The biggest problem most blogs face is consistency.
Consistency means not only how often you publish content, but what kind of content you publish. It's difficult to keep up with content creation and stay on track with those topics that your audience cares most about without losing sight of what your brand and blog is all about.
The only tool that can make consistency happen, in the long term, is an editorial calendar. It is the only way that you can effectively combine ideation, publishing, and team workflow into one.
Here's how to turn your editorial calendar into a well-oiled machine.
Finding Content For The Editorial Calendar
If an editorial calendar is like a puzzle, then you can’t put the puzzle together without having the pieces on hand first. It’s helpful to have ideas, topics, themes, and content types ready to go so that you can plug them into your calendar during your planning meetings.
Topics and ideas. We’ve previously talked about a few ways that you can find great content ideas, using everything from Google’s autofill to doing specific searches on social media networks. Another tactic is to use brainstorming techniques, a finely tuned RSS reader, or curated social profiles.
There are other great places to find ideas for your editorial calendar, too, particularly if you aren’t new to the web and have a little track history to put to use:
- Reviewing data from your website to see what readers are interested in.
- Social data that shows what posts and topics get the most engagement.
- Referring to buyer personas to see what problems your readers need help with.
- Talking to your support staff to see what questions or comments customers often have.
You’re looking to compile a list of both specific headlines as well as broad topical themes. These will be fine-tuned later, as the planning gets underway.
Types of content. You can plan to create different types of content, such as:
- blog posts (which can be broken down into further types, such as list posts, interviews, or how-to)
- online courses
Ensuring that you're publishing different types of content is a great way to extend a single topic and get more mileage out of a solid idea. It’s going to make your job easier in the long run.
Important note: You may want to combine your annual calendar planning meeting with broad idea generation since, as I’ll explain next, they go well together.
Adding Your Content to The Editorial Calendar
Once you know what kind of content you’ll be publishing, it’s time to plug it into your editorial calendar. When it comes to setting up your publishing schedule, you’ll take a four-pronged approach—annually, monthly, weekly, and daily.
Annually: Planning an annual editorial calendar gives you a big-picture view of your content. Thinking about the coming year helps you map out broad themes and plan for specific events or holidays. Think of the annual plan as the foundation for your editorial calendar, so make note of:
- Holidays and commemorative months
- Industry or niche events. (e.g. conferences)
- Brand events (e.g. product launches)
- Broad themes you want to cover (e.g. in January your content will focus on resolutions, changes, and reviewing the previous year’s success)
- Specific content campaigns
- Labor-intensive content types (e.g. ebooks, email autoresponders, classes, videos)
You’ll notice that trends aren’t on this list. It's difficult to plan for trends on the annual calendar, since they tend to flash up and die away without advance notice. Not all content pieces should follow a strict yearly schedule, but the structure is particularly helpful when writer’s block hits.
If finding ideas is proving difficult, it might be easier to lay out your annual calendar first, go through the ideation process mentioned at the start of the post, and then move onto the monthly calendar.
Monthly: Planning a monthly calendar allows for a bit more fine-tuning than the annual plan you’ve created. Monthly calendar planning helps you map out which team members will be writing specific content pieces, which themes will fit into the larger yearly plan, and which headlines or topic ideas work best. Your monthly schedule will plan for things like:
- Twitter chats or Periscope campaigns
- Brand promotions and sales
- Content campaigns
It’s a good idea to work at least a month ahead, particularly if you have a large team, a high-rate publishing schedule, or complex content pieces. They take time to execute.
Weekly: The weekly editorial schedule is the detailed plan. This definitely has the upcoming topics and headlines, and you probably want your team members to be working a week or two ahead by providing outlines or some summary content for what they’ll be writing. Your weekly schedule will include:
- Specific blog posts, with headline
- Trends you’ve observed on social media
- Which team members will create the content
Flexibility at the weekly level is important, particularly when it comes to trends. If you’re so locked into a specific schedule that you have no room to capitalize on appropriate trending topics on social media, your editorial calendar is hurting you.
Daily: Your daily schedule is a bit different than the previous three. It consists mainly of the times of day when blog posts and individual social messages are posted, with specifics based on what you planned at the weekly level. It is more of a repeatable timetable that you apply to specific days throughout the week. I’ll talk about that more in the next section, since it mostly applies to social media publishing.
Choosing Your Publishing Frequency
How frequently you publish content is based on two things: your audience and your capabilities.
When it comes to your audience, you have to know when they are online, and when they are most likely to read and engage with your blog. That will help you understand how much new content you should publish on your blog each week, how much new social content you should publish each week, and how much social promotion of that original content should happen each day.
All of that is limited, however, by what you and your team can handle. If your readers want five new blog posts a week, but you can only feasibly create three, you should publish three with an eye towards growing your calendar to five. A well-planned calendar can stretch three original pieces of content into five by how it is shared on social media as far as changing the format and the context.
When you review your editorial calendar, publishing frequency should be on the list of things to assess. Your audience and your team will change over time.
Plugging In Social Content
Social content on your editorial calendar consists of two types, each of which will be handled in a slightly different fashion.
Stand-alone social content
Each piece of stand-alone social content is unique on its own. It's the content centerpiece, and is not merely publicizing a blog post or other content found elsewhere. Think of the popularity of graphics with words and quotes on them, Vine videos, or Periscope events.
While stand-alone social content might be part of a larger campaign, it should be planned as an individual piece of content. Its publishing schedule is not based on any previously published content.
Blog-related social content
Blog-related social content is the social post that is publicizing your blog content. These are meant to keep engagement and traffic alive for larger content pieces, and their publishing schedule will be more regular and in reference to whenever a larger content piece goes live.
Team Communication And Workflow
Most people are aware of how an editorial calendar can help create better and more regular content, and they can easily understand how to plug content into a calendar. The tricky part is getting the team to use that calendar.
Your calendar lives and dies on hitting publishing dates and times, and a single piece of content rarely involves a single person. Most often you have writers, editors, designers, and videographers, to name a few. Your team also has early birds and procrastinators and folks who bend rules a bit.
Regular content meetings or communication
Just as there are different levels of detail to your editorial calendar plan, you will need to meet with your content team leaders to cover those levels. You’ll need a meeting at the start of the year to plan the annual calendar, a monthly meeting to plan the upcoming 30 days, and a weekly meeting just to make sure that things are on track.
Not everyone on your content team has to be at every meeting, however. Team leads and editorial staff can handle the annual and monthly meetings and reviews. Impromptu or informal weekly meetings (or online chats, if your team is geographically spread out) with content creators to touch base on how they’re doing with their assignments can work for the weekly and daily.
The goal is to have your editorial team lay the groundwork, and the content creation team clearly communicating on what’s happening with that groundwork.
A methodical approach to assigned content
As your content team grows and the content is more complicated, you’ll want to create a standardized approach or task list so that each piece of content hits its mark. To do this, you’ll need to break up each type of content into tasks according to who needs to do them and when.
For example, whenever an infographic is on the editorial calendar, that content is created in the following order:
- Researcher/writer gathers data on the topic and summarizes it
- Designer takes the data and creates the infographic
- Editor proofs the infographic for errors and a final say in the design
Make sure your editorial calendar has a system in place where those tasks kick in at the right time so that the final content is completed and ready to publish ahead of time.
Review Your Schedule And Your Content
Creating an editorial calendar is not a one-off job. No plan is perfect out of the gate. You must periodically review your editorial calendar to see how it is performing and whether you need to make changes to the types of content you publish, when you publish it, and how frequently you publish.
We’ve talked about the need for conducting a content audit, which is another crucial part of the editorial calendar process. When auditing your content, you’re taking stock of which content works, which doesn’t, and how your readers are behaving with what you're producing.
This information should directly affect your editorial calendar. Realizing that you have topics your readers aren’t responding to? It might be time to rid your editorial calendar of those topics entirely. Finding content gaps for different areas of your sales funnel? Add that content to your editorial calendar. Discovering that your readers respond better to different publishing times than you’ve established? Change your set publishing days and times for blog and/or social content.
You can use your content audit for other reasons, but it should definitely have an effect on your editorial calendar. Whenever you audit your content, you should also do a formal review (and possible reset) of your editorial calendar.
Don’t forget to review your publishing frequency. You might need to increase (or decrease) how much you are publishing based on what your audience wants and what you can handle.
There are many editorial calendar tools out there that you can use, whether it is paper, a spreadsheet, project management software, or an app dedicated to the process. The tool you choose simply needs to allow you to do all that is outlined here effectively. It doesn't need to be fancy or elaborate; it just needs to be one that you and your team will actually use.
When an editorial calendar works, not only does your content quantity increase over time, but so will your content quality.