What Is a Content Plan and What Should It Include?
A content strategy tells you where to go - a content plan tells you how to get there. We'll break down what needs to be included in a successful one.
Does your business have a content strategy? Great, now what about a content plan?
Whoops, did you think those two were the same? Don’t worry, it’s a common mistake. Content marketing is a modern and ever-developing discipline, and it’s no surprise that people sometimes get the various aspects of it mixed up.
So let’s get things straight. A content strategy is a larger, big-picture vision for the goals you want to reach in your content marketing and how you intend to get there. A content plan, on the other hand, is comprised of the specific tactics you will use to achieve those goals and execute your strategy.
Both are hugely important parts of content marketing, but each should be given its own consideration and effort in order to best serve your marketing goals. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the differences between a content strategy and a content plan and outline what your content plan should include.
What's the Difference Between a Content Strategy and a Content Plan?
Although they are both ultimately strategic tools that you can use in order to achieve content marketing goals and execute content marketing campaigns, a content strategy and a content plan are fundamentally different things with different aims. Let’s dive into the difference.
What Is a Content Strategy?
Think of content strategy as the global perspective on your content marketing. It’s the basis of your approach, answering bigger picture questions about content creation and publication such as:
● How will we use content?
● Why will we use content?
● What are our content marketing goals?
● How do our content marketing goals connect to our larger business goals?
● How will we achieve our content marketing goals?
Your content strategy will be your guiding light as you move forward with creating and executing a content plan. It will help steer your decision-making. Any time you find yourself unsure about how to approach a specific content planning or content creation problem, you can look to your content strategy to help you find your way.
Creating an effective content strategy involves a lot of research, a deep understanding of your business’s larger goals and brand identity, a strong grasp of what you want your marketing to achieve in particular, and a knowledge of content marketing best practices and trends.
A large portion of your content strategy will be answering the question, “Why?”. But another, no less important, part of your content strategy will be the beginnings of approaching the question “how?”. This is, again, a higher-level way of thinking, addressing:
● What does your general content creation workflow look like?
● Who is involved?
● Who is responsible for what?
● Who are the decision-makers?
Finally, it’s also critical that your content strategy takes into account issues of tracking and measuring the success of your content marketing campaigns. This means thinking about:
● What does the success of any particular initiative look like?
● How is data tracked?
● What metrics matter?
● How is success measured?
● What are our performance goals?
Once you’ve thoroughly answered all of the questions listed above, you should have a solid content strategy that can then be taken to the next step: execution via a content plan.
What is a Content Plan?
A content plan is an intermediary step between the dream of your content strategy and the concrete, day-to-day reality of executing your content marketing campaigns. It looks at more material questions such as “when?” and “what?”.
As part of your content plan, you’ll start building out a content calendar with the topics and themes you’ll address and the workflow of how each piece of content will be created, published, and assessed.
With your content plan, you’ll be looking at questions like:
● What is our content production process?
● How will we come up with ideas for relevant, unique content?
● How will we streamline our workflows to be as effective and efficient as possible?
● What is our content production schedule?
● How do we make sure we stay on schedule?
At every stage of the creation of your content plan, you should be looking to your content strategy to make sure that the decisions you’re making align with the larger vision you had for your content marketing efforts.
What Should a Content Plan Include?
So now that you have a solid understanding of the difference between a content strategy and a content plan, let’s look at what you’ll want to include in your content plan once you start building it out. Of course, each content plan can and should be uniquely fit to the needs of the organization it will serve, but here are some elements that we generally recommend to include.
A Clearly Documented Workflow
The first, and an incredibly important, part of your content plan is a workflow that clearly documents the processes you will go through when you execute your content marketing campaigns.
Above all, this should be two things: granular and transparent.
Your content workflow should include every single step that will be involved in content ideation, creation, publication, and tracking. This could include things such as:
● Creating briefs
● Creation of copy, images, and/or video assets
● Scheduling for publication
● Publication dates
● Metric tracking
● Whether or not the piece of content will be kept around for future use
● Responsible parties
In addition to listing out every specific part of your content creation process, your content workflow should also be incredibly clear and easy to understand. And crucially, it should be available to every relevant party. This is so that the content creation process is as transparent as possible so there are no mix-ups or hiccups in the execution.
An Editorial Calendar
As part of your content plan, you’ll most likely want to create an editorial calendar, which is a plan for what themes you’ll cover throughout the upcoming quarter or year. This will help you track bigger-picture topics and campaigns that you want to address in your content. For example, you might want to create lots of content related to Black History Month for February or, alternatively, choose your brand’s own unique themes. For example, if you are a pet food brand, you can dedicate different parts of the year to different animals for whom you offer products.
A Content Calendar
Next, your content plan should involve building out a content calendar, which shouldn’t be confused with an editorial calendar. Instead of listing out larger themes, your content calendar will be a more granular visual representation of the content creation workflow that you put together.
Content calendars are an indispensable tool for content marketing, as they help you keep things clear and easy to find. This is especially important when you take into consideration that one of the cornerstones of an effective content marketing strategy is consistently posting lots of content. If you follow this rule, you’ll find yourself quickly reaching milestones of hundreds and even thousands of pieces of content. A good content calendar will make it easy to keep track of all of these assets.
In the same way that your content workflow will help keep lots of different people aligned about what their involvement is in the content creation process, your content calendar will be a tool used by your entire content team to aid them in their own role in the execution of your content marketing plan.
Your content calendar can and should include all types of content that you’ll be creating as part of your content marketing plan, including each social media platform, blog posts, white papers, website content, gated content, and more.
Now let’s address the age-old question: what should you include in your content calendar? Again, this is an individual decision that should be approached with your team’s specific needs in mind, but we’d generally recommend, at the very minimum, at least including:
● Publication date and time
● Content title
● Content URL
● Platform of publication
Additionally, you may choose to include any of the following elements:
● Content copy
● Content owner
● Content creator
● Content reviewer
● Content status
● Content type: is it new or reused?
● Content format: Is it text? Image? Infographic? Video?
● Content campaign or theme
● Link to the published content
A Plan for Content Amplification
As you probably know, it’s not always (or usually) enough just to create your content and hope for the best. You’ll also want to amplify your content, meaning engaging in various tactics that will help get it in front of as many people as possible.
If you intend to promote your content, then your content plan should definitely include what content amplification strategies you will use.
There are so many different ways that you can amplify content, and the tactics you use should be chosen based on their alignment with your content strategy, but some options to consider include:
● Influencer partnerships
● Guest posts
● Content syndication
● Using hashtags
Set Measurements and Tracking
We’ve already mentioned it a few times, but we’ll say it again because it is that important: no content plan is complete without consideration of how you will track your content’s success and reiterate accordingly.
Because it isn’t enough just to make killer content. It isn’t even enough to make killer content that lots of people see. If you don’t know exactly how your content is performing and adjusting your content plan (and even strategy!) accordingly, then you are firing on half-cylinders.
● How do you define a piece of content or a content campaign as successful?
● What metrics do you track and how do you track them?
● How often do you adjust your marketing plan in accordance with the success or failure of previous initiatives?
Finally, your content plan should consider the issue of budget. Content, after all, isn’t made on trees. And while you can execute a content strategy on a shoestring budget working with a team of one, chances are that you will have various expenses as part of your content plan, including:
● In-house content team members
● Freelancers to create content
● Content scheduling software
● Content calendar software
● Social media promotion costs
● Subscriptions to SEO and keyword research websites
● Influencer promotions
Your content plan should have a clear budget with allocations in the various categories of expenses.
A Closing Word
Again, we can’t emphasize enough: your content plan (and your content strategy) are your own. The only way to measure its success is by whether or not it meets your brand’s needs and helps you achieve your goals. So use this article as a way to help you understand what a content plan is, and then let your creativity go wild.