There’s a strange notion doing the rounds, pushed by almost every website that claims it can teach you about content marketing. It has to do with content calendars, and the assumption that anyone can knock one out over morning coffee. If most of these five-step lists are to be believed, content calendar creation is natural to anyone who cares to turn their hand to it – that we’re each born with the required know-how hard-coded.
Now, I don’t want to suggest that content calendars are beyond the powers of most mortals – we’re not talking about gene therapy here, after all – but the idea that it can be done in five minutes between meetings is misleading. It’s a fairly intensive creative process, for which you need time, coffee, and a crowd of good people to knock ideas about with. Oh, and pastries help, too.
I don’t profess to have the perfect checklist, but I thought it might be interesting to lay out a few of the steps that I find useful myself, and hopefully get some of our readers to share a few of their own tips (feel free to post your comments below).
1. Do data, don’t assume
The trap most wannabe content marketers fall into is assuming that they know what their audience wants. As most brand blogs will demonstrate, companies and brands assume that their readers would like to hear about their charity work and their latest initiatives. That may well be the case – it depends on what it is that you do and the audience you’re trying to attract – but assuming won’t get you anywhere.
Most brand bloggers assume that their readers would like to hear about their charity work… but assuming won’t get you anywhere
It all starts with data. The more you know about the audience you’re writing for and the interests you share with them, the easier the win. It’s here that a good marketing or strategy department can help you out. They will invariably have access to audience insights that can help you paint a picture of the people you’re trying to appeal to – from their age to their sex, their interests, maybe even the kind of publications they would choose to spend money on. You may even have data from AB testing, or stats from posts that have worked or failed in the past. The more data you can lay your hands on, the more informed your calendar will be.
2. Know your platforms
It may sound obvious, but having a good idea of what your content platform is capable of can save you a lot of time. I’ve dealt with clients who phone up, delighted with themselves because they’ve come up with ‘the best Facebook competition idea ever’. Had they known a little more about Facebook’s terms and conditions, they’d have known that there are strict rules around what you can and can’t do.
Similarly, many brand websites aren’t set up for easy publishing, and knowing a little about how their bespoke CMS operates can ensure that you don’t spend hours planning a series of helpful FAQ videos for a site that can’t support rich media.
3. Work organically
Another seemingly simple point, but one that seems to floor the content industry as a whole: learn to work with other people. If your client employs PR specialists, creative specialists and distribution specialists from different agencies, make use of them! Get them in the same room and centralize your efforts around the content calendar. It can only work out for the best. Find out their plans and integrate what you’re all doing. Your client will love you for it, and you may even make a few new friends while you’re there.
It always amazes me how quickly marketers will drop everything to do a bit of networking and mid-air cheek kissing, but would sooner kill one another than collaborate on ideas for a shared client. This has to stop.
4. Go traditional
As I wrote in my ‘hero, hub and hygiene’ piece a few blogs ago, the assumption that content strategy is a new discipline is flawed. People have been publishing or broadcasting content for a very long time, and – surprise, surprise – content calendars have always been a vital part of the process.
The key to getting it right is layering – you’re aiming to align everything you know about your client and your audience around potential publication dates. As I said earlier, the more you know, the better chance you’ll have of creating something that resounds.
Transparency in content marketing fails when brands start having an opinion about every blip on the cultural calendar. Too many blips make a cacophony
Think carefully about how you can align your content conversations around cultural and company events, but avoid the temptation to go overboard. Transparency in content marketing fails when brands start having an opinion about every blip on the cultural calendar. Too many blips make a cacophony.
At the heart of any great content piece is collaboration, and that goes for your content calendar, too. In my experience, these things are best created by a team of specialists, each representing different content disciplines. If your hero piece is going to be video, then get a videographer feeding in from the beginning. If you’re hygiene work is largely going to be done through social, then make sure your social team are in the room with you. If you have distribution specialists in your team, make sure they know from the beginning the kind of work they’re going to be distributing, and get their opinion on whether one idea might work better than another – and where it’ll have the best chance to shine.
5. Be flexible
Being nimble is part of the job. As an editor, you need to keep an eye on the news and be ready to drop your carefully laid plans at any given second. The best content producers have become very good at this, as the huge popularity of the Oreo’s Superbowl tweet demonstrated.
What they don’t tell you is that being as nimble as Oreo’s takes a lot of preparation and planning. It requires having teams in place, ready for the big events to make sure they can react quickly and with quality at the core. With experience, however, these teams can get very good at being reactive. In London, some of the best work I’ve seen in this area has been done by Cake and their ‘Sandinista Newsroom‘. Drop them a line if you want to witness brand storytelling, live, with a news-jacking bent.
The takeout from all of this is that creating a content calendar that works isn’t something that happens on your tea break, and that anyone who asks you to throw one together in a morning clearly hasn’t been through the process themselves. It’s a collaborative, time-intensive job that requires concentration and input from specialists in a variety of fields.
That’s not to say it can’t be a lot of fun, of course. As with most collaborative creative processes, content calendar creation can be a rewarding and motivating process. Especially if you’ve got pastries.