Improve Your Marketing with an Editorial Calendar
An editorial calendar is your content manager
Strong marketing campaigns that build a loyal following and increase sales require organization and planning. I am not a planner. And while I like and admire organization, I don’t like it enough to actually organize my life, or my desk, or the files on my computer. Also, I hate spreadsheets. This makes me the perfect person to explain why (and how) you should use an editorial calendar to plan and organize your content marketing. Really! If I can do it, anyone can.
What exactly is an editorial calendar?
It’s usually a spreadsheet, with various headings and tabs that guide you to fill in your sales goals, monthly themes, content ideas, due dates and more. It is used to manage the publication of content across multiple platforms, including blogs, social media, emails, and websites. Our version also includes print, radio and television ads, as well as competitor and referral data, because we like to keep marketing and sales side by side.
The purpose of any editorial calendar is to bring consistency, design and accountability to the publication process. If you struggle to plan exciting and engaging content, publish blog posts on schedule, or remember who’s doing what, then an editorial calendar is definitely for you.
Wait, what is content?
For our purposes, content is information. So content marketing (also called inbound marketing) is information marketing. It’s the idea that your company can attract and retain customers by being helpful, edifying, instructive and illuminating. All that enlightenment is delivered via blog posts, emails, white papers, ebooks, infographics, social media posts, videos and so on. It is given freely—or in exchange for a little personal info, such as your name and email address. When successful, content marketing makes your company indispensable, trusted and loved.
How to succeed at content marketing
Content marketing is strategic. There are three keys to successful content marketing:
- Understand your audience. Who are you talking to? What do they care about? What motivates them? How can your company connect with them? Most businesses have various types of ideal customers, so it’s helpful to develop buyer personas that epitomize those groups.
- Create quality content. There is a lot of competition for your audience’s attention. Boring, self-promotional, poorly designed or useless content will fail to achieve your goals.
- Be consistent. Publish on a reliable and relatively frequent schedule so people can expect—even anticipate!—your content.
How an editorial calendar can help you triumph
An editorial calendar forces you to focus on your goals, plan your content strategy in advance, and meet the expectations of your audience. A good editorial calendar will provide a big-picture overview of your marketing strategy, as well as:
- A place to brainstorm topics and post ideas
- A task management and workflow system
- A publishing schedule with hard deadlines
- A measurement or accountability process
An editorial calendar helps you create quality content that is consistent with your overall themes, brand identity and goals. It also serves to organize and motivate your creative team and keep your strategy on track.
How to use an editorial calendar
Editorial calendars are generally filled out in meetings, with input from your strategic and creative teams. First, there should be a “big picture” meeting to determine yearly goals and themes. Here are some of the questions you will answer and record in your editorial calendar:
- What is the overall message of your brand?
- What will you be talking about in June versus October?
- How often do you want to communicate with your buyer personas, referral sources, and past customers?
- What platforms will you use to communicate?
- What types of content will you produce?
- What are your revenue goals?
- How many subscribers / followers do you want?
- How many new customers do you want?
Once you establish the big picture, you can move on to monthly content planning. This will require approximately 12 meetings. You should plan your content one to three months in advance of publication. In the “big picture” meeting, you will have determined how many blog posts you will publish each month, how many pieces of “premium content” (such as ebooks), how many videos, etc. Now you will give life to those numbers. Here are some of the questions you will answer and record in your editorial calendar during these meetings:
- What should Blog #1 be about this month?
- Who will write it?
- Who will edit it?
- Who will lay it out and publish it?
- When is it due?
- What keywords should it contain?
- What internal links should it have?
- What is the call-to-action (CTA)?
- What are your email campaigns?
- What should go into your newsletter?
- What are you talking about on social media?
Once you figure out all the details, you will move on to content creation. Here’s where a project management system can be very handy. For example, we use Basecamp to help us manage projects and tasks. After our content planning meetings, some deeply organized soul (not me) sets up to-do lists and assigns tasks in Basecamp. The tasks are linked to the editorial calendar for easy reference, but most of the relevant information is contained in the to-do. Then content is produced, deadlines are met, and goals are exceeded (like magic!)
If you don’t have a task management system and don’t want to invest in one, that’s OK. But I would recommend putting basic info, like due dates, into Google Calendar or another program that will generate reminders for your team.
How do you know if you’ve done a good job? At the end of the month, or when you have the data (such as views, click rates, sales, etc.), circle back to your editorial calendar and compare your goals with your results. Content marketing often does not generate direct or immediate sales, so look at more than revenue. Ask and answer these questions, too:
- Did you increase your following?
- Did people engage with your content (i.e., comment, like, share, etc.)?
- Did people act on your CTAs?
If people are not viewing, engaging with or otherwise loving your content, you need to figure out why. Usually the answer is that your content wasn’t sufficiently useful or entertaining. But working with an editorial calendar will help you identify what types of content your audience likes and responds to, and then you can plan more of it.
How to get started with an editorial calendar
Starting is easy! There are lots of free templates available if you search. I like our free editorial calendar template, which is an Excel spreadsheet. In addition to tabs for content planning, our template has tabs for buyer persona sketches, competitor information, community involvement initiatives and more. This makes it an all-inclusive marketing and sales “playbook” for easy reference. Our editorial calendar comes with an example workbook that’s all filled out with a sample campaign, so you can see how a completed editorial calendar should look. It also comes with a marketing overview that illustrates a typical month of content planning, creation and publishing.
Whatever template you choose, an editorial calendar will help you create content with focus and intention. It will result in higher-quality, targeted content that helps you meet and exceed your goals. Even if (or especially if) you are disorganized, spontaneous and messy like me, I highly recommend using an editorial calendar to plan your marketing activities. Try it and let me know what you think.