Is there anything left to say about how to put together a content calendar?
Between Content Marketing Institute writers and guest contributors, we’ve covered basic content calendar tips (including templates and examples) thoroughly over the years.
But as your organization’s content marketing maturity increases, you may outgrow your existing approach.
How will you know?
Most likely, you’ll know because you start to feel growing pains, often when you’re considering how to expand the scope of your content programs to include new initiatives (a print magazine, a new blog, podcast, or video series) or how to centralize management and governance of distributed content projects within one team. You may find yourself (and your team) struggling for efficiency when planning and tracking production, or optimizing, refreshing, and reusing your content.
You can alleviate the pain with an advanced approach to managing a content calendar. This advanced approach should give your team:
- A single source for the status of in-progress content on different channels
- A way to track your content’s use by teams in different internal brands, divisions, or countries
- The ability to track related and repurposed content through metadata for better content governance
To pull this off, you may need a new calendar tool and new processes, or you may simply need to adapt the processes you use with your existing tool.
First, though, let’s clear up any potential confusion around what I mean by a content calendar.
A content calendar by any other name
In Content Marketing Institute articles, you probably see “content calendar” and “editorial calendar” used interchangeably. Are they the same thing?
The term “editorial calendar” sometimes refers to a published list of issue themes and dates that sales teams use to book advertising into publications. This kind of editorial calendar typically includes a general description of what’s in each issue but remains vague enough to allow for changes and substitutions.
You can get a peek at many publications’ editorial calendars by searching the web. Here’s a bare-bones example that highlights special-issue themes, and shows ad-close and on-sale dates.
Of course, internally, publications use a more granular list of what’s planned, assigned, in-process, and so on, to manage their editorial production, just as content marketers do.
In a content marketing setting, a high-level editorial plan like the one above should be integrated with an actionable content calendar that details every piece of content being managed. Some organizations call this an editorial calendar, others call it a content calendar.
Call it what you will, just know that I use the terms to mean the same thing.
Content calendar prerequisite: A strategy
If you’re in need of a more advanced content calendar, you probably have a good sense of what a basic content calendar includes. (If not, check out the comprehensive details in Jodi Harris’ post Editorial Calendar Tools and Templates.)
But before you even think about evolving your approach to your content calendar, make sure you’ve documented your content marketing strategy.Before you think about a better content calendar, you need a documented #contentmarketing strategy. @KMoutsos Click To Tweet
Working for CMI, I’m contractually obligated to remind you to do this. I’m kidding about the contract, of course, but not about the need for a strategy.
A documented content marketing strategy guarantees everybody on the content team understands:
- Why you’re creating content
- Who you’re creating it for
- What makes your content different from your competition’s
- Where it’s published
- How success is measured (in other words, what goals you’re working toward)
As Jodi explains in her article, the specifics of your content marketing strategy inform many of your decisions about what details to track on your editorial calendar. It also guides decisions around what kind of content you’ll create.Your #contentmarketing strategy guides decisions around what kind of content you'll create, says @joderama. Click To Tweet
An enterprise-strength approach
For a good example of when and why an organization might need to take its content calendar to the next level, consider the experience Stan Miller shared in his Content Marketing World talk What Exactly Does a Truly Global Editorial Calendar Look Like?
The global customer communications editorial lead for Rockwell Automation, Stan oversees governance and processes for the company’s:
- Print magazines (one edition in each of the company’s four global segments)
- Global blog (translated into 15 languages)
- Global home page
- Monthly newsletter
- Global case studies
Though he once managed all the content using a set of separate spreadsheets, he soon found that the need for transparency and efficiency dictated a different approach.
A single source of truth
Today, all the content is tracked and managed through a single editorial-calendar tool shared with editorial counterparts in the company’s Latin America, Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and Asia Pacific divisions.
The global view of Rockwell content for one week looks like this:
Don’t worry that you can’t read the writing. The point of the image is to illustrate that the team can see everything planned for a given time in every channel, in every region.
There’s no need to switch between tabs in a worksheet or between separate spreadsheet files. The unified calendar tool shows it all in one place.
At Rockwell, anybody on the marketing team – no matter where they work in the world – can check the unified view (above) or filter the view to show only a specific set of content (EMEA content, blog content, home-page content, etc.).
Stan’s image shows a calendar view. Other teams (or individual people) might prefer a list view of the calendar like this one in Airtable.
Others prefer a Kanban-style board like this one in Trello.
Regardless of the tool, drilling into any content record in editorial-calendar tools typically reveals the kinds of details you might be used to tracking in a spreadsheet: who’s working on it, notes, status of scheduling for social media, etc.
TIP: Look for a content-calendar tool that allows someone to see all content in one view and in filtered views important to each team (channel, language, owner, status, country, etc.)Look for a #content calendar tool that allows one view & filtered views important to each team. @KMoutsos Click To Tweet
Most content calendars include some combination of the following basic data:
- Topic or headline
- Publish date
- Submission date
- Audience or buyer-cycle stage
As I mentioned, exactly what data you’ll track on your calendar depends on your overall content marketing strategy and needs.
At Rockwell, the content entries also include:
- Language (English, French, simplified Chinese)
- Region (North America, Latin America, EMEA, or Asia Pacific)
- Translations requested
- Translations in progress
- Content ID
- CMS ID
Content ID and CMS ID are the key to tracking a piece of content through all its iterations – including translations – because file names or article titles don’t remain the same.
The Content ID is generated automatically by Rockwell’s content-calendar tool. Its website publishing tool generates a separate ID that has to be manually logged into the calendar tool.
Although logging the web ID is an extra step, Stan says the importance of the metadata makes it worth doing. That’s because the publishing tool’s ID lets teams keep track of all the places where the content is used on Rockwell’s website.
TOOL TIP: Check whether the content-calendar tool integrates with your CMS/publishing tool.Check to see if your #content calendar tool integrates w/ your CMS/publishing tool, says @Kmoutsos. Click To Tweet
Don’t overlook the advantages of a calendar tool that automates workflow. We all know that emails can get stuck in drafts, overlooked in inboxes, or lost in archives, causing delays and confusion.
An integrated workflow means that teams can check what’s in their queue, get notifications when statuses change, and document notes and decisions all in one place, without relying on email prompts.
That’s something trickier to pull off in a basic spreadsheet approach.
At Rockwell Automation, for example, unifying regional and global calendars within one tool streamlined communication and transparency, Stan says.Unify regional & global #content calendars within one tool to streamline communication, says @stanmiller. Click To Tweet
For example, when the North America content team finished a magazine issue, it would send an email to let the regions know the content was available. But the team never knew if, how, or where that content was used.
Now that all the content calendars are integrated (and tracking data is in place), the team can see, for example, that a story on industrial safety was used across all regions or that EMEA chopped a different story in half to run as a blog.
That kind of transparency helps executives understand the full impact of a single piece of content.
TIP: Use metadata to follow a single piece of content through all its iterations to show a complete picture of the content’s impact.
Tools and teams
You probably could hack an advanced approach to a content calendar using a combination of worksheets from Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, Zapier (or similar) integrations, and a shared drive so everyone who needs it has access.
But you might find it easier to create and manage an advanced content calendar in a tool built to handle editorial processes and workflow. You’ll find plenty of advice on calendar tools online through a quick Google search.
You’ll have a much better shot at picking the one that’s right for you once you understand what you need and how you’ll use it to support your expanding content initiatives.
Whatever tools and processes you put in place, make sure they’ll ultimately make your team’s job easier.
After all, even the most advanced content calendar will fail if no one uses it.
Please note: All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute