I’ve been in the publishing industry for more than a dozen years now, and along the way I’ve noticed a couple of things about editorial calendars.
First, they are utterly critical for any content marketing program to be successful.
Second, most businesses don’t use them.
New social media platforms are sexy. New marketing ideas are sexy. Calendars, for most of us … not so sexy.
Let’s be honest … even though content marketing has been around in various forms for hundreds of years, most marketers are short-term campaign driven types — similar to what you might see on Mad Men — who throw some social media tools on top of it all.
But that’s not content marketing. Content marketing is not a short-term campaign … it’s a long-term strategy to attract, convert, and retain customers.
You can’t have a long-term strategy without some tools to manage it all. And one of the most effective tools you can use is the editorial calendar.
So let’s take a look at how this works …
The 3 basic components of an editorial calendar that works
Traditional marketing departments used to gear up around the latest product push. But more and more marketing resources are starting to look like publishing operations, similar to what you’d see out of Inc. magazine or Entrepreneur.
This change is exactly the reason we are covering this topic in-depth at Content Marketing World this year.
Because it is longer-term, and because content marketing often involves multiple content producers, customers, and outside influencers. It can be tricky to keep track of all the stories you are telling and developing, and all of the formats (online or offline) you’re developing them for.
Note: Though I’ve use the terms spreadsheet and document below, there are many online tools that can work as your customized editorial calendar. Most of us start with simple tools such as Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) combined with a WordPress tool like the Editorial Calendar plugin. As your business progresses, you may move up to paid software-as-a-service offerings like KaPost, Central Desktop, Contently, Compendium, Zerys, and Skyword (just to name a few).
1. Understanding what an editorial calendar is and is not
The editorial calendar is much more than just a calendar with content assigned to dates.
A good editorial calendar maps content production to our buyer personas (who we want to sell to), the engagement cycle (delivering appropriate content based on where the prospect is in the buying process), and the channels that we use.
Beyond dates and headlines, your editorial calendar should make room for:
- A prioritized list of what you are publishing based on the content strategy you’ve developed. This may contain existing content, content that will be redesigned or repackaged, content that will come from partners, or content yet to be developed. It’s your inventory.
- Assigned content producer(s) and/or editors responsible for the content. Here you name the people responsible for producing the content. If you have multiple editors, you identify them as well.
- The channel(s) for the content. A listing of formats and channels targeted for the content. For example, you may have an blog post that is part of an eBook series that you are publishing on Slideshare. You may want to identify if you will also deliver pieces through multiple distribution outlets like your email autoresponder, or social sites like Twitter or Google+.
- Meta data. These are “tags” you assign to keep track of what you’re working on and what role it plays for you. The number of these you want to include is really up to you. You’ll probably want to include tags for important aspects of the content such as “target persona” or “engagement cycle” so that you can make sure you’re balancing your editorial to your overall goals. You may also want to include columns (or tags) for things like content type (for example white paper, video, email) or even SEO keywords.
- Dates for both creation and publishing. These include the dates that the content is due to the editor, along with target dates for publishing. These should be mapped to your story map. As you become more sophisticated, you may want to include the refresh date (a triggered date to update the content when needed).
(If you work for a larger organization, you may want to add workflow steps including legal, fact checking, proofreading, or other elements that will affect your content creation and management process.)
As you begin to assemble the elements you want to have in your editorial calendar, remember that the calendar is a management tool.
Include only the elements you need to facilitate your process. For example, if you write one blog post a week and two email messages a month to support your small business, there’s no reason you need to overcomplicate your editorial calendar. Keep it as simple as you can.
2. Organizing the calendar
Set your calendar document up in the way that works best for you.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that you’ll have one spreadsheet for the year — and that each tab will be a month. Across the columns you might have:
- Content headline
- Content type
- The buyer persona you’re writing this piece for
- Person who will write/create the content
- Date due
- Person who will edit the content
- Channels — where does this get published?
- Those “meta data” tags
- Publish date
- Status (perhaps indicated by green, yellow, or red)
- Any notes
- Metrics (e.g., comments posted, pageviews, downloads, etc.)
- Call to Action (the primary action or behavior you’ve asked for)
Finally, as separate documents — or even tabs within your editorial calendar — you may want to include “brainstorming” elements (e.g., ideas that are under consideration or new stories that come up during the process). The editorial calendar can be a great tool for capturing creativity as well.
In the end, your editorial calendar will most likely become the most frequently used tool in your process. And whether it’s a combination of documents, a single spreadsheet, an online production tool, or just a monthly email that you send to your team — the key is that it works for you. In the end, whatever helps to smooth out your process and keep you on track is the best editorial calendar format.
3. Developing the editorial style guide
Obviously, when we talk about a “calendar,” the first thing we think of is a guide for planning what content gets created when.
But your “calendar” has another important function. You’ll want to develop an editorial style guide as a tool for your content creators, editors, and producers. (Yes, even if those people are all you.)
This style guide can also develop into a social conversation style guide (in other words, a social media policy), which will provide guidelines for how people should respond and converse.
As more people start “telling the story” of your brand, you need to be sure that they have the right tools and training to properly communicate your brand’s voice. You also need to police them to make sure they are keeping to that voice.
And even if you’re flying solo right now, keeping your editorial voice consistent will help your content feel more professional and trustworthy. And it makes it much easier if you ever do want to bring other writers in.
Like the continuing story, it’s easy to let tone, quality, and style slip bit by bit — until the story is way off track. This is where your editorial style guide will come into play.
Here are some key things to include:
- The overall tone and voice of your content marketing. Who are you and what do you convey in your content?
- The average (or minimum/maximum) length of pieces developed.
- Branding guidelines. How to refer to the company, product lines, individuals, etc.
For grammar, style, and word usage, you can also choose to conform to guides such as the Associated Press Style Guide. In addition, many content marketing strategists — especially those focused on the web — are using the Yahoo Style Guide.
How about you?
How strategic are you about your content creation? Do you use a content calendar? An editorial guide? Do you try to follow a long-term plan, or do you mostly wing it?
Let us know about your experiences in the comments …
Note from Sonia: If you’re ready to tackle your content creation in a deeper, more strategic way, Brian Clark and I both recommend the Content Marketing World conference, the largest gathering of content marketing professionals in the world. The conference is held in Columbus, Ohio in September, and Brian and I will both be speaking this year. You can save $200 on the conference registration if you sign up before the Early Bird period ends on May 31. Brian and I would love to see you there!
About the Author: Joe Pulizzi is founder of Content Marketing Institute, which puts on the largest in-person content marketing event in the world: Content Marketing World. You can find Joe on Twitter @JoePulizzi. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange.