How to create a winning content plan
Content planning is the most important factor in the success of your social media strategy. (There, I said it.) It’s much more than choosing a photo, writing a caption, and scheduling it to post.
You can have the world’s best social media marketing strategy, but it won’t be successful without proper content planning.
Here’s why that is, and the 8 steps anyone can do to plan effective, goal-crushing social media content.
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What does “content planning” mean for social media managers?
Scheduling your social posts ahead of time is great, but it’s only a small part of what makes up a content plan. Truly effective content planning focuses on the big picture: Your marketing goals.
Well-planned content is:
- Created in batches to optimize efficiency.
- Part of a cross-platform campaign and repurposed across all your channels for maximum impact.
- Connected to one or more marketing goals.
- Balanced between your own original content and curated content.
Why is content planning so important?
Which strategy is more likely to succeed?
- Chaotic social media content written and posted whenever inspiration strikes.
- Identifying your social media marketing goals and creating content in advance that aligns with and furthers those goals.
Your social media marketing strategy is what you want to achieve and how you will get there. Content planning is the process of designing content for those goals to actually get you there.
It keeps you organized
Batching your content is way more efficient than trying to come up with a post on the fly every day, or for a specific campaign. Batching means you’re taking the time to specifically write a bunch of social media content at once.
Besides being a more efficient way to write content, you’ll get more out of it. As you write each piece of content, extract pieces of it to repurpose. One post can quickly become five or more without much extra time. For example:
- Write an Instagram Reels script.
- Create a text caption from that script to use on text-based platforms like Twitter.
- Create an image or infographic from the Reel content to use as an alternative way to communicate the information.
- And, of course, the most basic: Make a note to save your completed Reel video in different sizes to use on other platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook Pages, TikTok, and more. Check the current recommended post sizes for each platform before saving.
- Plus many more options, including writing an article about the topic to a series of short Tweets of the key takeaways and everything in between.
Content planning saves time and gets you the most mileage out of your work.
It helps you avoid last-minute pressure (and writers’ block)
Oh, crap, it’s 10am on National Do A Grouch a Favor Day and you haven’t got anything scheduled to go out. (It’s February 16th in case you were wondering when you need to do me a favor.)
What will your customers think of you? Whether you post for every made-up holiday or only the real ones, content planning means you and your team will never stress out trying to create something last-minute because you forgot why this weekend is a long weekend.
More than the expected holiday observances, content planning ensures you do your best work. Planning ahead allows space for creative thinking, collaboration, and avoids burnout. All are important for creating a positive workplace culture where employees become brand advocates.
It connects your social media activity to marketing goals
Content planning keeps your eyes on the prize. You’ve got a formal marketing strategy, and hopefully a content strategy, too. (No? We’ve got a free social media strategy template for ya.) Your content planning process is what connects those big picture documents to the day-to-day marketing work your team does.
Each social media post = not that important on its own.
All your posts together = what determines if your social media strategy will sink or swim. Fail or fly. Crash out or cash in. You get it.
How to create a winning content plan in 8 steps
Content planning is the most important part of a social marketer’s job, but don’t sweat it: It’s easy once you’ve got the right process.
Your content plan brings together 3 key elements:
Let’s create your personalized content plan right now.
Step 1: Plan themes for your content
Before you can create content, you need to choose the categories you’ll post about. How many topics you have and what they are depends on your unique business, but as an example, Hootsuite posts about:
- Social media marketing tips
- Social network updates and best practices
- Marketing research and statistics, like the free Social Trends 2022 report
- Social media marketing experiments
- Product updates and features
- Company news
- Product education (tutorials, tips)
This is your content creation roadmap. If a post isn’t about one of the things on your list, you don’t post it. (Or, you rethink your marketing strategy and add a new category for it if it’s merited.)
Step 2: Brainstorm campaign and post ideas
With your topic list in front of you, create! Just… think! Write! Do it!
Write down all the ideas you can think of that meet the following criteria:
- It’s about one of the topics on your list.
- It’s connected to your marketing goals.
It’s not that simple to “think of ideas,” even for those of us who smash keyboards all day for a living. How you brainstorm is up to you, but here are a few ways I get inspired:
- Scope out your competition: What are they posting? Can you put your own spin on those ideas?
- Review the past: What campaigns have been most successful for you before? What elements of those campaigns were most effective? How can you replicate that for your new goal or campaign?
To know what’s worked before, you need top-notch analytics reports, right? Yes, you can piece together the information manually from each social platform, Google Analytics, and other sources… but why would you?
Hootsuite Analytics measures the real data you need to determine success, not just basic engagement metrics. It gives you a full 360 degree view of your performance across all networks with the ability to customize and run reports however you like, in real-time.
Step 3: Decide when you will post
We’ve got our why and what, now we need the when.
- Why: Why are you posting this? (What business goal is this content serving?)
- What: What will you post? (The actual content you brainstormed.)
- When: When is the best time to post it?
Sometimes, the when is obvious: Holiday content, a product launch, etc. But there’s a lot more to the when than the day you’re scheduling it for. You also need to consider your overall posting frequency.
You’ll need to experiment with how often you’re posting every week, how many posts per day, and the times of day. And, platforms change their algorithms all the time so what’s working now might not in six months.
Thankfully, you can back up your experiments with personalized intelligence, thanks to Hootsuite’s Best Time to Publish feature. It analyzes your unique audience engagement patterns to determine the best times to post across all your accounts.
Going a step further, it also recommends different times for different goals. For example, when to post awareness or brand-building content, and when to push hard for sales.
Need to get your social marketing started quickly and hit the ground running? Add your posts, either individually or via bulk upload, hit AutoSchedule, and Hootsuite does the rest. Boom—your social media for the month done in under five minutes.
Of course, AutoSchedule is great for those pressed for time, but you should still experiment with different numbers of posts per week and times of day to find what works best for your target audience.
You can customize AutoSchedule to only post during set times or days of the week. Once you decide how often and when to post, either with Hootsuite Analytics or other tools, modify your AutoSchedule settings and now you have effortless social media post scheduling. Nice.
Only want to post once a day at a specific time? No problem.
Step 4: Decide on your content mix
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel daily. A successful social media and content marketing plan contains a mix of original and curated content. But what should you curate? Where from? How often?
Great curated content is:
- Relevant to your audience.
- Related to one of your content themes (from Step 1).
- Connected to a business goal.
How each piece and type of content fits in with your other social media content is more important than how much of it you share, but a standard content mix is 40% original and 60% curated. Of course, adjust that up or down depending on your preferences and production capacity for your own content.
Some weeks you may share more curated content than others, but on average, stick to your plan. A surefire method for ensuring you don’t overdo it? Share one post, create one post—repeat!
With Hootsuite, you can easily add content from around the web to build a library of quality content to share later. When you find something to share, create a new post with the link and save it to your Drafts section.
And, you can use Streams to easily capture content from social media accounts you follow to re-share later.
When it’s time to schedule out your content—more on that later—you can just drag and drop from Drafts straight into your editorial calendar in Hootsuite Planner.
Step 5: Assign responsibilities
It can be easy to lose track of planning content ahead of time and end up in that familiar “Oh, crap, we need posts for tomorrow!” space, right? It’s the planner’s job to ensure the work that needs to get done flows down through to everyone else.
Clear expectations around who’s doing what are essential for content planning (and, so I hear, life). If you’re a lone content manager and don’t have a dedicated social marketing team with writers, designers, customer support peeps, and so on, now’s the time to build one.
If you’re on a tight budget, find freelancers to outsource tasks to as you need them so you can control expenses. For in-house and larger teams, you need to plan your planning. It’s redundant, and truly true.
So spell it out: Literally put it on your calendar. Assign a planner/strategist to manage the overall content planning process and assign each week or month’s work. Then, assign a designer, writer, project manager, etc to each client and/or campaign you’re managing.
Whenever possible, it’s best to write your social media post content before the campaign goes off to the design team (the next step).
This has a few key benefits:
- It gives context to the designer so they can work efficiently.
- They will have a better understanding of the entire campaign’s structure and goals.
- While writing the posts, you may think of more ideas to add to the campaign to fill gaps.
- It saves time by allowing copyediting and approvals to happen simultaneously with design, so you can publish it sooner.
Did you know that Hootsuite comes with OwlyWriter AI, a built-in creative AI tool that saves social media pros hours of work?
You can use OwlyWriter to:
- Write a new social media caption in a specific tone, based on a prompt
- Write a post based on a link (e.g. a blog post or a product page)
- Generate post ideas based on a keyword or topic (and then write posts expanding on the idea you like best)
- Identify and repurpose your top-performing posts
- Create relevant captions for upcoming holidays
To get started with OwlyWriter, sign in to your Hootsuite account and head to the Inspiration section of the dashboard. Then, pick the type of AI magic you want to see in action.
For example, if you’re not sure what to post, click on Get inspired. Then, type in the general, high-level topic you want to address and click Get ideas.
OwlyWriter will generate a list of post ideas related to the topic:
Click on the one you like best to move to the next step — captions and hashtags.
Pick the caption you like and click Create post. The caption will open in Hootsuite Composer, where you can make edits, add media files and links, check the copy against your compliance guidelines — and schedule your post to go live later.
And that’s it! OwlyWriter never runs out of ideas, so you can repeat this process until your social media calendar is full — and sit back to watch your engagement grow.
Step 7: Create (or source) design assets
This is often where content plans get bottlenecked. You can think up all these amazing campaigns, but without the creative assets that get it noticed, like graphics and videos, you can be stuck in your drafts forever.
But this is exactly why assigning responsibilities is important. Having a dedicated person for each part of the content planning process keeps things moving along and everyone’s on the same page.
With Hootsuite Planner, you can collaborate with other team members on specific campaigns, view the overall calendar, and map out your content to identify opportunities and gaps to fill. Plus, approvals are a snap with a built-in review process so the only content that gets posted is the content that should be.
Here’s how everyone can work together inside Hootsuite to bring a campaign from idea to finished:
Step 8: Schedule content in advance
Last but very un-least, scheduling. I don’t need to tell you scheduling your content ahead of time is important for basic efficiency. But it’s also the one thing that can make or break your entire social media marketing strategy. No pressure.
But really, what’s the point of content planning and following all the steps here if you’re not going to schedule out that content ahead of time in an organized, efficient, strategic way? Exactly.
There’s always room for improvement, though. If you’re not already using Hootsuite, try it out and see how much time you’ll save scheduling posts. Plus: team collaboration, detailed analytics, ads management, social listening, and more—all in one convenient place.
You can create single posts in Composer or dial up your efficiency to 11 with the much-loved bulk upload tool, where you and 350 of your best posts can be scheduled in under 2 minutes flat.
Bonus: Download our free, customizable social media calendar template to easily plan and schedule all your content in advance.
Hootsuite is your content planning partner in success with robust scheduling, collaboration, analytics, and smart insights like the Best Time to Publish feature to make your job easier. Sign up for free today.