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6 Content Calendar Strategies That Work Better Than Waiting for Inspiration

Updated May 27, 2021

You have a documented content marketing strategy. You’ve outlined your quarterly plan, aligning your messages and goals with demand gen, sales, customer success, and other teams. But you still have slots to fill in your editorial calendar.

Most marketers have experienced this moment. You generally know what you need to produce, but specific story ideas seem just out of reach.

When this happens, you have two choices: Wait for inspiration to strike or develop a system to find stellar ideas to fill the calendar.

This post is not for those who choose to hold out for a flash of creative inspiration. It’s for anyone ready to do the dirty work of finding hidden content opportunities to shape and polish into something brilliant.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 4 Questions to Help Vet Your Content Ideas

1. Frack this (aka repurpose it)

I know of a content team that plans a “big rock” content piece each quarter. Then they create a “frack map” to document all the ways that big rock can be “fracked” – that is, broken up and reassembled into new content pieces. (Think of fracking in the oil-and-gas-industry sense, not the Battlestar Galactica expletive.)

Fracking is standard practice at CMI (though we’re more likely to call it repurposing).

We fracked the writing tips and exercises in this e-book from a series of blog posts by CMI editorial consultant Ann Gynn and other contributors.

CMI general manager Stephanie Stahl fracked insights from one of our digital events to create her article on livestreaming in this issue of CCO. (We also published it as a blog post.)

Click to read CCO March 2021: The Inspiration Issue (TOC Preview)

And every month, we frack Robert Rose’s Marketing Makers video show into a companion blog post.

If you haven’t yet tried fracking your content (e-books, white papers, research reports, documentaries, or other long-form content), it’s time to break out the heavy equipment. You might be surprised how rewarding it can be to smash things up and put them together in new ways.

2. Trot out the evil-twin

Hat tip to Andy Crestodina for this method and its dramatic moniker. Here’s how the evil-twin approach to content development works:

  1. Identify a popular how-to, best practices, or recommendations article you’ve run.
  2. Write a new piece on the topic from the opposite angle. (Think: what not to do, mistakes to avoid, and so on.)

Atlassian used a version of this method in its online publication recently. The Work Life team wrote many articles about making the most of remote work over the past year.

With businesses heading back toward some combination of remote and in-person work, the team could have shifted to writing about making the most of hybrid work models. Instead, they got creative and thought about all the ways hybrid work could go wrong – then offered tips for avoiding the pitfalls.

3. Create (or inspect) your pillars

HubSpot’s Justin Champion recently outlined a useful method for creating pillar pages to help with SEO and to organize your content in a way that helps your audience find your best content on different angles of a topic.

His approach involves:

  • Identifying a head term – typically a two-word phrase your audience would use when searching for information (e.g., “gum disease”).
  • Identifying the core topics to provide additional context for the head term – these are related phrases with less search volume than your head topic (e.g., “gum disease prevention”).
  • Breaking the core topics into subtopics – making sure content assets support each one.

If you have a great, in-depth piece of content around a head term, you can frack it into multiple pieces to create your pillar page, supporting core topic, and subtopic pieces. If you don’t have a suitable in-depth guide, Justin recommends that you create one as you build your pillar-based content cluster.

4. Grab (i.e., curate) other people’s content

Content curation is a technique all content marketers should master, Jodi Harris wrote in a recent article. Like fracking or repurposing your own content, curating content lets you fill your calendar without having to create every asset from scratch.

Content curation involves gathering content from a variety of sources and presenting it to your audience – ideally with your commentary on what makes the tip, idea, or example relevant, interesting, or useful to them.

As Jodi wrote, “getting value from this technique requires your brand’s unique stamp on the curated content.”

Every Friday, for example, we publish an article made up of content marketing examples. Some examples come to us from audience suggestions (you can submit one here). We grab others from articles or examples the CMI team noticed on social media, in email newsletters, and so on.

We add our take on why it matters to other content marketers and what they can learn from every curated example.

If you take this approach, you must include proper attribution and abide by all copyright laws. Jodi offers examples and a list of do’s and don’ts in her article.

5. Peek over a competitor’s shoulder

Who doesn’t love a good content audit? OK, most marketers probably don’t love the process. But they do appreciate the insights audits produce.

Here’s some good news. You don’t have to limit your analysis to your content – and you shouldn’t. You should also inventory and audit your competitor’s content.

Why spend time auditing what some other brand is doing? It lets you use your competitors’ work to your advantage, writes Ellie Mirman.

Digging into the topics your competitors cover, how the audience reacts to them, and which channels they’re using helps you identify opportunities to outdo them. You might find a topic you can explain more thoroughly or a format, type, or channel they’re not optimizing.

Anything they can do, you can do differently and better, right?

6. Ask whether you need a new piece of content

Whenever possible, try to avoid creating something new. Don’t worry, I’m not advising you to shirk your duties or pawn off the task on someone else. I’m suggesting that sometimes you might get more bang for your editorial buck by updating and republishing something than by creating something from scratch.

I explain how to find worthy candidates for republishing in this (updated and republished) post.

Meta alert: My 2019 article was inspired by this one from 2017:

TIP: If you haven’t audited your content recently but still need to find republishing candidates in a hurry, try the approach described in this article: A Simple-to-Do Content Audit With 6 Questions.

Roll up your sleeves and get to work

Remember, when you’re staring at those empty slots in your content calendar, don’t just wait for an idea to fall into your lap. Get digging to find the content gems seeded throughout your (and maybe your neighbor’s) property.

I’d love to hear where you dig for ideas. Let me know in the comments.

Keep up with all the content marketing examples, tips, and ideas in curated and original content. Subscribe to the daily or weekly newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute