Whether we’re planning content for a homepage, a blog, a news site, a Twitter account or some other destination, an editorial calendar is an essential tool for making sense of the who, what, when, where, why and how of our content:
- Who is responsible for creating this?
- What content type are we publishing?
- When will we publish this content?
- Where will we publish it?
- Why are we publishing this?
- How are we promoting this content once it is published?
Generally speaking, an editorial calendar is a tool for organizing and planning our content publishing efforts. But despite its name, an editorial calendar is about more than just dates. While days, times, milestones and deadlines are essential components of any editorial calendar, those are just the foundation.
An editorial calendar has the potential to fortify your entire content strategy by reinforcing goals and messaging, facilitating collaboration, and enabling more efficient, effective publishing.
That’s a lot of responsibility for one tool. That means we have to be thoughtful in how we create and maintain it as a resource. While there are lots of templates available (see these offered by Content Marketing Institute and Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Michael Powers, the truth is that in order to be relevant to our institution and our editorial strategy, a calendar can’t be one-size-fits-all.
Considerations for Your Editorial Calendar
Here are some things to keep in mind when crafting an editorial calendar that will support your content strategy.
Define Your Purpose
In a post on the Brain Traffic blog in July 2011, content strategist Melissa Rach made the very important point that the purpose of an editorial calendar is not implicit. One organization’s calendar will vary from another because different organizations have different editorial priorities.
When creating your calendar, you should define its purpose from the outset. That purpose may be to ensure published content is on-brand, or to track cross-channel publishing, or to track what resources you’re using to create content. As Rach explains, defining your calendar’s purpose will inform what elements you use it to track and how you prioritize them.
“Focus your calendar on the top priorities, and consider eliminating the bottom priorities to make your calendar easy to use and maintain,” wrote Rach.
Center Your Campus Content Group
By now, we all know the value of bringing together content staff from across campus in order to facilitate information and resource sharing, editorial collaboration, and content brainstorming. There are few substitutes for the value of a well-managed content group.
But what about when people aren’t sitting around the table? The editorial calendar should record the actionable output of those in-person conversations. Who’s the point person for that story about the new research facility, and what’s the review and approval workflow? When are you planning to promote your new student video series via social media? By tracking this information, the calendar provides a point of reference and a platform for communication between in-person meetings.
Align Content with Goals and Branding
If we’re lucky, we’re working with a communications strategy that aligns with our institution’s overall strategic plan. That’s all well and good, but in the day-to-day trenches of content planning, how do we align a tweet or a news story with our branding, our key messages, and our institutional goals?
For every content item we plug into our calendar, we should be able to toggle which messages and goals that piece of content represents, as well as to which audiences it is targeting. This way, we’ll have a means by which to track and monitor over time whether our content is on-brand and strategic, as well as ensuring a properly balanced representation of those goals and messages.
Are you striking the proper balance in featuring all of your colleges and schools, or hitting all of your top brand messages? This data would be great to include in a year-end report to your vice president on the strategic value of your communications efforts (especially if accompanied with corresponding content analytics).
Use Your Calendar as a History
We may be inclined to think of an editorial calendar as a tool for keeping track of the present and the future, but it can be just as valuable (if not moreso) in tracking the past.
As mentioned previously, we can use our editorial calendar to align planned content with institutional goals and messaging. We may also use our calendar to track how and where content is promoted, through which channels we publish content, the range of content types we’re publishing, which staff members create specific elements of content, and so on.
Think of all of this information as data we are measuring. At regular intervals, we should review this data to help determine whether our content efforts are aligned with our strategy. It’s easy to get tripped up in the day-to-day grind. Our editorial calendar can help us see the bigger picture.
For instance, if you recently acquired resources to create more videos and are hoping to integrate of video content into your mix, your editorial calendar can help you track whether or not this goal has become a reality. If it hasn’t, that may prompt you to go back and evaluate how effectively you’re managing those resources.
Structure Your Calendar Thoughtfully
Beyond content topic, type, publication date, and goal/message, here are some other characteristics you may consider incorporating into your calendar:
- Cross-channel opportunities
If you’re creating a video destined for YouTube, will you also feature it on your homepage, Twitter, or your news site? Our content often has many lives, and it’s important to be aware of them all.
- Workflow status
Content has got to start somewhere, and it has a step-by-step evolution until it’s ready for prime time. It’s important for us to know where it is along that process — in production, under review, ready for publication, and so on.
- Other relevant dates
Beside a publication date, you may have review and approval deadlines, production schedules, promotion dates or other internal considerations. Use your editorial calendar to track these, as well.
Track Both Scheduled and Unscheduled Ideas
We need to know what’s happening today, tomorrow, and the next day. But what about that unrefined idea that won’t be relevant until five months from now? Or maybe we don’t know when we’ll have the bandwidth to tackle a certain content project, but we know it’s got potential?
These ideas come up all the time — at editorial meetings, in chance discussions, while walking around campus — but they can be incredibly hard to pin down. Maybe it’s an awesome way to cover freshman move-in, or a user-generated content idea for next year’s homecoming, or series of academic video profiles to feature on your majors and minors page.
We need to find a way to record these ideas in such a way that they don’t become out of sight and out of mind. This idea repository should live in concert with our editorial calendar, such that when that relevant time does present itself, the idea is there to be considered.
Use What Works For You
There are lots of different formats you can use to manage your editorial calendar. Again, there’s no single best solution – all that matters is what will work best for your organization.
- Microsoft Excel, Google Spreadsheet, or other hosted, customizable online database solutions (such as Zoho or Quickbase)
- A functionality native to your CMS (For WordPress, you may consider the Edit Flow or Editorial Calendar plugins)
- Project team management software such as Basecamp or Trello
- Google Calendar
- Hosted editorial management applications such as DivvyHQ and Kapost
Figure out which option works best — not just for you as calendar owner, but for the group that will be regularly using your calendar. If something doesn’t work out, don’t force it — find something that will.
There are many options to consider when shaping your editorial calendar, and everyone’s recipe will be different. What works for your editorial planning? What additional factors are worth considering?