How to Get Started Using a Content Calendar
It’s a new year, which means it’s the perfect time to get organized!
One of the tools that we use to stay on track throughout the year — and can help change the way your business performs — is the content calendar. Maybe you aren’t quite sure how to leverage the use of a content calendar for your business, or maybe you’re thinking it just sounds like more work than it’s worth. Trust us when we say that the return on your investment of time and planning will be 10-fold.
Read on to find out how crucial creating — and abiding by — a content calendar is to running an efficient business. We’ll teach you how to create your content calendar, explain why it matters and, of course, teach you about the most important factor of all: measuring the response (i.e. data!).
This is a good data project to start with to get your feet wet, and when you’re ready to dive in whole-heartedly, we’re ready to help you level up your data collection skills by signing up for our Know Your Data course. There’s a reason people are spreading the gospel of Virtual Collective — the proof is in the data!
There is a reason Seth Godin calls content marketing “the only marketing left.” Content is the most authentic, useful and affordable marketing for the internet age today. In 2019 consumers and followers are expecting you to know what they want to see on their feeds and in their inboxes. The busier (and more distracted) everyone gets, the less time they have for content that provides zero value. The responsibility is on the business owner to not only understand intimate details about your target customer but to consistently deliver information that will get them to engage with your brand … AND buy your stuff.
So where does one begin?
The first step in getting strategic about your content is to make sure everyone on your team knows your customer persona(s) inside and out. (Do NOT skip this step! If you do not have a customer persona figured out yet, please stop and go read this blog post and this one too before doing this exercise, then come back and learn more about content calendars. It will make your life a lot easier, promise!) Once everyone is clear on your customer persona, it’s time to create content that you know your customers will find valuable and that is in line with your brand. After all, if you are going to persuade people to buy your stuff, then you are going to have to do more than schedule a few random posts and tweets on any given day; you need to show that you’re an authority on whatever topic your business deals with, and you need to establish that level of trust with your customers.
To ensure that you’re creating content that your customers find relevant, we recommend you create three or four different “buckets.” These buckets are essentially categories that help you stay focused on the content you create. If you’re considering writing a blog post or scheduling something for Facebook if it doesn’t fit within one of your pre-established “buckets,” then it’s likely not 100% relevant to your brand, and therefore, it’s not relevant to your customer base.
To be clear, “content” is any type of material you publish, whether it’s an article on your blog, a post on Facebook, an e-newsletter, or even a retweet that you find relevant for your audience. With that understanding in mind, it’s important to organize all of the content you plan to publish, whether created or curated, in one central location where you can organize all these moving parts. That is what is called a content calendar. Think of it as a blueprint to organize and map out every single piece of content you intend to publish for any given period of time — from Instagram posts to blog posts. Create a content calendar for each month, quarter or even year, and you’ll quickly see a common thread weaving together your brand’s message. It’s actually quite spectacular to see it all come together.
Okay, so we’ve established what a content calendar is, but how do you go about organizing it?
There are any number of ways to skin this cat. There are paid tools, marker boards and everything in between. At Virtual Collective, we use a shared spreadsheet in Google Drive that is available to all of our team members who create content and contribute to content planning. Since the spreadsheet lives in the cloud and we largely work remotely, this approach allows us to be collaborative while providing a repository for any plans and ideas. By using tabs, we can organize by month, and within each tab, we can organize by day, allowing us to map out and account for all social posts, blogs posts, newsletters and the like. This calendar will help you establish a consistent publishing rhythm, and eventually, you will be able to determine what is working and what is not — when do people most respond to your posts, and when do you hear crickets. And why is that important? Because in order to capture the largest audience for the message you’re looking to send to your audience — sales, promotions, special announcements, etc. — you’ll want to make sure you’re publishing at the most well-read time based on the data you’re collecting from previous publishing times.
[icon name="arrow-circle-right" class="" unprefixed_class=""] Here's an example
If you have planned out your week’s worth of content, and you have your weekly newsletter coming out on Thursday, you’ll want to plan a social post a few days earlier encouraging people to sign up for your newsletter. That way you’re letting your audience know you have something they’ll want to receive.
[icon name="arrow-circle-right" class="" unprefixed_class=""] Here's Another Example
If your business deals with women’s health, then wouldn’t it make sense to publish something on National Women’s Health Day, thus showing your hip to the awareness day, your a relevant member of the women’s health community, and you have important, on-topic information to share with your followers?
Those are the things that keeping a content calendar will help you prepare — and plan — for.
Identify your audience.
According to Entrepreneur.com, “Reaching out to people who are more likely to be interested in your brand is not only more cost-efficient; it’s also more sustainable and less time-consuming. Consumers do not want businesses to gloss over them; they seek legitimate trust and genuine relationships.” Gone are the days of half-assing your content. Your customers are expecting content that speaks to them. They shop with brands that understand who they are and where they are in their life. Before you can plan out your content, you have to understand who is digesting. When you define your customer persona, you will not only get the basics like gender, age, location, but you will also get to know their beliefs, their fears, and their buying habits. Now think about what type of content will motivate them to buy what you are selling.
Identify your channels.
Not all customers are on all social media channels. Some people are only on Instagram, or some decision makers only keep up to date with LinkedIn. And what about Pinterest? And don’t forget about Facebook — love it or hate it, you still may want to be present in that play space. You still need to put a minimum amount of effort to make sure your business page is up to date with current and relevant content. However, you can’t ignore the power of Facebook’s algorithm. That being said, you can schedule out your FB and Twitter channels with relevant articles and blog posts that are informative and still speak to your customer, but you might want to spend your creative energy on keeping your Instagram account the main point of social contact. In order to know what channels to focus on, you have to pay attention to the data. There are tons of articles you can refer to that will tell you the demographics for each channel.
Identify your “buckets.”
What can your audience expect from you? Based on our customer persona and what posts have had the most engagement over the past couple of years for us, we have identified the following “buckets” into which every single piece of content we create should be able to fit:
- Online courses/digital services
- Women in business
- Small Business
- Organic Sales Marketing
- Data collection/Use
Schedule, publish, promote, track, and tweak your content.
Now that you think you have the right content for your customer and are posting to the right channels, now you can test your efforts. Try publishing at different times of the day, and measure the response. Try being direct with your call to actions for some posts, and see how your audience reacts. See how your customers respond to different content types and don’t forget to play around with video. When you know what you are looking for, reading the Insights and reports gets a lot less intimidating.
Monthly Planning Calendar
Planning your social media posts and paid campaigns, email campaigns, blog publishing schedule, and events is a lot for one person to keep up with, let alone keeping a whole team on the same page. That’s where the Monthly Planning Calendar comes in. Your calendar will give you and your team a snapshot of everything going on with your brand in order to plan out your content accordingly.
If you have been blogging at all, you are probably sitting on a lot of content that can be repurposed and republished. We like to have a repository of all blogs with the publish date to review each month. If a previous post feels relevant to the type of content you are pushing in that given month, this list allows us to decide if enough time has passed so we can repromote it.
When reading articles throughout the week, any blogs or posts that are relevant for our audience go into the article repository. We have our articles organized based on our content themes, or “buckets,” so we can space out our content consistently across all channels.
Now can you see how a content calendar is incredibly useful?
We really believe in this strategy and have seen it become a valuable tool not only for us but for our clients as well. So, we have done a lot of the work for you and created a FREE template for you to download and fill in for your brand! (Woohoo!)
Be sure to take the time to fill in the content on all of the tabs. After you use your calendar to strategize and organize your content (and actually follow said plan for a couple of months), you’ll be ready to start looking at the data your strategic planning has generated.
Sign up below to receive our Content Calendar Template for FREE!
Time to Review Your Stats
Have you ever downloaded a report from Mailchimp or actually looked at the Insights on your Instagram account? Well, those numbers can tell you a lot more than just who liked what. Those metrics matter. Once you get more strategic about delivering your content, you will increase your odds of engagement with people who have a high likelihood of becoming customers.
But… Why are They leaving?
If you start to notice people unsubscribing from your various accounts, don’t panic. Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing because it means your audience is aligning itself to your message. You don’t want people around who don’t care about what you are publishing because they aren’t ever going to buy what you are selling, right? A more targeted list is way more valuable than a large number of followers and subscribers. The cliche is true: “It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.” You want to clean out the naysayers and invest in building out your community of believers in your product or service. It’s okay to lose some followers and email subscribers if it means that the ones who choose to stay are more willing to like, share, tag and talk about your brand. THOSE are the people who are worth your time and attention.
Once you have set up your content calendar and are publishing content according to a schedule, take a look at those reports and pay attention to your likes, engagements and new newsletter subscribers. On the posts that are getting the most engagement, what time were those posts published, and who was engaging with them? This is data that you can use, even if only a few clicks here and there, to help you discover clues about your customers and how to provide content that will help them the most. Oh, and by the way? Now you can call yourself a data collector. Yep! When you pre-plan your content, ensure it’s in line with your brand, publish regularly and measure the response, you’ll soon be able to get a very clear picture of your audience, and you’ll also be able to tweak accordingly.
The bottom line is this: you can do all this work, but if you don’t have a deep-rooted understanding of your company’s value proposition and a solid understanding of your customer persona, it’s a futile effort — you’re just sending random information into cyberspace. So do the foundational work first. Sign up for our introductory course, “Intro to Data Collection,” and we will walk you through all of that. When you’re ready to begin your journey into data collection, you’ll quickly (and finally!) see the power of understanding your audience and measuring what matters to your business.
I have completed the first few lessons, and oddly want to savor them! I learned so much in the first hour, and am motivated to invest the time to apply these steps to my own business.
– Angie Li, UX Specialist + Researcher