How to Build a Digital Content Calendar
We’ve rhapsodized before about the importance of (quality! Well-edited!) content, but once you’ve started producing digital content—where do you put it? Do you just throw it up on LinkedIn whenever it’s ready and then send up a little prayer begging the gods of Google to make it go viral?
Hard no. Just like with everything else in your business, you need a plan, and that plan needs a healthy dose of structure and a dash of obsessive Type-A organizing. Get out your freshly sharpened pencils—it’s time to create a digital content calendar.
What is a digital content calendar?
A content calendar is pretty much what it sounds like: it’s an online calendar that details 1) all the content you are planning to produce in a given month, and 2) when you’ll ideate, draft, revise, edit, and publish it. Let’s say your goal is to publish three original blog posts a week. A very simple content calendar might look something like this:
Monday: Publish “How to Be a Genius” blog post. Draft “The Trials of Being a Genius.”
Wednesday: Publish “The Trials of Being a Genius” blog post. Select links for Friday roundup.
Friday: Publish weekly link roundup of articles about things geniuses do.
You don’t have to include only blog posts on your digital content calendar, of course—you can include social media posts, videos, graphics, thought leadership articles, and whatever you consider “content.” Just remember that that the more types of content you include, the more people you’ll have to loop in. You may want to have an editorial content calendar that your marketing team can access in order to build their social media calendar, instead of having everything listed in one place. There’s no right answer here; it really depends on how you and your company function best.
Why do you need a digital content calendar?
A digital content calendar will make your life easier in so many ways. It will help you publish more often and more consistently. It’ll keep you more organized and help you avoid panic attacks of the it’s-Thursday-and-our-blog-has-been-lying-fallow-all-week-what-should-we-publish variety. It’ll help you with branding—instead of throwing up blog posts whenever the muse whispers in your ear, you can begin to angle your blog as the go-to resource for X, Y, or Z. If you’ve been toying with the idea of getting into thought leadership and pitching it to Forbes, you should definitely get that on the content calendar, too. Setting a deadline for yourself and putting it on a calendar that everyone else on your team can see is awfully incentivizing.
A digital content calendar will help your marketing team plan out their approach, and it’ll also help you plan content around big events in your industry. Have you ever woken up only to realize that it’s National [Your Industry’s Main Product Here] Day and you don’t have a thing prepared? A well-oiled content calendar means you can plan out those relevant posts months in advance. Sigh of relief.
What content calendar tools should you use?
There are plenty of tools out there for building the best, fanciest, and most color-coordinated content calendar ever, but unless you’re the New York Times and are publishing a zillion pieces a day, we recommend subscribing to the age-old aphorism of “KISS”: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
If you’re publishing 1-2 pieces of content a day or less, try using…a literal calendar. Google Calendar is great, because you can share it with your whole team, access it from any device, and yes, color-coordinate it (yay). If you’re a one-person team who prefers the analog life, you even a large desk calendar is fine. You just need something that literally has dates on it, so you can plot out what you’re publishing and when.
As you fill out whatever calendar you’ve selected, try to strike a balance between thoroughness and flexibility. Give yourself some wiggle room to add in extra content (content that responds to relevant happenings in your industry, for example), and don’t overstretch yourself. It’s really depressing to look back on an ambitious content calendar that was only half-fulfilled.
For more complicated content-ing
If you’re publishing more than two pieces of content a day, if your content involves multiple moving parts (say, a blog post + a video + a social media blast + a giveaway), if your content is something more complex like a researched and in-depth thought leadership piece, and/or if your process includes a large team, consider switching to a content calendar tool like Trello.
We use Trello behind the scenes here at Hippo, and we love it. With Trello, you can create lists or even separate boards for multiple stages of the content-creation process (for example: research, writing, editing, adding graphics, published) and assign each piece to a writer, editor, designer, social media buff—the sky’s the limit! You can also use their “Calendar View” tool to see which article is due when, and where the gaps in content are occurring.
Last but not least…
Here’s a weird little trick that we like to use: if you’re feeling stuck, uninspired, or just confused about what a digital content calendar can be, run a Google Image search on “content calendar.” Sometimes it helps to simply scroll through some visuals and see how other people are getting their content-scheduling done.
This may sound painfully obvious, but listen anyway: the most important part of any content calendar is staying on top of it. It’s easy to write out an ambitious calendar and then let it gather dust as you and your team revert back to your old seat-of-the-pants content-creation ways. So after you’ve done all the scheduling and dreaming and color-coordinating, make sure you save plenty of time for execution. The digital content calendar only works if you do.