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Get It Together: Try the Ideas in the 5 Most Popular Content Planning Posts

Do you have an editorial calendar? Congratulations, you’re partway down the path to a solid content plan. (If you don’t have a content or editorial calendar, see me after class. I’d love to know how you operate.)

Most likely, you’ve felt the seemingly endless pressure to come up with great ideas to fill that calendar. And, of course, you don’t want to just fill it, you want the content to produce results.

You’re not the only one. I’ve been studying the most popular content (by traffic) on the Content Marketing Institute’s site, and the hunger for ideas around content planning comes through loud and clear.

To help, I’ve gathered some takeaways from our most popular articles (published in 2019 and 2020) on the topic. They’re ordered from broadest to most specific, and I’ve noted their popularity ranking in case you’re curious.

1. Got a Plan? Content Marketing Success Demands It

If you’re not sure what goes into a content plan, start with this overview. Even if you think you know, give this a glance. A true content plan is much more than an editorial calendar. As this article by Jodi Harris explains, your plan should cover everything to do before anyone writes a single word, picks up a camera, speaks into a microphone, or hunts down an image.

You know, it’s the fun stuff, like:

  • Establishing guidelines and standards: Cover quality, style, tone, and voice – in other words, the things that make up content governance.
  • Working out processes and choosing tools: Define the tasks to complete to explain the workflow, help the team collaborate and communicate, and identify the tools and technology the team will use.
  • Deciding on team roles and resources: Lay out your team structure, the needed skills, and where team members can find support for their work.

Popularity rank (page views): 5 

Key takeaway: Notice how I avoided starting the list with the term “governance.” That term sounds like medicine and few people enjoy that taste. But Jodi does a great job of explaining how setting standards from the start sweetens the content production process:

Governance lies at the heart of every editorial program … Determining these protocols at the start makes it easier to make tactical, go/no-go decisions and maintain strategic alignment throughout the life span of your content program.

2. How to Create a Strategic Social Media Plan [Template]

Your content plan may feed your social media channels. But, given the channel options – and different standards and practices for each – it pays to create a specific social media plan. Jodi Harris comes through again, laying out a straightforward approach to deciding which channels to focus on, mapping your assets to the right channel, and setting standards to guide the team’s work.

Popularity rank (by page views): 1

Key takeaway: Legal issues often surprise content producers on social. Make sure your social media plan clearly explains laws and regulations that apply to your content. Here are a few important guidelines to establish:

  • How to distinguish editorial from advertising, which has to follow stricter rules
  • How to get a signed release for every original image or mention
  • How to handle attribution for images sourced from third-party sites and sources for images shared on your social channels
  • How to remove content whose source you can’t identify

3. The 7 Core Roles of a 2020 Content Marketing Team

Robert Rose writes that “What does a content marketing team look like?” is the third most common question he gets. But, he argues, it should be the most common.

Even if you’re a team of one, you’ll have to handle or outsource most of the functions the article describes. Robert walks you through seven roles that any content team needs – and how they’ve changed over time, shifting from handling mostly external audience content to a blend of external and internal content. And it may just be the work you do internally that keeps your program alive.

Popularity rank (by page views): 3

Key takeaway: Although Robert lists seven core roles, he’s not saying the ideal content team has seven members. Some will have overlapping responsibilities. Some will have shared responsibilities.

But to give your content marketing program the best chance at success, your team must integrate with, as Robert puts it, “more traditional marketing, technology, or even operational professionals.” For example, the technical content manager responsibilities might be part of a role in the IT department, while the influencer wrangler might be someone who sits on the corporate communications team.

Just make sure, Robert advises, the responsibilities are part of the person’s job description – not an add-on to be handled after their full-time job is done.

This chart shows how the teams typically relate to each other. (You’ll find the description of the roles of the surrounding teams – editorial board, content execution team, and digital support team – in Robert’s article.

4. Must-Have Checklist to Creating Valuable Content

How do you make sure every content piece in your plan matters? You share this checklist with every member of the team (bonus points if you also let them know which parts they’re responsible for).

Ahava Leibtag keeps updating this useful resource originally created in 2011. We keep republishing it, and content marketers keep reading it. One reason is the very nature of a checklist. As Ahava writes, it’s “all about taking the guesswork out of execution, so that creative content can flourish.”

Popularity rank (by page views): 2

Key takeaway: The checklist.

Click to enlarge

5. How to Create a Good Brief for Better Content Marketing

You’ve felt it, haven’t you? That frustration when an assigned piece comes in looking nothing like what you think you asked for? Most editors and content managers have. So the popularity of Daniel Hatch’s post on creating better briefs isn’t a surprise.

But the clarity and thoroughness of his advice is a delight. Dan explains how to strike the right balance between drowning the content creator in information and giving them exactly what they need to produce content that meets your standards and the goal for the piece.

Popularity rank (by page views): 4

Key takeaway: I couldn’t love this paragraph more if I’d written the brief that produced it.

Taking the time to create a thorough but concise brief is probably the single greatest investment you can make in both your work efficiency and your sanity. The contrast in emotions when a perfectly constructed piece of content lands in your inbox could not be starker. It’s like the sun has burst through the clouds, someone has released a dozen white doves, and that orchestra that follows you around has started playing the lovely bit from Madame Butterfly – all at once.

Do you have a plan for that?

Is this one-stop resource for content planning ideas useful to you? I’d love to hear how you approach content planning. I’m sure other content planners would, too. Share your approach in the comments.

A heartfelt thanks to the CMI website visitors who come to read the content. We’ll keep counting up your “votes” and sharing the most popular by category this summer.

Sign up now for CMI’s free weekday newsletter and you won’t miss the upcoming “top five” articles.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute