Do a quick search on Google for the phrase content calendar and you’ll see plenty of results offering you a template to use free of charge. In fact, one of the top results displayed is the Econsultancy website, which advertises “Eight free content calendar templates to help plan your output”. You will also be spoiled for choice by the number of image results, giving you an insight into what a content calendar actually looks like.
You might be thinking, “yay – web freebies!”, but simply accepting these templates and tools at face value could actually hamper your progress in the long term. Make no mistake, these resources can be incredibly helpful if you are just starting to get into content creation and marketing, but try to look further than this if you are ready to take your activities to the next level.
To help you achieve this, I’ve got a handful of suggestions that you may find helpful in the quest to change your content calendar from drab to fab…
1. Ignore the normal
Pick up any annual wall calendar in a shop and you will see bank holidays, customs and celebrations listed – sometimes even ones that don’t apply to us living here in the UK. In my opinion, these should all be added to your content calendar as standard, although they should certainly not be the only items included.
Ultimately, you need to consider what your competitors will be shaping news pieces and features around, and there is a fairly good chance that they will use all of the typical celebrations for easy PR angles: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, and so on. If your brand personality allows, consider using quirkier diary events such as the lunar calendar, or even TV programme scheduling.
2. Use data and conduct research
As a marketer, you will be used to analysing data for various projects, but how often do you use it to shape your content? OK, so you may have conducted a few questionnaires on Survey Monkey before, but have you tried to utilise other available data sources? The first port of call is going to be your analytics package; look at what people are searching for, as you might identify some great long tail phrases and questions that will help you to create guides, tools and blog posts.
There is also a search function on statistics.gov.uk that will let you see releases that are due to be published in the coming days and weeks. A quick search shows me some interesting topics such as weekly fuel prices, population projections, and a national diet and nutrition survey. Get these dates added to your content calendar so you can be quick off the mark to utilise the data as soon as it’s released.
3. Get contributors
Even if you are an incredibly bright individual (which I’m sure you are), a team effort can often be your best bet when it comes to thinking up ideas. Don’t be afraid to get a group of people together with pens and paper and challenge each other to come up with some fresh thoughts. Chances are you will come away with much more diverse and developed content ideas than if you’d worked alone.
For offices where free time is a rare commodity, you could use a company intranet to the same effect; this way people can contribute whenever they get a spare moment. Alternatives to this include having a single document that is open to multiple authors, or even a physical noticeboard where people can pin up ideas or jot something down on a post it note. You might also want to share your calendar with other marketing teams or agencies so all parties can work towards a common goal.
4. Update it regularly
Lastly, let’s talk about your calendar and how often you update it. If you’ve created a content schedule in the past and then quickly neglected it, you aren’t alone. You need to get into the habit of using it, as well as improving it, to really benefit from it. Your calendar shouldn’t stagnate, as there are always new points to add, whether you want to cover them days or even months down the line.
Not only that but you will need to jump in and out of your calendar to actually develop tangible content based on the ideas and special events you have listed. After the fact, it’s a good idea to denote what type of content you created with each topic or listing; this will allow you to find opportunities in the future, for example, if you think a video could support a blog post you wrote.
Now it’s your turn to contribute! I’d love to hear about the content calendars you have used past and present, and what you believe are the most important areas to focus on. Have you added any quirky entries to your calendar that you’d like to share? Please leave me a comment so we can get the conversation started.
Image credit: Steven Bratman