Unless you’re a creative genius, creating content from scratch can be a daunting task. A 2017 report showed that 65% of marketers struggle with producing engaging content, with 60% finding it difficult to produce content consistently.
For the uninitiated, it’s a process that may involve desperately scouring trending memes and hashtags for a relevant topic. These marketers will quickly realize that fresh, shareable content capable of successfully bolstering a brand’s marketing efforts is rarely the product of last-minute inspiration.
Fear not, for a content calendar can come to the rescue. No longer will content creation be a brain-racking challenge. Instead, consider it an enjoyable, productive process. Here’s everything you need to know (and keep reading for a free content calendar template to help you get started!).
What Is a Content Calendar?
Think of a content calendar as a visual schedule with all your upcoming content mapped out and organized. Marketers typically include handy information, such as status updates, important deadlines, and links to resources. (Don’t worry: we’ll go over these later.)
Why Should I Build a Content Calendar?
- See the big picture: It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of day-to-day content production. A content calendar will help anchor your creative nuggets to a broader marketing strategy.
- Post consistently: Gone are the days of dedicated daily blogging, followed by months of radio silence. By scheduling content — sometimes months in advance — you can keep your audiences engaged over a period of time.
- No more last-minute panicking: Organizing upcoming content allows you to revise and refine your work in advance (and catch those sneaky typos).
- More creative bandwidth: With your day-to-day posting covered, you can jump on topical events with reactive content — such as tweeting risqué jokes to Netflix — with no productivity loss.
How Do I Create My Own?
Conquer the intimidatingly blank screen with this step-by-step approach for building an effective content calendar:
1. Develop a content strategy
Remember: a content calendar is merely a tool for implementing your content strategy. So, take a moment to review your overall marketing plan. What goals are you trying to achieve by creating content? Are you trying to generate leads? Improve brand awareness? Who is your target audience?
Then, decide what platforms you’re going to tackle. Instead of jumping on the latest social media bandwagon, ask yourself: Is my audience really on Instagram Reels? Can I successfully disseminate information on these platforms, especially if I’m limited to 15-second videos or 280-characters? Make sure you fully understand each platform, from demographics to strategies to best practices, before you make a decision.
If you have time, complete a content audit. Review old posts to see if you can spot any trends. Which ones went viral compared to those that received minimal engagement? Does your audience love behind-the-scenes sneak peeks? Are they uninterested in your #MondayMotivation inspirational quotes? These insights will help you figure out what is working and what needs improvement.
Even better, review your competitors’ content as well, with a critical eye toward those audience interactions.
For more on how to build your content strategy:
2. Decide what your content calendar will look like
A content calendar can be as straightforward or complicated as you make it — from a simple spreadsheet to a colorful dashboard with dozens of tabs and links.
When choosing where your calendar will live, think about what features you want to prioritize. For solo marketers, it might be usability and simplicity. For those working in a large team, it might be collaboration and progress tracking because the last thing you need is to be bombarded by Slack messages about status updates. Your content calendar should be intuitive, easily accessible, and reliable so your whole team can access information, resources, and key dates.
Here are some of our recommended tools:
- Google Calendar (or any calendar tool, really): If you’re a one-stop-shop business, a simple calendar with space to jot down notes might suffice.
- Google Sheets: All you have to know is it’s simple, good for collaboration, and free. Roll out the colored cells, tabs, and drop-down menus.
- Asana, Trello, Slack: These are project management and communication tools, but with a bit of creativity and patience, they can easily be used for content calendar purposes. Note: upgraded subscriptions may be required to access functionalities like timelines.
- Hootsuite: For social media content calendars, Hootsuite is the way to go. You can even publish directly from the calendar.
3. Create your content buckets
You’ve got your strategy and your calendar. What’s next? Before you start brainstorming next week’s posts, create your content buckets, which are umbrella themes that support your marketing strategy.
If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry: You can design content buckets based on the trifecta of marketing — education, entertainment, and inspiration. Educational posts could include how-to guides, case studies, or e-books. Entertaining content might be vlogs, employee interviews, or user-generated content. And finally, inspire your audience with thought leadership posts, community awareness, and even listicle round-ups.
For more ideas on different types of content:
It’s time to unleash your creative beast. For each of your content buckets, start brainstorming ideas for specific topics, as well as their formats. Are they blog posts, podcasts, images, or videos? Pro tip: You likely have more content than you think. Instead of struggling to come up with a hundred new ideas, repurpose that old e-book into infographics, quotes, explanatory videos, and beyond. A single piece of content can easily transform into a dozen other formats for different platforms.
5. Plug your ideas into the calendar
Here comes the fun part: filling up that empty calendar with the majestic ideas you just developed.
But first, decide on your posting cadence. Though there are differing opinions about the right frequency for social media posting, everyone agrees that the best practice is to post as consistently as possible. You want your audiences to eagerly expect, say, your #ThursdayThoughts musings.
Here are some recommendations on what to add in each calendar item:
- Post title
- Date and time of posting
- Target audience
- Content bucket category
- Links to supporting images, videos, and downloadables
As you’re populating your calendar, be sure to space out topics so you’re alternating between content buckets. Don’t forget to add relevant holidays and seasonal events as well, so you can anticipate key dates, such as National Avocado Day, and generate content in advance.
If you’re dealing with complex pieces, we recommend taking the time to schedule the creation process into your content calendar. By adding deadlines for writers to hand off copy to designers, dates for internal reviews, and other workflows, your calendar will double as a convenient project plan. Consider it a win-in.
Angie is the Content Marketing Manager at AdRoll. Prior to AdRoll, she was a Content Writer at various digital marketing agencies. A writer by day and a reader by night, Angie’s other hobbies include cooking and learning useless movie trivia.