A content calendar might be the backbone of a majority of successful content marketing programs, but the mere existence of one certainly isn’t a guarantee of success. Just like backbones, some are strong and some are… well, weak.
So what does it take to create a healthy, functional content calendar that’s going to set you up to win? The chances are it’s going to be something more than a few half-baked ideas scribbled down on a company notepad. A good content calendar takes some planning. It also requires a fair bit of ongoing maintenance.
A content calendar is essentially a framework for content production. At a bare minimum, it needs to cover off the ‘what’ and the ‘when’ of the content you intend to produce. Ideally though, it will go further and outline the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ – that is, who is the target audience for each piece of content, and what is its objective?
The following list has been compiled from my own observations of some of the most common culprits in bringing a well-intentioned content calendar undone.
1. The plan got parked in a spreadsheet
A spreadsheet is the ideal starting point for the development of content ideas, objectives, target audiences and publication dates, but don’t leave all your hard work there to die. Once you’ve decided which ideas to go ahead with, these should then be transferred into something with high visibility, like a Google calendar or a dedicated content calendar tool. Your spreadsheet should not be completely abandoned at this point. Keep it handy as you may find you need to refer back to ideas that didn’t quite make it onto your calendar when you need to reschedule something, or your content priorities change.
2. It was too ambitious
A content calendar needs to reflect the resources you have at your disposal. It’s all well and good to have a plan to punch out three social media posts a day and a blog post every other day, but if you don’t have someone dedicated to producing content, your plan is probably destined to fail. You need to be realistic about how much you can produce in-house with the resources you have. If you really need to produce that much content, think about outsourcing some of it.
3. It wasn’t based on well-defined objectives
Content without a purpose is not content marketing, it’s just content. Before you set out to create a content calendar, you need to be clear on why you want to produce content in the first place. Is it to position your company as an expert in ‘service x’? Is it to attract a particular type of customer or client? Maybe it’s about enticing people to visit in-store. Without a clear set of objectives, you’ll have no ‘compass’ to guide your content production and no way of benchmarking success.
4. Results weren’t being measured
Keeping up with a content calendar takes work. It’s natural to want to see some sort of reward for that effort. If you don’t really know whether you’re reaping the rewards of what you sow, it’s hard to keep up the motivation to continue. Regularly measuring your results will not only keep you motivated, it’ll highlight where you need to put your focus to maximise your return on investment.
5. The distribution strategy was too narrow
Even more demotivating than not knowing whether your content is working, is actually knowing it’s not. A good content calendar will encompass a channel strategy that includes distributing primary content across a range of platforms like social media, email marketing, paid amplification, traditional PR, and open blogging platforms like Medium or Ghost. It should also include focus keywords to optimise reach through search. It takes time to produce good content. If you’ve got it, milk it!
6. It wasn't being regularly reviewed and adapted
It’s easy to fall behind with a content calendar, especially if your custodians of content also have other responsibilities on their plate. Organisational priorities also inevitably change and evolve. If you don’t schedule in time to periodically review and adapt your content calendar, it will eventually lose relevance and be cast aside.
7. There were too many cooks in the kitchen
Even if you have a team of people working on content production, there needs to be one person who is nominated to oversee the program, and one central content calendar – otherwise things can get messy. If you are finding that different teams are going off and creating their own versions of the content calendar (resulting in a disjointed patchwork of scheduling), you may want to consider using a content calendar tool like CoSchedule or Mintent, that has been specifically designed to facilitate content collaboration.
At Luminary, we’ve experimented with a number of content tools but in the end we have come back to our trusty Google spreadsheet in combination with a Google calendar. Ideas from the spreadsheet that we decide to run with are migrated into the Google calendar. While we have customised the spreadsheet for the purposes of content marketing, we must give a hat tip to Thom Gibson for the original spreadsheet which allows you to merge spreadsheet data into a Google Calendar.
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