Last week, Tim Nekritz, director of web communication at SUNY Oswego, tackled a great topic: content and serendipity. In it he shared an example of content that unexpectedly generated a record-breaking amount of engagement for the SUNY Oswego Facebook page: 275 likes, 48 shares and 28 comments. Not bad.
This content wasn’t a carefully planned editorial story or coverage of a campus event — and certainly not a report on the latest school rankings. It was simply an iPhone photo of a sunset. That’s all there was and all that was needed.
This example challenges conventional wisdom that says we need planning and process to create great content. Sometimes chance reigns supreme. Or does it?
Planning for Serendipity
It’s true that not all great content is something you can plan for — especially social media content, where engagement is often unpredictable. However, the purpose of content plans are to enable great content, not to hinder it. If you are missing opportunities for great content, like a spontaneous sunset photo that strikes a nerve with your audience, you should reevaluate your content plan.
Years ago, working at the Babson College graduate school, we had a successful Facebook post similar to the SUNY Oswego example. In the midst of posts about Babson MBA in the news and campus activities was a simple question: What are you doing for spring break? At the time, this became the most popular post on the Babson MBA Facebook page. People enjoyed sharing their stories about visits home, complaints of non-stop studying and more. The content was personal and relevant.
While we hadn’t expected that success, we certainly took note of it and planned for similar content in our social media content calendar. We soon learned there were many more great content opportunities we hadn’t considered. We understood what worked, what didn’t, and built these insights into our calendar to continuously improve our content. This is a social media example, but the same rings true for all content types.
In Defense of Editorial Calendars
We often see editorial calendars as compromising and restricting. But editorial calendars do not exist to help us routinely churn out mediocre content — their purpose is to help us consistently create great, relevant content. Nekritz’s post suggests editorial calendars are overrated. I disagree on this point.
What I do agree with is the need to keep an open mind — and an open eye — with regard to content planning and creation. Editorial calendars, like their encompassing content plans, need to be flexible. If all you’re thinking about (or caring about) is what’s next on the calendar, you’re going to miss out on a lot of great content opportunities.
These missed opportunities are not the result of planning — they’re the result of poor planning and an inability to evolve. Editorial calendars are written in pixels, not stone. You should constantly be reevaluating dates, content and priorities.
Plan to Be Flexible
In a recent blog post, content strategist Clinton Forry described a common challenge with editorial calendars:
The success of an editorial calendar depends upon its honesty. Failed calendars are full of good intentions, but leave out important considerations.
Content plans can help ensure that the content you create is useful, relevant and on-brand — but to succeed they need to be flexible. An "honest" editorial calendar is one that considers how it’s used and is consistently evaluated for new objectives, users’ needs and content opportunities. Understanding your target audience, including the content they find valuable, enables you to discover these opportunities.
Repeating favorable responses to content is the result of planning, not chance. Blindly throwing darts may get you a bull’s-eye, but you’ll have much better success when you can see the target.
What’s your experience? Do you find your content plan empowers or hinders great content?
Hi Rick, thanks for the great post! I more than agree with you. We too have had about 4-5 pieces of hugely popular content, most of them real-time photos – the last one actually from yesterday: http://www.facebook.com/tartuuniversity. While our first post like this occurred spontaneously ‘outside’ of editorial calendar, the next ones were on the plan. Of course, we didn’t know when the snow comes upon us, but we were ready to go out and shoot when it happens. Although we keep our editorial calendar is an Excel spreadsheet, it’s actually more like a scrapbook for ideas.
Rick Allen says
Thanks, Inga! That’s a nice example. I love the photo angle. (Your snowfall is more impressive than Boston’s this season.) Seems like you’ve found a great balance between keeping a content plan and changing course for new engaging content. Congrats. Thanks for sharing!