What Is a Content Calendar (And How To Create One)
A content calendar is a document or program that holds a schedule of blog posts, videos, social media posts, and other content you’ll create.
For any individual or company engaging in social media and/or content marketing - which is essentially all of them in this modern era - a content calendar is an indispensable tool that can help you make the most of your marketing efforts. In this article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about content calendars including what they are, what to put in them, how to create them, and why.
What is a content calendar?
A content calendar is a document or program that holds a schedule of blog posts, videos, social media posts, and other content you’ll create. They are essentially a way to track all of the details of your content marketing efforts such as what pieces of content you’re working on, when you’re going to publish them, who is in charge of them, and so forth.
A content calendar is essentially the tactical cornerstone of your content marketing strategy.
Above anything else, content calendars are meant to serve the organization that is using them, so while many companies will start out by using a particular content calendar template, they will generally evolve over time to fit the specific needs of the individual user(s). So whatever it may be that you need to track and document in order to facilitate the most effective execution of your content strategy, you can shape your content calendar to aid you in doing so.
How are content calendars different from editorial calendars?
One of the biggest misconceptions in the content marketing world is that content calendars are the same thing as editorial calendars. As a result, many companies and even content marketers will use the term interchangeably. In reality, they are two distinct albeit similar things.
As we said above, a content calendar is used to help you manage all of your content projects and assets and your publishing schedule. As such, they tend to be quite detailed and granular, going into specifics about each individual piece of content and even often including copyright within the calendar.
In contrast, an editorial calendar is meant to give you a more big-picture view of your vision for your content. As opposed to content calendars, which tend to focus on daily and weekly - sometimes even hourly - time slots, editorial calendars will look months, quarters, and even years in the future. They are largely used to track wider campaigns and themes that you want your content to address, such as back-to-school, winter holidays, and so on.
For example, here's an editorial calendar from Forbes, focusing only on the high-level view.
In an ideal world, you can use a content calendar hand-in-hand with an editorial one to track both your long-term, big-picture approach to your content strategy as well as the nitty-gritty details of how you execute this strategy.
That being said, while a content calendar is an indispensable tool for a content marketing team to use, you can get away with doing without an editorial calendar, especially if your approach to content creation isn’t to use campaigns and sweeping themes. You can also create your content calendar in such a way that it includes the same information within it that one would traditionally put in an editorial calendar if you don’t want to have to keep track of two separate tools.
Why Should You Have a Content Calendar?
In order to be successful with content marketing, you need to publish often - the more frequently you post, the more traffic you get.
A high volume of content can become messy and confusing very quickly if you’re not making a concerted effort to organize it.
By clearly and visually breaking down each piece of content into a content calendar format, you’ll be able to see if and when there are gaps in your content publishing plans. For example, it’s much easier to see that you’re missing a writer for a certain piece of content or haven’t written your week’s tweets yet if there are missing spaces clearly visible in your content calendar. For this reason, a content calendar is one of the best ways to make sure that you actually publish all of the content without things falling through the cracks.
Beyond that, an organized content marketing effort also most often involves multiple people. Whether it be just a couple of interns and a few freelancers or a full-fledged content marketing team of dozens of people, a content calendar can help facilitate collaboration among the people involved in your company’s content marketing efforts. By offering transparency, archives, and a look toward the future that is all stored in one consistent place, a content calendar can keep everybody on the same page and - again - help you avoid things falling through the cracks.
What Should Be in a Content Calendar?
So now that we’ve made it clear why exactly you need a content calendar so badly, let’s talk about the work of actually setting one up. The truth is that if you are even reasonably proficient with spreadsheets, Excel, Google Sheets, or work management software, actually creating and using a content calendar is pretty easy.
The challenging part is understanding exactly what you need to include in your calendar. It’s a delicate balance between keeping all of the important, relevant information that you truly need to see but also avoiding clutter, excess, and redundancy.
Naturally, your content calendar can - and should - evolve over time as you try new things, see how well they do (or don’t) work for you, and iterate. But as a start, here are some of the more important elements of a content calendar that you can find on nearly every single one you’ll see:
● Date and time of intended publication
● Post titles
● Which platform the post will be shared on
Here's an example of a simple content calendar created in Google Sheets. Feel free to copy the template for your own use here!
And here is a much longer list of things that you may choose to include in your content calendar if it makes sense for you:
● The copy you’re going to use in your social media posts
● Who created or will create the content
● Who reviewed or will review the content
● The status of the content - has it been written? Reviewed? Approved? Scheduled? Published?
● Whether the content is new or reused
● Which campaign the content relates to if any
● The format of the content - is it a blog post? A video? An infographic? A podcast?
● Links to the content
As you can see, pretty much any information related to the content that you are creating and making has a potential place on your content calendar. It’s all a matter of determining if it makes sense for your particular team to include it.
How To Set Up Your Content Calendar
As we mentioned above, actually creating and using a content calendar is a rather intuitive process. That’s the good news. The only part of it that may be a little tricky is making a lot of different choices about how you’re going to use your content calendar. Thankfully, no decision is permanent and you can always go back and change things later on. The important is to not hesitate to get started using a content calendar. If starting simple is helpful, we highly encourage it.
Here is how you’ll get started with creating and using your first content calendar.
1. Choose a Content Calendar Tool/Platform
The first thing you’re going to have to do is choose which tool you’ll use to manage your content calendar. Here your options range from the simple, free, and flexible to paid tools specifically created for content management.
For example, you might decide just to go as straightforward as Excel, Google Sheets, or a chart you draw on a whiteboard on your wall. Or alternatively, you might opt for using a program specifically meant for content marketing purposes that will have built-in content calendar templates that might help you get up and running faster. All of these options have pros and cons and it’s ultimately a judgment call which one you prefer.
Here is a partial list of all of the options you can consider:
● Google Sheets
● Google Calendar
2. Choose What to Include in Your Content Calendar
We’ve covered this step pretty extensively above, but the next stage of creating a content calendar is to decide what you’re going to include in it. Again, the most important part of this decision is to choose which elements are logical for your particular content marketing team to keep track of, as well as being open to iterating and changing if you realize you forgot to include something or are tracking something that doesn’t actually provide value to you.
3. Set Up Your Content Calendar Format
Once you’ve solidified those two elements - a content calendar format/platform and what to include in your content calendar -you’re ready to start creating and actually setting up the content calendar itself. If you’re the type who enjoys playing around in spreadsheets, color-coding, and organizing, you might actually really have fun with this step.
Depending on the tool or platform you chose for your content calendar, you may spend more or less time on this step. It might be as easy as drag and drop or you might need to invest some more time and effort into designing and adjusting your content calendar. Either way, the final product should be something you can see yourself using every day and looking at multiple times throughout the day. Just be prepared for it to change - often.
4. Populate Your Content Calendar
With your content calendar all set up, ready to go, and looking empty and ready, your next step is to fill out as much of it as you can.
This part is basically data entry and a lot of copy and paste - it’s just a matter of getting the right information in the right places. We recommend going back and retroactively populating your content calendar for at least a few weeks if not months in the past so that you can use it as a reference.
5. Build Your Content Calendar Processes
With your content calendar all set up, filled up, and ready to go, there’s one more very important step that you shouldn’t forget before you just get up and running with the content calendar as a new, central part of your content marketing day-to-day. This is the step where you figure out exactly how your content calendar is going to fit into your team’s processes.
Here, you’ll have to answer a lot of questions, such as:
● Who has access to the content calendar?
● Whose responsibility is it to keep the content calendar up to date?
● How often should the content calendar be updated?
● Will there be a built-in process for iterating on the content calendar or will we just adjust it as we go along?
The idea here is that you go beyond just making a content calendar and also figure out how you’re going to be using the content calendar so that it is as effective and intuitive as possible.
6. Start Using Your Content Calendar
Now that you’ve done all of the five steps above - congratulations! You’re ready to actually start using your content calendar as a daily part of your content marketing team’s operations. Go ahead and put into place the processes you decided on in the step above. Fill out the calendar as far into the future as makes sense for you and refer to it as much as you need to track what you’ve done in the past, what you’re going to do, and which content is being created and published now.
As long as you’ve been thoughtful and strategic about all of the earlier steps in this process, it won’t take long for you to reap the many benefits of having a content calendar.