account, find “Other calendars” at the bottom of left sidebar. Click the arrow at the right and paste your Basecamp’s calendar link in “Add by URL”. Click “Add Calendar”.
Rinse and repeat for each project you want to sync, then wash those bubbles out and marvel at your lustrous new editorial calendar. You will want to rename each added URL to something more user-friendly (the client’s name, for example), and it might take a short while for the tasks to appear, but otherwise you’re good to go.
Editorial calendar template
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
You’ve found and set up your calendar. It’s synchronised with your existing core system and populated with dozens of juicy content pieces just waiting to be researched, written, or published. You may experience a wave of euphoria; do not be alarmed. This is in fact a simple absence of stress.
The method we’ve used isn’t perfect. Like anything, it has its own sets of advantages and disadvantages.
- Projects are colour-coded and clearly labelled, so it is easy to see which tasks relate to which clients.
- The resulting calendar is visual and engaging.
- Anyone in your content team with a Google Calendar (or Outlook) can sync to the project, so you can easily manage your content team.
- Every task can be managed easily in Basecamp before appearing automatically in the calendar.
- Individual projects can be hidden using the left-hand column under “Other calendars”, so you can highlight important or busy projects.
- Basecamp can be setup to email you when deadlines are approaching, so you never miss a publish date.
- There is a lag between tasks added to Basecamp and tasks appearing in the calendar.
- Google Calendar only shows basic information, meaning you will need to visit Basecamp to view specific task details.
- Any task in a client’s work stream with a specified date range will appear in your calendar, meaning that your calendar can become busy quickly.
If, like me, to-do lists, Post-it notes, and organised fun are a deep source of existential contentment, expect to find yourself enjoying the ongoing management of your new content calendar.
The quote, hand-painted on the office wall, back when I first started almost two years ago. It’s one of Alex’s favourites and it went a little something like this.
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
The quote serves as a reminder that we do care where we’re going. It also reminds us why it’s important that we care. Contently uses the analogy of a ship charting its destination. The Cheshire Cat knows this, in his own way, and we recognise it, too. It is the reason everything we do is planned and everything we do is working toward a singular goal. An editorial calendar facilitates this, giving you back control over your publishing schedule and your working day. Set up one correctly and you’ll be laughing.
This post is a summary of some of my personal experiences in content marketing. If you know somebody who might benefit from this post, please feel free to share it.