Any business serious about showing its best face to the world in 2017 needs to develop a monthly content calendar - one that converts to results.
As creator of the DIY Newsroom approach to content, my mission is to empower businesses to do it themselves.
Indeed, if you are a medium-sized or larger business, or any business with communication nous and resource, you should be controlling your own message rather than leaving it to external agencies.
Get it right and you could zoom through cyberspace from zero to hero.
But let us be clear. Crystal.
As the ultimate reference guide, the content calendar will make or break your level of reach and engagement with your target markets.
The content calendar requires considerable thought and should be utterly aligned to your business objectives. Content should embody who you are and what you stand for. It needs to be compelling, relevant and hit the target.
Critically, get the outline of a distributed content strategy right - and then start scheduling and sharing.
Yes, those likes, followers and connections beckon. Yes, you want to use that new fandangled tool to automate the delivery of your enriching blogs, inspirational quotes and insightful posts. But stop.
Pause and think about whether you have factored in these five essential steps that will underpin the success of your distributed content.
A thoughtfully constructed and strategic content calendar will save you truckloads of time.
1. Get your ducks in a row
Don’t even think about a calendar template until you do the following:
2. Create a monthly content calendar template
Now form a typical, generic monthly calendar of content that is within your capacity to deliver (see picture).
There’s numerous ways to categorise content and to set up a calendar. The obvious starting point is to slot the number of posts you are thinking for each channel across each week. Remember this is about a typical run of content.
You could be more specific about the nature of each content piece - for instance, specify that you’ll run a blog on your website and LinkedIn on Thursday and then share that on Facebook later. Consider whether you want the primary filter to be via channel or content type.
3. Now it’s time to meet, schedule, meet, schedule
With a good content structure in place, let’s get specific. What will you actually post over the next month? If you have your templated content schedule on a spreadsheet, you could simply copy it and overlay your intended content for the coming month.
We read a lot of blogs that talk about stepping out a content schedule 12 months in advance. Wow! All power to those who have a year of content ready to fire. Certainly this makes sense if you have repeatable brand messaging.
But remember the best commodity going for your business is compelling and relevant content that is valued by your target market. A good part may be spontaneous.
Think like a newsroom.
They are brilliantly organised for when chaos breaks out. That is because they are experts at planning content to different cycles. They meet and plan separately around more involved or profound projects. For the proactive and reactive 24-7 stuff, they still have daily meetings or “conferences” - some formal, some informal. This area of content is usually the most shareable, timely and likely to go viral.
In the least, you should meet and review your schedule weekly.
4. Go tech yourself
Ah, the shiny objects. The company technologists and gadget gurus will lead you here first.
Have you seen those charts that illustrate the multitude of applications, software and processes to “make your life simple”? You’ve been warned: understand what you want to achieve first and then go tech yourself to enable it to happen.
What should you use for your content template? We use Google apps for much of our business because of its online prowess and ability to collaborate. It’s hard to beat simplicity, online connectivity and a good ol’ fashioned spreadsheet.
We also use Smartsheet, which is a project management tool suited for teams and can help centralise access to content. Trello is a popular tool too.
For scheduling and oversight of platforms, there’s Buffer and Hootsuite. We use both because they have their own attributes and flaws. Sprout Social is another option. For Facebook, you may want to schedule natively.
Around the practicalities of technology, we’ll let you search that yourself; our main point, distribute your content strategically and smartly.
5. Track and improve
With your content calendar in place and delivery organised, the life cycle of content continues. Establish your key metrics per channel, make results public within your organisation and celebrate successes.
Fundamentally, C-suite executives want to know what they are getting in return for their marketing and communications spend. Setting metrics that matter is critical. There’s a difference between creating one big vanity project of shares and likes and ensuring a true return on investment on communication efforts.
Building in a best-practice process around content calendars does not guarantee success. Of primary importance is developing the compelling and relevant content that solves problems in your target market.
But good luck to any business that thinks it can wing it and still be heard above the cacophony of communications today.
A thoughtfully constructed and strategic content calendar will save you truckloads of time. It will ensure you are getting the right content to the right audience at the right time via the right means.
The ultimate prize? With discipline, persistence and superior processes, you will get your messaging to the front of the pack for real results - and maybe even achieve the business fame which you've always dreamed about.
Stuart Howie is a communications and media consultant. He runs Flame Tree Media and is the author of The DIY Newsroom. Stuart has worked in media and publishing for more than 30 years as an executive, editor and strategist.