The most common objectives that I experience when I discuss integrating blogging and social into a small business’ marketing and communication programs are 1. I don’t have the time and 2. I have no idea what I’d talk about. Both of those are blog posts onto themselves, in fact on my personal blog, I covered time management and ways to overcome that hurdle. Of the second, the issue is likely that you have much more content than you believe and just don’t know where to start. If these common issues sound familiar, then you are ready for a content calendar. Not only will you benefit from easily finding the time to create a weekly blog, but you’ll easily know what to share on your social channels. It will also provide you with a laser focus on the themes and issues that matter most to your audiences.
Maybe in the past, you’ve considered them, but every time you’ve looked at one of those online content calendar templates, they look like they require a PHd in mathematics and mad excel skills, so you haven’t pursued it. Truth is, with a little bit of thought and some serious R&D (rob and duplicate) you can create your own version that will work for you. There are certain aspects of course that are fundamental to having a successful calendar and you’ll be able to easily incorporate them into whatever system works for you. In the resources below you’ll find links to deeply developed templates and easy to use online calendars (using your Google Calendar to schedule your posts). Using a content calendar will also help you to visually see what you are planning by month, quarter and year, to ensure you capture key dates; such as that must attend industry conference. Just seeing that date can provide three or more posts for you, the lead up to the event, what’s happening while you’re there and what you took away and applied to your business. It will immediately help you to identify parts of your plan that you don’t have content ready for, giving you plenty of opportunity to crowd-source topics, write a follow up on an earlier issue or find a guest post to include.
Your goal in adopting and using a content calendar is to be prepared, to know what you are talking about and to ensure that it meets the needs of your audience, remember your content is looking to provide information that is useful to your audience in their professional or personal lives. The fundamental steps that are essential to an effective content calendar are: to know who your audience is and what topics they are interested in, to know what content you already have that you can use to answer their common questions and the build your calendar and put it to good use.
Audience and Topics:
The odds are really good that you have more than one type of audience that you need to communicate with. Therefore, you’ll need to create a few segments of your audience that have different interests or issues that need to be addressed. To identify these groups, it is best to get in touch with everyone that is client facing in your organization. Have a meeting and with their help, identify potential topics from the issue, concerns and praise that your clients, prospects, vendors, staff and partners identify about your service, products and interactions with them (whether in person or on line). From this conversation you’ll be able to identify topics to talk about, what you’re looking to add, questions about service improvement, different ways to extend the life and value of your product, new product initiatives, old product revitalization opportunities, new strategic partnerships and more, all leading to improved communications and relationships. Another great suggestion that I’ve come across is to use this time to help establish what weight do you want to give each of these different audience segments and then allocate what percent of time you’ll invest accordingly. One area to not overlook is to talk about what makes you and your working environment a great place to be. By creating content to demonstrate that your a fun, fair, exciting place to work that is creating great value for your customers can only help you identify the best and brightest to add to your team.
Most organizations that I’ve worked with or have presented to, feel that they don’t have anything to talk about and don’t know where they would begin. It doesn’t take long to turn those thoughts upside down when, as an outsider to their organization and a potential customer of their product or service, I start asking questions or suggest things that I’d like to see covered in their communications. For example, I recently did a workshop for senior staff in the early childhood education community locally that are facing some difficult times as businesses. With our Province adopting all day junior kindergarten, a stream of revenue is vanishing before their very eyes. When we came to the subject of blogging and social as part of their marketing mix, a quick 10 minute chat identified a 4 month calendar of blog ideas. I was outside of their industry and it was easy for me as a parent of a child that recently got to the age that he could take care of himself to talk about information that they readily have, that I could have benefited from as a parent. No matter your industry, you have them too; presentations for industry trade shows, customer stories, customers questions that can all be turned into blog posts. Industry data from your finance department for infographics, quick and easy how to videos (for example having one of the daycare centers do a quick craft demonstration for parents to use over the holidays). Re-purposing content from previous blog or newsletter posts with updated information or sharing the best ideas of others with your own experiences woven in (like this post, with a grateful hat tip to the resources below, Lee Odden and his book Optimize and the first content calendar I used from HubSpot). Create a place where you can take stock of the content you already have, the most frequently asked questions your staff get, ideas from an industry wiki. Make it available to all so everyone can add to it as they come across additional resources or information. I use a workflow management system called Podio and keep all of my blog ideas there, where I can track them from the idea stage to publish. I can tag them for future reference and so much more. A couple of other great suggestions I’ve heard of is using a content catalog (simply an excel spreadsheet) and using Evernote (Mark Schaefer on the Grow Blog).
The next step is to publish your content, track what becomes of it and then modify what you are doing (a completely different post). The key is to do more of what is generating your desired results and less of what is not.
How to use your Content Calendar
If your using an excel spreadsheet (recommended) for your content calendar here are some suggestions on how you may want to use it, by columns.
The first column is for the date range going (weekly activities).
The second column is where you can insert any upcoming calendar events, like Christmas or a tax deadline.
The next 3 or so columns are for your topic/industry events like your industry conference, local chamber tradeshow, etc.
The next column would be for any specific company events, such as a product launch, anniversary, price change, etc.
The next set of columns are for scheduling the pieces of content such as your blog, podcast, video, etc. You might consider color-coding these pieces for your various audiences.
The next set will be for the social channels and distribution channels you’ll use to share your content (Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Stumble Upon, etc.). Each with an appropriate message for it’s defined audience.
The number of columns will vary depending on the amount of content you are producing and the number of audiences you are producing for.
Content marketing is key to your overall business success. It can help you find new prospects (or more accurately, let them find you), create better relationships with your current stakeholders and provide additional support to your current customers. Having an effective content calendar will keep you on track and illustrate what you have to share to make the lives of your customers, staff and business partners better.
Are you currently using a content calendar? If so, what does yours look like and what successes can you attribute to it.
Search in your favorite browser for an editorial or content calendar and you’ll find tons of helpful information to help you get started. Some of my favorites sources are (in addition to the links above):
Essential Content Calendar – [Blog] Social Media Today – includes free template
Why you should create a detailed Editorial Calendar – [Blog] Sprout Social
Build your Content Calendar, in three easy steps – [Blog] Content Marketing Institute
15 Most Life-changing Editorial Calendar Tools – [Blog] Writtent
Create a Content Calendar using Google Calendar – [Video] John Haydon YouTube