While there’s still a place for traditional advertising in a marketing campaign, such methods are increasingly struggling to drive sales. Your audience has changed, and customers now look for sincere and useful content that enriches lives and provides solutions, rather than simple marketing spiels. In fact, there’s a significant push-back against even seeing your ads. Approximately 25.8 percent of Internet users employed ad-blocking software to control their online experience in 2019, according to Statista.

As outbound marketing fails to achieve the desired results, more companies are turning to inbound content marketing and developing influencer marketing strategies. It’s hardly surprising, considering that content marketing generates three times the leads and costs 62 percent less than outbound alternatives, according to Content Marketing Institute.

However, a successful content marketing campaign takes more than uploading a few videos on social media when you have the time. A regimented calendar of content with defined publication dates, an overarching strategy and a brand message is a valuable tool. Here we discuss everything you need to know about creating a social media content calendar packed with high-quality content that works.

What Is a Content Calendar?

As with anything, content marketing is a skill you must develop. Anybody can write a blog or take a few photographs, but not everyone can make compelling content that speaks to an audience. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter how great the content is if poor planning means it ends up on the wrong platform or none of the right people get to see it. A content calendar is a way to organize content output to maximize reach, ensure campaign efficiency and get the best return on investment.

Definition

In simple terms, your content calendar is a publishing schedule, often created using a spreadsheet or time-management application. They plot in advance the course of your marketing campaign over a period of weeks or even months. In this way, you know what content you need to create and when to upload it. They help you define your brand message, manage each campaign you run, keep track of deadlines and monitor your marketing performance.

Using a Calendar

A calendar is an organizational aid. You use it in a variety of ways to improve your operational efficiency at all levels of your marketing system.

  • Defining your long-term marketing strategy: It’s a good idea to have a picture of your long-term objectives and overall marketing methodology. A social media content calendar lets you structure all of your campaigns for months or longer. You have the opportunity to set necessary wheels in motion and to develop your brand voice consistently.
  • Defining specific marketing campaigns: Within your long-term strategy you define individual marketing campaigns. These may be one-off pieces or a series of pieces covering a certain topic or covering specific time periods. Use the calendar to set a campaign’s start and stop points and subject matter, and to establish who is responsible for managing the campaign. You have time to run influencer discovery searches, reach out to talent and rent or purchase necessary equipment.
  • Defining details for specific content: Within a given campaign, determine how many pieces of content you intend to run, the subject matter, who is creating the content and the publication dates. You should also know what time of day to post and which social media platforms the content runs on.

Benefits of Content Calendars

There’s a strong argument for being flexible with your content schedule. The modern world moves quickly, and it’s important to take advantage of trending topics and hot subjects as they arise. You don’t want to be the only person in your field who isn’t talking about the next big thing. However, while adapting to the current market is a valuable strategy, it doesn’t forgo having a more organized and well-structured plan for your content output over time.

It takes a little extra time to get your schedule planned out, but the benefits are worth the effort. Consider these top reasons why a locked-down calendar has the potential to help your marketing campaigns succeed.

  • Organization: It’s amazing how quickly content creation and monitoring escalate. What starts with a single piece of content rapidly becomes a marketing system with daily updates across several social media platforms. A content calendar makes it possible to visualize what you’re trying to achieve. It’s easier to track everyday activities and long-term goals while juggling different social media platforms, content creators and campaigns.
  • Improved time management: Time management is essential for running an efficient marketing system that generates maximum returns on your investment. When you plan in advance you give yourself the breathing room to get things done without any last-minute scrambling and panicked phone calls. For example, if you know you’re posting five videos in the next month, it’s possible to shoot all of the content in a single day. This is a more efficient use of time; you only need to set up your equipment and organize staff once rather than five times.
  • Reduced costs: If you’re short on time, you may find you have to pay extra to freelancers or overtime to staff to get things done. Planning in advance means you have time to find competitive content creators or to get the work done within normal office hours. Furthermore, being organized means you’re in a strong position to utilize resources efficiently. Using the previous example of shooting five videos in one month, consider some of the costs involved: equipment rental, staffing, transport, location shooting, studio time and editing. It’s much more cost-effective to pay those costs just once.
  • Improved communication: While a content calendar is useful for individuals, it’s even more important when you have a team to manage. When your schedule is locked in, there’s no argument. Everybody knows what they have to do and when they should have it done. There’s significantly less risk of miscommunication, and therefore everybody works efficiently with defined deadlines.
  • Onboarding influencers and content creators: If you’re developing an influencer marketing strategy, you need time to research influencers you want to work with. By knowing what content you need well in advance, you have the time to do that research and then make contact with potential candidates.
    It’s possible to approach content creators with a proposal for what you want done, when you want it done and what your budget is. This helps negotiations run smoothly and makes you look professional. It’s important to make a good impression, as only 24 percent of influencers accept more than half the offers they receive, according to influence.co. A professional pitch with clear guidelines makes you look like a credible business partner.
  • Locking in important dates: You may think you aren’t likely to forget Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Christmas. However, these things have a tendency to creep up on you when you’re busy running your business. It’s well worth going through your calendar, identifying all of those important dates and considering what sort of holiday content you intend to post.
  • Promotions: Promotions often go hand-in-hand with important dates. If Cyber Monday is on the horizon, you know what kind of content you need and you have time to plan promotions accordingly. However, promotions don’t have to be tied in with major events and holidays. Scheduling regular promotions helps to generate interest in your brand while controlling stock levels of items that aren’t your bestsellers.
  • Relieving pressure: Creating content has the potential to cause a lot of stress. It’s very easy to let the amount of work involved get on top of you, but good planning minimizes the risk of burnout.
  • A consistent publishing schedule: Attracting viewers to your content is only half the battle. Once they’ve seen and enjoyed something you produced, you must ensure they’re going to come back for more. A consistent publishing schedule is a great way of making sure your fans never miss new content.
  • Keeping deadlines: If your fans are accustomed to your publishing schedule, you need to stick to it. Your calendar helps to ensure you’re always hitting your deadlines and keeping the fans happy.
  • Consistent brand messaging: A brand that flits from one hot topic to the next has no consistent message or voice. An overarching marketing schedule makes it possible to develop a consistent tone, defining your business identity and taking your viewers on a journey. Your audience develops an understanding of your style and isn’t bewildered by sudden shifts in presentation or subject matter. This has the potential to improve engagement; people are more likely to subscribe when they know what they’re getting.
  • Improved content mix: Good planning gives you the time to experiment with content of all types across all platforms. Rather than rushing to do whatever content is quick and easy, it’s possible to create long-form blog posts and detailed videos. You have extra freedom to develop and adjust your content mix.
  • Avoiding mistakes: Mistakes make your company look unprofessional and should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, generating content on the fly, often under extreme time pressure, creates a working environment where errors flourish. When you create work in advance you have extra time to double-check for common errors such as spelling mistakes and incorrectly titled videos.
  • Automated uploads: With your work edited and ready to publish, it’s possible to automate your upload schedule. For example, YouTube lets you prepare videos as drafts that are hidden from public view. Simply queue the content and set the time and date when you want it to become visible to your audience.
  • Record of what you’ve done: A content calendar isn’t just useful when looking to the future. It’s also a comprehensive review of what you’ve already done. You’re less likely to repeat yourself or create content similar to something you’ve already done because your calendar serves as a reminder.
  • Monitoring results: Proving the return on investment for content marketing is the top marketing challenge for 40 percent of companies, according to statistics published by Hubspot. Your calendar is a log of your marketing journey and makes it easier to establish your level of success across the different campaigns. The available data helps you to review what worked and what didn’t so you’re better able to build on your previous efforts with the next campaign.

Do You Need a Content Calendar?

If you’re a startup company or individual, creating a content calendar may seem like a lot of unnecessary effort. When it’s just you, it’s tempting to “wing it,” creating the content you want whenever you want. You’ve got a lot to do, and tying yourself down to strict publication deadlines may seem like a bit too much pressure. However, improved organization has the potential to help content creators and businesses of all sizes.

  • Individuals: Individual content creators are likely to be the people who feel the smallest need for a content calendar. However, when you have to spin all the plates by yourself, the more organization the better. A complete schedule helps to ease the pressure and gives you a complete view of what you need to do.
  • Small companies and startups: Small companies need to make their money go further. They can’t afford costly marketing mistakes, and they can’t afford to waste money through inefficiency.
  • Large organizations: Big companies may have to work with dozens of in-house authors, marketing teams, advertising agencies and independent influencers and freelancers. That’s a lot to keep track of, especially when big money is at stake.

Tools for Creating Content Calendars

Two perceived barriers to entry for creating a content marketing calendar are the time and cost involved, yet it doesn’t have to involve expensive tools. The most important thing is that you plan a schedule and use it to define how your marketing evolves. There are three main tools for creating the calendar. The best option for you depends on the size and maturity of your company and your personal marketing needs.

  • Wall calendars: If you’re a startup, small company or individual, there’s nothing wrong with doing things the old-fashioned way. With a simple wall calendar, year planner and diary, you have everything you need to start plotting how your marketing plays out. This is a low-cost solution for anyone on a budget, with the biggest hindrance being the difficulty in shifting your schedule around if required.
  • Spreadsheets: Chances are, the computer you’re using to write your blogs or edit your videos has some form of spreadsheet software installed. Something like Excel is incredibly easy to use and is a cost-effective way to store plans electronically. Spreadsheets are flexible, easy to set up and simple to adjust if you need to change your plans.
    The extra features such as the ability to add notes, collapse or expand rows of information and export data help to improve your overall efficiency. If you don’t know your way around the software, it’s something else you have to put time into learning, but the payoff is worth it.
  • Time-management software: Off-the-shelf and bespoke time-management programs are specifically designed for creating calendars and monitoring production. The additional features make it easier to set up your schedule and ensure you’re hitting all your targets. It’s also easier to grant access to important information to colleagues and employees, export data and improve overall communication in larger organizations. The biggest pitfall is the increased costs associated with purchasing and learning how to use the software.

Making a Content Calendar Work for You

Creating a content schedule involves understanding what to post and when to post it. By front-loading a lot of your decision-making, there’s a potential for campaigns to run smoothly and effectively. However, creating a content calendar isn’t a simple matter of jotting down what videos you intend to publish on each day. You need to carefully consider all aspects of your marketing and what you hope to achieve. Here are the steps involved in creating a calendar to ensure you get the best out of every marketing campaign.

1. Understand Your Marketing Goals

Before you begin any kind of marketing, you need to establish what your goal is. For most campaigns, the ultimate objective is to increase sales of products or services, but within that, specific content usually has a more defined purpose. Common goals include:

  • Breaking into a new market
  • Improving engagement with followers on social media
  • Generating leads
  • Gathering user feedback
  • Extending brand reach
  • Gaining recognition as a thought leader or industry professional

Knowing your key performance indicators (KPIs) helps to establish what kind of content you need to create. For example, if you’re gathering leads, a subscription-based newsletter is a good option. If you want to extend your brand reach, you may want to partner with an influencer who has a large, established audience. The KPIs also make it possible to calculate how successful your campaigns are. Without KPIs, you have no way of quantifying and verifying your data.

2. Establish Your Audience

Content isn’t created in a vacuum; you should always have a specific audience in mind. There are several good reasons for doing so:

  • Content that “speaks” to a specific type of person immediately feels more personal and engaging for those people. They feel like you’re talking with them, not around them. That encourages them to build a relationship with your brand.
  • Targeted content is easier to make because you have a better idea of what you should and shouldn’t include. After all, gaining the interest of middle-aged moms is different than gaining the interest of teenagers.
  • Certain social media platforms attract different types of users. If you’re targeting young professionals, you should focus your marketing efforts on platforms such as LinkedIn. If you want to create videos to entertain Millennials, then YouTube is a better option.
  • If you plan on working with influencers, it’s essential to know your audience. After all, you wouldn’t want to partner with a video game streamer with an audience of teenagers if you’re in the business of selling life insurance.

A good way to establish your audience is to mine your existing data. Sift through the records for everyone who has interacted with your company and look for recurring patterns and traits. You may find that a high percentage of your customers are single, middle-aged women with high-powered jobs or workers who own their own homes and have families.

As you identify customer traits, compile them to create a “persona.” A persona is a theoretical “average” customer, derived from the most commonly recurring traits. You may find you have several personas, one for each type of product you sell. When it’s time to create any content, always keep the persona firmly in your mind to guide your decision-making.

3. Select Social Media Platforms

If you know what your target audience is, then it’s relatively straightforward to decide which platforms to post on. When you’re selecting platforms, first think about the number and type of users. Suitable platforms support the form of content you create and have a user base matching your target audience demographic. Look at the following statistics from Statista and Hubspot to illustrate demographic segmentation:

  • Facebook: 2.414 billion users. The audience covers all age groups and is an almost equal split of men and women.
  • YouTube: 2 billion users. The audience accounts for 95 percent of all Internet users.
  • Instagram: 1 billion users. Seventy-one percent of the users are under the age of 35.
  • Twitter: 330 million users. There are almost four times as many international users as there are in the United States, making it a strong choice for international marketers.
  • LinkedIn: 310 million users. This is a platform for professionals. Users tend to check the platform every day, but only for a few minutes at a time, unlike other platforms where people browse for hours.
    Pinterest: 300 million users. Seventy percent of the users are female, and 80 percent use the platform on mobile devices.

In addition to selecting specific platforms, you should also consider what form the content takes. For example, on Instagram it’s possible to post still images and short videos. Furthermore, Instagram has Instagram Stories for content that vanishes after 24 hours and IGTV for videos up to an hour long. These features give you completely different ways to engage with followers. Take the time to research all of the formats a platform offers so you always know the best way to reach your target demographic.

4. Choose Content

The content you choose to create is essential for the success of your campaign. Here are some things to consider as you plan your strategy:

  • Run a social media audit: A deep dive into the analytics for past campaigns helps to establish trends and patterns that inform your decisions with your new calendar. Identify which content worked well, what platform it appeared on and at what time.
  • Run hashtag searches: Searching the Internet for trending hashtags in your field lets you know what topics are hot right now. It establishes what the competition is talking about and what you might need to add to your own schedule. Such searches are particularly helpful if you don’t have a lot of your own previous marketing campaigns to draw data from. Hashtag searches are also a useful tool for identifying influencers you may want to work with.
  • Use social listening tools: Hashtag searches are helpful. But for a more detailed understanding of current trends, thought leaders and influencers, use listening tools.
  • Remember your personas: As you’re running searches, keep in mind that you have a target audience. You’ve already created customer personas, so make use of that information when crafting content.
  • Plan a mix of content: You need to stay true to your brand message and have a consistent voice, but you don’t want to post cookie-cutter content. Consider a mix of formats, such as blogs, videos, long-form content and tweets. Change up the subject matter to keep things fresh. The right content mix for your company may not be immediately apparent. Keep track of audience reactions and feedback, and take that into account as you progress.
  • Remember important dates: Plan around holidays and sales days. You need to have suitable content ready to roll out for those big events.
  • Use curated content: Creating content isn’t quick or easy, especially if you’re running out of topics to discuss and there’s no big news to help you out. Fortunately, you don’t have to make everything you post. Curated content from related industries and companies is a useful way to keep up a steady stream of value-added content.
  • Encourage user-generated content: Letting users submit their own content is a fantastic way to ensure you always have new content while also building engagement with fans. Furthermore, user-generated content is honest. A recommendation from a genuine customer is much stronger than any advertisement; it’s a real opinion from someone who paid for the product or service.
  • Develop an influencer strategy: Working with influencers has numerous advantages. It grants access to a market of loyal fans who are likely to trust your brand because an influencer they trust has endorsed it. Furthermore, actual content creation is left to the influencer, which takes the pressure off your marketing team and adds variety to your content output.

Whatever content you create, remember the cardinal rule: Content should entertain and inspire, not sell. People don’t go out of their way to search for an ad. Content marketing encourages customers to engage with your brand because they’ve seen value in it. Answer questions, and establish yourself as a solutions provider.

Once potential customers trust you, they keep coming back to see new content. When they eventually decide to purchase a related product, they think of you first.

5. Define a Publication Frequency

The truth is, optimizing your social media use to extend your brand reach is exhausting for businesses of all sizes. The more platforms you incorporate into your strategy, the more you need to work to make sure people see and share your content.

But how often should you post on each social media platform? Ultimately, it depends on what kind of success you’re seeing in your own endeavors. You don’t have to use every social media platform, but for the ones you do use, the following guidelines are a useful starting point:

  • Twitter: At least three tweets per day
  • Instagram: At least one post per day
  • Facebook: At least one post per day
  • LinkedIn: One post per day
  • Pinterest: Five pins per day

While these figures represent an ideal minimum, it’s important to know that posting too frequently has diminishing returns. Sharing 20 images a day on Instagram may lessen the impact of your content and become a serious drain on your time and resources. If you want to share multiple images on Instagram, consider using a carousel post instead, which incorporates images and videos in an interactive slideshow.

Keep in mind that it’s possible to link certain platforms to recycle your content. For example, if you connect Facebook to your Instagram account, every time you post on Instagram the same content appears on Facebook. This is a useful tool to help you extend coverage for any given post while reducing your workload. However, it does mean you should avoid using terminology or hashtags in your posts that are specific to a particular platform.

Whatever frequency you settle on, it’s important to maintain it. You should also advertise it, such as including your publication schedule in your YouTube header. Consistent scheduling makes it easier for your fans to know when to expect new content. This increases return visits and gives your biggest supporters something to look forward to.

The downside to this is the added pressure of ensuring you always have fresh content to share. This is why it’s so important to plan your calendar well in advance. Fail to meet your publishing obligations and viewers will look elsewhere; after all, there’s no shortage of great content online.

6. Leave Room for Flexibility

Although you’re planning your content months in advance, don’t lose sight of the value of spur-of-the-moment content relating to breaking news or trending topics. Be flexible enough to rethink your content plan if something big happens that your fans expect you to cover.

You may need to slot in additional content or drop something you already planned to make space. You may want to reserve some spaces in your content schedule to cater to these unexpected stories. Just make sure you have some backup content to share on those slow news days when you don’t have anything else to report.

In addition to the flexibility to adapt to changing trends, you also need the flexibility to adapt to the reaction your marketing receives. If content falls flat or underperforms, it’s time for a rethink.

7. Test Strategies and Monitor

Data-driven marketing is important. It’s good to know you’re creating content on a foundation of knowledge that helps you to predict its success. However, sometimes you have insufficient data, or you want to try something completely different. In those cases you must rely on methodical testing.

Regardless of whether you’re testing new ideas or reimplementing tried and true formulas, always monitor your results. You should have established your KPIs before your campaign started, so you have a way to quantify your level of success.

Use the data to identify trends and patterns, and then act on that information. There’s no point sticking rigidly to your content marketing strategy if it isn’t getting the results you expect. Conversely, if content performs well, find ways to recreate that success.

Each new campaign you run is an opportunity to optimize the next one. The more campaigns you run, the more data you have to work with. Don’t be afraid to reuse content either. You’ve paid for that content, so it’s worth finding imaginative ways to reuse it. For example, if an influencer endorses your product, consider using quotes or video clips from that influencer in subsequent advertising.

Making Compelling Content

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “content is king.” It’s a valid statement. Having a well-crafted marketing calendar improves efficiency and communication, but none of that matters unless the content is good. It must be compelling enough to convince viewers to come back time and again or to discover more about your brand and your products. There are some simple guidelines to follow to ensure you write or produce content that keeps people hooked.

1. Be Original

Curated content and optimized old content have their place, but most of your content should be original. Put a new spin on an old theme, or come up with something truly unique to grab attention. Unique content is likely to do better in search engines and drive more click-throughs.

Additionally, if you give people something they’ve never seen before, then they’re more likely to share it around. That’s when content goes viral. The biggest problem with original content is finding the time and resources to produce it, which is why you need a content calendar.

2. Provide Solutions

Your content must be useful. Inbound marketing works on the basis that people are searching for your content. They’re looking for answers to specific questions that require specific answers. If someone searches for answers, but your content doesn’t provide them, then you cause frustration. That person isn’t going to look to you as a solutions provider in the future.

3. Be Entertaining

Content marketing is as much about entertainment as it is about answers. If you deliver content that’s fun, then it’s more likely people are going to engage with the message.

4. Use a Call to Action

Every piece of content should be actionable. After watching or reading, the user should know exactly what to do next. This may be clicking on a link to visit your website blog, entering an email address to subscribe to a newsletter or making a purchase.

5. Check for Errors

Errors make you look unprofessional and harm your reputation. Every piece of content must be checked and double-checked to confirm it’s as accurate as possible. Pay particular attention to:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Statistical accuracy
  • Citations
  • References

6. Use Videos and Images

Is a picture worth 1,000 words? Maybe. The human brain certainly finds it easier to recall images, so make use of them. Videos are a good way to express complicated processes, such as DIY guides, while images are more visually engaging. Mixing them with writing and audio ensures you’re hitting all the bases and giving viewers the best chance of understanding your message.

7. Be Engaging

It’s particularly important on social media to drive engagement with your audience. Platforms such as YouTube use the number of likes, dislikes and comments to evaluate how important your content is. High levels of engagement make the content more visible to other users. Improve engagement by encouraging viewers to get involved. Ask them questions, request they include feedback on what you’ve said and push for them to like and share.

Getting a Helping Hand

Developing a solid content marketing strategy with a comprehensive calendar, campaign rollout and contingencies isn’t easy. It takes time to develop the skills and knowhow to get the best out of campaigns. Fortunately, you don’t have to face these obstacles alone. There are many software platforms, marketplaces, freelancers and agencies on hand to assist.

If you have the budget but lack the resources to create your own marketing, a content marketing agency is worth consideration. Agencies offer different levels of service but are capable of handling all aspects of your marketing, including working with you to develop a viable calendar.

If a complete agency solution is beyond your grasp, working with freelancers is a good option. Some freelancers generate content for relatively small sums — and to a professional standard. This frees up your time to focus on the schedule and overall strategy.

If you want to work with influencers, then consider joining an influencer marketplace, such as IZEAx Discovery. Such marketplaces bring together opt-in content creators and marketers, helping with the initial influencer discovery searches and facilitating negotiations. Some marketplaces have hands-on solutions for payment and monitoring campaign results.

All of these tools offer differing levels of assistance to get your marketing on the right track. Do some research on available options and leverage skill sets that don’t exist within your own team.

Plan for Success

There’s an old saying: “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.” That may sound trite, or obvious, but it’s a well-used phrase for a reason. Having your content schedule planned out and written down helps you to define the direction you want to go. This may seem limiting, but rather than setting your schedule in stone, it makes it easier to identify mistakes and change course. Rather than getting bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae of content creation, you get to stand back and observe everything at once. Pain points become more evident, and your entire production system is easier to manage.

A social media content calendar is important if you work alone or have in-house creators. It’s absolutely essential as part of an influencer marketing strategy involving freelancers and outside content creators. Without a plan of action you increase the risk of communication errors, missed deadlines and low-quality content that doesn’t match up with your expectations. To help with planning, register with online marketing tools and software platforms such as IZEAx Discovery. Get things right at the planning stage, and you’re already on the right path to improving your marketing efforts.

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