Do you write, film, broadcast, or design for content marketing? If so, how often has a deadline appeared seemingly out of nowhere? We all know the feeling: your time has suddenly run out and you’re left with nothing to do but force out a piece of content just to avoid disaster.
An editorial calendar is an organizational tool that has been used in traditional media for over a century and it is one of those things that separates the pros from the amateurs. Unless you are some sort of blog post virtuoso (is there such a thing?) you will need to learn to write an effective editorial calendar.
An editorial calendar, broadly speaking, is a plan for what you will write and post about over a given period of time. It’s a roadmap for your content and the guiding ledger for everything you create.
Conceptualizing Your Calendar
The first question you should ask yourself when you start work on an editorial calendar is, “What is my main objective in the time this calendar covers?” What are you trying to achieve with your blog? Think of your editorial calendar as similar to an outline for a blog post or article, but on a larger scale. In the same way you would outline an argument you outline your content goals. Add to that a time frame and you get an editorial calendar.
What To Include
Different organizations format their calendars in different ways, and yours will ultimately be in at least in some way unique to your workflow. However, all good editorial calendars share similar elements:
- List of Content: This list includes two types of content. The content you will produce in the calendar period and the existing content that will be developed further or repacked and redeployed for your audience. This should cover all media you deal with, blogs, videos, etc.
- Creators: with each piece of content you include, list the people responsible for creating it. Depending on the size of your operation this creator pool will vary but organize your content by them people responsible for it – even if it’s just you.
- Content Creation Dates: This first subset of dates will indicate when each piece of content will be completed. The “due date” for you or your staff in other words. This is different than the delivery date.
- Content Publishing Dates: This second subset of dates shows when you will publish the content or release it to the public. By carefully coordinating these dates you can create a more effective output.
- Next Steps, Action Points: Once You’ve released your content hopefully your target audience will see it and respond to it. That is why your editorial calendar should include next steps for you and your staff to act on the responses to a piece.
- Channels: Finally, it is necessary to include a list of all the media channels – social media, blogs, websites such as YouTube, et al – each piece of content will be published on.
Understanding Your Output
Beyond the broad strokes of what you should include in your editorial calendar you should be realistic about what you or your team can achieve. If you write out a lengthy calendar that sets goals higher than you can reach you may find you abandon it quickly. Likewise, if you plan content that is too easy for you to achieve then using the editorial calendar might not seem worthwhile to you. Before you work from an editorial calendar you should understand your output. Try writing short week or two-week calendars to start. Set goals for content creation and do your best to achieve them. You will quickly learn what is the appropriate work load. Once you have some experience in the shorter-term calendar you can work on a longer one with the confidence that it will be a useful tool to drive your content production.
Formatting Your Calendar
You have a handle on your output and you know what information you need in the calendar, now you need to organize it in a way that is effective. There are hundreds of approaches to this, but all share common themes. In a spread sheet you should create separate columns for content delivery dates vs publishing dates. It is common for each element of a piece of content to be planned out and indicated in the calendar. These include items such as:
- Title of content
- Description of content (what it will address)
- Keywords to use, including keyword density
- Meta description and meta tags
- Tags and categories (how this piece relates to others you are creating)
- Status of content
- Venue (where it will be published)
- Publish date
It is a good idea to start broad and add depth. This may mean you have one editorial calendar that visualizes a year of content in broad strokes, a quarterly calendar that goes into more detail, and a monthly calendar that goes into the depth of the list above. Beyond that you can get really organized with even more specificity. Your team can maintain individual calendars that link to the main calendar wherein they schedule out individual tasks they need to perform to reach the goals set for their content output. This amounts to a focused day planner that can be as specific as segmenting the work day into hourly increments and tasks to be completed, or simply marking specific days that specifies which assets will be completed.
How and when you decide to publish your content is an important element in creating your editorial calendar. Before you set dates in any given month, take note of the dates of importance within that month. If you create weekly vlogs about current events in politics, it makes sense to prepare content to be published on the dates of elections or policy decisions. Similarly, if you write a tech blog you should plan your content calendar around the major releases from companies such Microsoft and Apple and keep an eye on the startup world. Leading up to those high impact dates you can plan for supplemental content to increase engagement for the marquee events.
You should view events like these – elections, holidays, anniversaries, trade shows, important industry events– as tent pole items to plan the rest of your content around. It can be a powerful organizational tool.
The Idea Tab
Every editorial calendar should include an extra tab or sheet for anyone involved in your content creation so that they may write down ideas for content. Inspiration is fickle. When’s the last time you had a brilliant idea come to you when you were sitting in front of a keyboard primed and ready? The reality is you’ll probably be standing in line at the grocery store when that genius lightning strikes. Having access to a repository for your ideas means when it’s time to plan out the next quarter of content you won’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time brainstorming ideas but will have a sort of well to draw from to fill out your content needs.
If you’re ready to get started on your own editorial calendar, there are a plethora of excellent tools available. Three of the most popular are CoSchedule, Trello, and Google Sheets. Both Trello and Google Sheets are free online tools and CoSchedule offers powerful organizational tools for a monthly fee. Find which works for you and start your first calendar. You may be surprised at how much you can get done.