Get inside any creative’s head and you’ll find a world of chaos. Breaking news, trending topics, customer pain points – the list is endless.
An editorial calendar is the key to creating order from this chaos. A solid content plan will not just feature story ideas. It will examine the purpose, channels and longevity of your content. It takes the data you have on your audience and turns it into a problem-solver, an educator or an incentive for new customers.
Why create a content calendar?
A content calendar is your guide for allocating time and resources over a given period. It offers a roadmap for creating content with long-term value, as opposed to, for example, reactively writing a last-minute blog post on a trending topic. It also helps to designate channels for different audiences and intentions.
The team at Contently divides content into two categories: pillars and topics. Some people call this stock and flow content. Pillar/stock content should be the cornerstone of your brand, discussing top-level issues. This may be ‘evergreen’ content, but it’s important to approach your pillars with a fresh perspective.
Topic/flow content are the sub-categories of these pillars. Let’s say a pillar is a long-form piece about SEO trends for 2020. A topic could be a shorter, tactical blog post explaining one trend in more detail.
Put your data to good use
Your data is key to making an impact.
At the top level, you should distribute pillar ideas evenly across your chosen time period. Within these various blocks, you can then examine individual topics in greater depth.
But what about audiences, channels and purpose?
Study the data you have to discover how your audience engages with your content. For example, you might find that video content performs better on social media. If so, you could start with a 60-second video summary of a broader topic, which you can explore further in a long-form blog post.
Likewise, you might find that certain content resonates with one audience more than another. Decision-makers and senior executives, say, might be more likely value a white paper over an infographic.
Define your content’s purpose
Not all content is created equal. That’s why we have evergreen and topical content. In this context, both pillars and topics can come under the evergreen umbrella.
While pillars make you a thought leader, topics address your audience’s questions. Evergreen content addresses a common pain point for your customers, offering a solution that is unlikely to change. Such content could include how-to guides, long-form explanatory blog posts or instructional videos.
The benefit of evergreen content is long-term SEO value. Your customers are also more likely to convert when you present yourself as an authority on a topic.
Evergreen content has noble intentions but, alas, it’s not sexy. You can plan evergreen content months in advance and see a steady stream of high-value customers. But it’s not likely to make you go viral. If that’s your content’s purpose, then topical and more reactive content is the way to go.
The value of topical/reactive content is that it encourages discussion in the short term. For a brief time, this means you may see more website hits or brand awareness.
Naturally, social media is a great way to light this fuse. See, for example, how other top food brands reacted to the news of Piers Morgan’s ire at Greggs’ vegan sausage roll. Better still, look at Channel 4’s reaction to complaints from viewers, which attracted 70,000 likes on Twitter in 48 hours.
The Contently team call these reactions the ‘weeds’ of your content.
Always leave gaps in your content plan for topical content. Certainly, we can’t predict the news. But we can predict seasonality and the scope for stories in the short term, so keep that in mind when creating your content calendar.
Scheduling your content
Timing is everything with content planning. When scheduling, avoid media-frenzy events such as general elections or royal weddings. Conversely, be prepared to talk about hot topics when the time is right – such as national conferences that attract media attention.
Plan your resources
It’s best to plan one to three months, rather than a year, in advance. Markets might change, product launches might be delayed or your staff might leave. Schedule meetings to discuss where topics fit into your pillars, then assign a percentage of resources to each channel.
Let’s say your pillar is web development and the topic is UX. Assign 75 per cent of your resources to three long-form blog posts and 25 per cent to a short explanatory video.
Leave the stories until last
Leaving gaps in your calendar serves a bigger purpose than you might think. Inspiration might strike suddenly, or a competitor might get to something first that merits a response. Subscribe to industry updates and keep your eyes open for any last-minute topical ideas. You might even be inspired to write about your own personal experiences.
Be flexible. And have a Plan B for when the inevitable obstacles hit.
But wait… will my content last forever?
You’ve probably seen the ubiquitous ‘how long does content last?’ infographic floating around the internet. But the truth is a little more complicated than this suggests.
It’s important to remember that, while your content will last, its impact won’t.
So schedule your campaigns with this in mind. For example, a Black Friday promotion should have maximum hits for a limited number of days. Reactive, topical content is ideal for this. Look at the SERPs for topical content around events such as these and emulate their style.
Deep-dive content, on the other hand, will last much longer. A large-scale scientific study, say, might be the first of its kind, so a post about it will retain interest for a while. You can also plan for expiry dates by researching the release dates of new studies/movie openings/anything else that will render older content irrelevant. Use this information as a springboard for your updated content. You’ve covered the pillar theme – now refresh it and see what’s new.
- Prepare for a mix of evergreen and topical content, using seasonal data to plan reactive pieces.
- Always consider intention and shape content accordingly.
- Use existing data to determine the best channels for different audiences.
- Schedule three months in advance and be flexible.