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What is a content calendar?
Content is becoming more and more important to traditional and online marketing strategies. It’s crucial for businesses to plan and prepare their content with clear objectives, targets and available resource in mind. Producing content sporadically/aimlessly has very little chance of reaching the people who are most likely to act on it (i.e. purchase, share etc).
If you’ve never used one before, you might be surprised how effective a content calendar can be. It’s an uncomplicated way to plan your online and offline content for the year, and an easy way to keep track of it. This can include:
- Social media
- Email marketing
- Blog posts (on your own website)
- Blog posts (on another website – for example, guest posting and blogging on external websites)
- Online PR
Your content calendar is a focussed template that can guide and determine which content gets published, when it gets published and what kind of communities to reach out to. A content calendar will include a variety of dates and events. Some dates may be important for the brand (new product launches, for example), some for the industry (a big conference or announcement) and some for your audience, like national and international holidays. You should select each date and event with your brand, industry and customer base in mind and by centring your content around key dates and events, you’ll see hugely positive results on your own channels and platforms.
Why use it?
Aside from making your content creation process easier and more efficient, having a content calendar allows you to target spikes in traffic and social sharing by identifying and taking advantage of key dates and events.
You’ll never miss another opportunity to create content, and by centring your content around key dates and events, you’ll see hugely positive results on your own channels and platforms.
Who can use it?
Once you have a content calendar and you’ve fed in your key dates, you’ll find that several departments within your business can benefit. In fact, as more content gets produced by brands and teams, the content calendar acts as a great place to centralise your marketing and communications strategy, allowing multiple teams (and multiple people within those teams) to contribute.
Indeed, the benefit of a content calendar extends beyond online engagement into traditional marketing planning and higher brand strategy. Today, when structuring your marketing, communications and brand activities, a tool like this is really important and can help make you more effective and efficient.
How to use a content calendar
By having a content calendar populated with key dates, you’ve got the perfect starting point for coming up with creative content ideas that are both interesting and contextual. This helps your brand to look current, organised and thoughtful, it also encourages social sharing as people are more inclined to share timely content online. Make sure to look out for the following:
- Important dates within your company
- Relevant dates for your industry
- Relevant dates for your customers
- Holidays and Observance dates
Recognising these key dates ahead of time allows your team to ensure they’re hitting crucial deadlines and giving themselves (or your suppliers) enough time to put the content together.
Using a content calendar should prevent a last minute dash to create captivating copy, as you can see the event approaching and prepare yourself (or your team) for the deadline.
How to construct
your own content calendar
We’ve made a foundation content calendar for you, which you can download from this page. This initial version will help you get started as it contains key holidays, national and noteworthy dates and well-known industry events. You can then add in additional content relevant to your business.
The foundation content calendar won’t yet include personal dates of importance, specific branding dates or smaller, more niche industry events, so we urge you to keep reading as we’ll outline how to source and identify these other industry dates.
If you’ve chosen to opt for our pre-made calendar, we still recommend following these steps – as it’ll help you ensure you’re covering all angles.
Block out major international
and national holidays
The first thing you need to do is block out major international and national holidays, including important religious dates and holidays. These are usually pretty easy to do from memory but it’s worth checking exact dates, as some holidays (like Easter) fall on a different date each year.
Include the following: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Easter, Ramadan, Eid, Thanksgiving, Remembrance Sunday, Diwali and Hanukkah.
Timeanddate.com has an in-depth list of all national and international holidays. We recommend working your way through this and picking out relevant dates for your business.
The second part of discovering and capturing key dates is to think about non-holidays. What days and dates are notable to you, even if you don’t get a day off?
We’d include the following: Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Guy Fawkes Day. And remember, Mother’s and Father’s Day can have different dates in different countries.
Personalising your calendar
Once you have the main holidays and all relevant events listed, it’s time to personalise the calendar and identify a wider variety of events and dates that may spark interest to anyone visiting your website or following your social channels. Take advantage of unusual ‘national days’ and find oddball events that your customer base or demographic will identify with. Although these kinds of dates aren’t always well-known, they usually make for fun, unique and contextual content, and often allow for more creativity.
Here are some examples we like for our own content calendar:
18th January:National Thesaurus Day
23rd January:National Handwriting Day
4th March:National Grammar Day
13th April:National Scrabble Day
20th October:National Writing Day
Take a look at the full list on www.daysoftheyear.com and you’re bound to find interesting dates to suit your product or service.
We also want to mention the UN, as their website is a fantastic place to source more serious observances. They have a full list of yearly dates here, so it’s certainly worth taking a look. Here are a few noteworthy ones:
20th February:World Day of Social Justice
3rd March:World Wildlife Day
20th March:International Day of Happiness
7th April:World Health Day
18th July:Nelson Mandela International Day
20th November:Universal Children’s Day
1st December:World AIDS Day
10th December:Human Rights Day
Finding key dates for your demographic
Once you’ve added official observances, you can move onto popular culture. When adding these kind of dates, create a quarterly calendar reminder to check for any new dates – from events to product launches.
Think about the daily lives of your demographic and what’s likely to be important to them.
- Film releases
- Award ceremonies
- Sporting events
- Celebrity marriages or births (for example, the royal baby)
- Key television series (new series of Doctor Who for example)
- Festivals and concerts
- Holiday season (opening and closing parties in Ibiza are the perfect example)
- School holidays
On social media, we’re more likely to share something if it’s contextually relevant to our lives – so acknowledging these minor (pop-culture) dates is crucial for creating content customers want to see and engage with.
How can you find these dates and events?
Here are a few websites to look at:
For film releases:http://www.imdb.com/calendar/
For award ceremonies:http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/oscar-contenders/ awards-schedule/
For school holidays:http://myschoolholidays.com/
For music festivals:http://www.thefestivalcalendar.co.uk/
For sporting events:http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/30503789
For TV shows:http://bit.ly/1vJ9SdG
A great way to filter down all these events (there are a lot of them) is to sit down with a couple of your customers or members of your demographic and work through the lists together. You’ll be able to see which events spark excitement or conversation and which are left unnoticed. This can often be your earliest indicator about whether content will be successful or not.
Adding in your own key business dates
Now here’s a step you won’t want to miss out – the dates that are key to your business. This is an opportunity to focus on your company, your product, your strategy.
The chances are, you’ll have a brand strategy for the year with key dates already marked – and it’s these dates that need to be added to your calendar.
- Do you have a new product launching?Add it in.
- Do you have a collaboration planned? Add it in.
- Do you have a new store opening? Add it in.
- Do you have a new CEO joining?Add it in.
- If yes, add these dates in!
All these things are key to your business and therefore to your content plan. Don’t think too big or too small, just put everything in. You may not use it all, and some events might not be suitable for content creation, but it’s important to know it’s there and keep everyone in the loop if certain events clash or overlap. It’s also a good way to make sure you can plan resource in-house for the particularly busy periods, or get agency support if you need it.
So now you have the dates…
Once your calendar is filled with these dates you can use these events to create relevant and interesting content across your media platforms. The key to success here is identifying which dates to use with each platform, and therefore, with each demographic.
Remember, each of your marketing or media platforms has a different demographic and often requires a different approach. Read on for tips on how you can get the best out of each platform…
Your company blog
Content for your company blog should be more in-depth and article based – and it’s best to stay relevant to your industry or product. You can usually get away with more brand-focussed content on your blog, so don’t be scared of talking about your product or service.
Choose dates and topics that can tie in with an interesting topic, but are also relevant to your brand. Take a look at the examples below to see how one event can be used in a variety of ways.
For this example, we’ve used “International Women's Day”
|INDUSTRY||BLOG TITLE OR TOPIC|
|Food||Meet Michelin starred female chefs around the world.|
|Music||7 solo female singers who are pushing the music industry forward.|
|Copywriting||10 inspiring books written by female leaders.|
|B2B||Female company founders whose companies are flourishing.|
To see which content has previously worked well for similar keywords, competitors or comparable brands, try using tools such as:
Evaluating the content that has been successful on your blog can give you a much clearer view of what will work well in the future.
TIP: To get the most out of any blog content - always run your keywords through Google Keyword Planner. Sometimes, to maximise traffic, a simple re-phrase of your title or keywords can result in thousands more referrals from Google, and organic search traffic.
The content you’re creating for social media should be shorter, catchier and more succinct. In most cases, this means a visual image or video with a snippet of copy. Most brands on social media tend to focus on single image posts, so if you’re unsure where to start, here are the general dimensions that work best for each social network:
Many people find that creating these visuals can be harder than writing a blog post – but it doesn’t need to be. The easiest way to get some quick ideas, especially for high-profile events and calendar dates, is to look at your competitors’ social pages. Using the timeline feature on the page, you can jump between dates to see what they’ve published in previous years.
Another great way to find quick inspiration is to search for relevant hashtags on Instagram or Twitter or just run a simple Google search.
For example, if it’s Nature Photography Day and this is relevant to your company, you can look back at what worked well the previous year. You can do this by searching Twitter, Instagram or Google. You can then look at how much engagement the content received previously and use this as inspiration when coming up with your own ideas.
Don’t forget about other ‘post types’ though. Sometimes a simple question can get a lot of engagement – so if there’s a great open-ended question you could ask about the event then keep things simple. For example:
“It's Nature Photography Day - what's your favourite nature photo? Tweet your favourite photos at us.”
Your email newsletter is another fantastic way to communicate with people in your audience, and identifying a strong calendar date is a great excuse to send out a mailer.
Email newsletters are incredibly good at pushing brand content or products because the people on your mailing list already have a vested interest in you. We recommend sending out calendar-focussed emails less frequently than social media or blog posts, and always opt for quality over quantity.
Choose the most relevant dates in your calendar and focus on these for your email mailouts - that way you’re less likely to lose subscribers, and your content will be much stronger.
Creating the content
Once you’ve identified a great date or event and decided which channels you’ll share your content with, it’s now time to create the content. This may well be the hardest part.
The key to managing and using a content calendar efficiently is to make sure you’ve made your own job as easy as possible. It’s all very well identifying the dates, but if you can’t create the content to deadlines, the exercise is pointless.
Think about what you need in order to create the content, then make sure you have the necessary information and assets in one place.
List the people involved so you can contact them easily and quickly. For example, these might be your:
- Graphic designer
- Picture editor
- Project manager (you may need their approval)
- Legal team (for larger brands, content may need Legal’s sign off)
- Have you listed all dates / events?
- Have you briefed the relevant people?
- Do you have legal / team sign off?
- Will everything be ready in time?
TIP: Alongside each supplier or staff member, list their rate or lead-time too. Many people will request a few days’ advance notice of deadlines. Avoid disappointment by making sure your content is a priority, so they can definitely fit you in.
Once you’ve done this, outline all the existing assets you have for creating content, as well as any passwords or authorisation codes that you need to access it. Putting this on a shared document like Google Docs is a great idea, as your suppliers can then remotely access these assets without needing to contact you.
If you organise these assets into categories and relevance, you’ll save time and get bonus points from your suppliers. Try putting them in the following categories:
- Corporate reports
- Press releases
- Product descriptions
- Blog posts
Self-made assets that can be re-focussed (do you have any good photographers in the company who could contribute some images to your stock pile?)
Where to find free creative assets
If you looked at the list above and felt a bit lost when stock photo membership was mentioned – don’t worry. There are many free stock photo options out there, and we’ve listed some below. We’d highly recommend looking into these and joining up – images form the basis of a lot of content and it’s important to be using and sharing images legally.
To save yourself hours of research later on, put 3-4 hours aside to browse all the websites mentioned above. Save any relevant images to a folder on your computer (and name them with the credit needed). That way, in the future, you’ll have an easily accessible folder full of relevant images without needing to trawl through substandard ones.