Close your eyes and picture this: it’s May 3, end of day, all the designers have gone home and suddenly it hits you: tomorrow is Star Wars Day—May the 4th—a huge marketing opportunity and you’ve got nothing.
A mad scramble ensues to come up with a clever concept, create assets, and execute in time to ride the wave of lightsabre-filled fun. In some cases, it may be too late to do anything at all. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Enter the social media content calendar.
Content calendars are exactly what they sound like: a way to plan and organize upcoming content. There are, of course, different types. An editorial calendar is specifically for planning content assets such as blog posts and videos, while a social media content calendar—the primary focus of this post—is for planning content for social.
This blog post will cover why you should have a social media content calendar for your business and how to create one. We’ll also look at examples and provide you with two free content calendar templates to get you started.
Let’s jump in.
Table of contents
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6 reasons why a social media content calendar is important for business
A survey by the Content Marketing Institute found that a whopping 70 percent of B2B marketers plan to produce more content in 2017 versus the previous year.
With that expected increase, it’s more important now than ever to have a social media content calendar to support your greater social media marketing plan.
1. Never miss important dates
One of the key things a content calendar must contain is key dates that matter to your business—holidays, events, product launches, campaigns, and more.
This allows you to plan content for those dates and ensure that you don’t end up scrambling.
Additionally, a content calendar is a good place to document performance. For example, if your brand operates in the B2B space, you may find that the winter holidays result in click-throughs as your target audience isn’t at work.
Include this information in your content calendar so you can plan accordingly. For example, you might switch to a lower publishing volume or rely on reposting content rather than pushing new content.
2. Organize content
Social media content calendars help keep your publishing schedule organized. I know, I know. Obvious, right? But you’d be surprised—despite this very clear benefit—how many brands fail to use a content calendar.
Staying organized not only means you remember important dates, it also means that you know what you’re publishing, where, and when. Don’t underestimate the impact this kind of planning can have on the efficiency of your social media marketing plan.
Additionally, a content calendar helps you establish a regular cadence for each of your social channels and stick to it.
And, of course, any social media manager worth their salt knows that consistency is key. A content calendar can help ensure that you don’t run the risk of spamming one network while neglecting another.
3. Collaborate easily
Another great thing about social media content calendars? They make it easier to work with a team.
Whether you’re sharing information with stakeholders or updating your team, this calendar serves as the single source of truth for what’s being published and when.
This is made especially easy if you host your calendar on a cloud platform designed to promote collaboration, such as Google Sheets or an Excel spreadsheet in Dropbox.
4. Save time
The inherent organization of content calendars fosters efficiency. Planning content ahead, knowing when you’re sharing evergreen assets, when you’re pushing new content, and when you’re curating items from other creators will save you time in the long run.
5. Effectively allocate resources
Rather than making last minute asks of your long-suffering copywriters and very patient video team, you can instead assign things well in advance, providing ample time for research and creation, thus ensuring you rarely miss a deadline.
Having a content calendar means you’re more likely to publish your content precisely when you intend to and at the quality level you expect.
6. Gain a deeper understanding of successful content
Careful planning of your social media content will also help you gain a better understanding of what makes a good piece of content, enabling you to increase your success rate and create more of what your audience wants to see.
How? First, it frees up time for you to devote to measurement instead of last-minute publishing. Secondly, it provides a clear framework and structure for your content activities, meaning you’re more likely to notice patterns. Perhaps content that goes out on Thursday does better, or your daily how-to post beats out all your other content.
How to create a social media content calendar
1. Think about your audience
Good content should always start in the same place: your audience. That means knowing your audience inside and out.
The best way to understand your audience—and easily evaluate whether they’d be interested in a particular type of content—is to create audience personas. These archetypes provide a window into what your typical audience members look like, including demographic details about them as well as their wants, needs, goals, and pain points.
While it’s important to map out your existing audience members and think about what content they want to see, you can also explore who you want to have viewing your content. This information can be captured in aspirational personas that reflect your target audience.
Whether you’re looking at your existing audience or your target audience, your personas should inform the content you create. Not sure if you should create a certain piece of content? Ask yourself if it aligns to one of your personas. If it doesn’t, then you probably shouldn’t be investing resources into it.
2. Research what content resonates
In order to plan and create successful content, you need to know what success looks like. Start by looking at content you’ve produced in the past and examine what worked.
- What content got the most likes?
- What content got the most comments?
- What content got the most shares?
- What content got the most views?
- What content got the highest engagement rate?
3. Audit existing content
Now that you know what works, look at what content you actually have.
Go through your existing library and identify types and categories. For example, in terms of content types, your business might create blog posts, videos, and webinars. In terms of content categories, you might have Q&As, how tos, and listicles.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s still useable?
- What can be updated?
- What can be repurposed?
- What can’t be reused?
All items that fall into the first three categories have the potential to become evergreen content that will form the basis of your content calendar.
4. Create an overview of major events
Once you’ve taken stock of your content assets, set them aside (for now).
Create a calendar—this can take the form of a doc, spreadsheet, or even an actual calendar—and map out important events throughout the year, particularly those that you want to create content around.
Be sure to include:
- Holidays (big and small)
- Product launches
- Annual events or features
If your business is affected by seasonality, be sure to include this in your calendar. For example, if you’re a B2B company and there tends to be a lull at the end of December, mark this on your calendar so that you can plan accordingly by reducing the amount of content published or saving top content for a higher traffic time.
5. Figure out calendar processes
You’ve got your evergreen content and you’ve got your bare bones calendar—now it’s time to figure out the nitty gritty of your schedule.
First, decide how often you’re going to publish on each social network.
Next, determine your content mix—that is, how much of each type and category of original content you’ll publish, as well as how much curated content you plan to share.
This should typically be expressed as a ratio. A good rule of thumb is the 80-20 rule: share 80 percent helpful and interesting content for every 20 percent of content where you’re trying to sell your product.
Additionally, determine how you’ll generate new content ideas and the process by which they’ll be made a reality. For example, here on the Hootsuite Blog, we hold monthly brainstorms, assign ideas to our internal content team, and plug those assignments into our editorial calendar.
From there, figure out a process for identifying and sharing quality curated content. Establish who on your team will be responsible for updating the calendar and who’s in charge of scheduling content to be publish on social networks.
7. Plan and schedule content ahead of publication
Now that you’ve marked all the important dates—and I do mean ALL—on your content calendar and set up a process for content planning, it’s time for the fun part: new content.
First off, strategize larger themes that you’d like to tackle. For example, you might have a beverage company and want to run a summer campaign about your newest flavor option.
Choose the themes you want to run with and map them onto your calendar. As you do this, keep in mind that it’s better to do a few things well than to do everything poorly. Narrow possible themes down to key priorities.
Once you have themes to go along with your dates, it’s time to figure out your individual content pieces.
Start with a brainstorm. Pull in creative people from across teams (after all, you don’t have to be a content creator to come up with great ideas). At Hootsuite we invite members of multiple teams in because we know they have different perspectives on the topics we’d like to cover. After our brainstorm session, we take the raw ideas, choose our favorites, refine them, assign them, and then add them to our content calendar.
If you have big upcoming events in your calendar that you want to plan content around, ensure that that’s reflected in the themes of your brainstorm sessions and, of course, that you leave adequate time for content tasks to be resourced. After all, you could have the best Christmas-themed campaign in mind, but no one will want to see it if you can’t finish it until January.
Plan your content, create your content, then schedule your content. Simple in theory, much harder in practice. But, with a little organization, you can maintain a social media content calendar that will help your team be more efficient and create better quality content—on time, every time.
Editorial and content calendar examples
When it comes to long-term editorial planning, few organizations are more in tune than magazines. Because of their regular cadence, publishing restrictions, and reliance on annual features or seasonal topics, most major magazines plan themes—and even specific content—for an entire year in advance.
While the content you’re planning will likely be a tad different than the average magazine, seeing how this is done can be incredibly helpful.
And you’re in luck: because of the process by which magazines typically sell advertising, many actually make their editorial calendar available online. The following are just a few of the best content calendar examples I found on the web.
This editorial calendar from tech magazine WIRED is a good example of what a simple overview calendar could look like.
This style would probably be best for mapping out key themes or events each month without much detail on how those concepts will be approached. This makes the calendar fairly flexible as specific details of each piece of content or campaign can easily be decided closer to the release date.
While National Geographic has a standard editorial calendar—which includes details on key articles for each month’s issue—what sets their planning apart is the “Areas of Editorial Focus” document.
This part of their editorial calendar maps out four key themes the magazine plans to tackle over the course of the year, which issues they’ll talk about them in, and how they’ll approach each.
It’s an excellent example of what high-level thematic planning can look like and how it works together with a more traditional editorial calendar to create a comprehensive overview of upcoming content.
Something that really sets beauty mag Cosmopolitan’s content calendar apart is that it not only indicates what the theme of this issue is, it also includes information about associated digital assets and social media content.
Business magazine Entrepreneur’s editorial calendar may not be as beautiful as WIRED or Cosmopolitan’s, but what it lacks in creativity it makes up in information.
This calendar not only maps out broad themes for upcoming issues, but also lists specific pieces of content that will appear in each edition as well as related digital assets.
It’s a clean, minimal, and functional approach to an editorial calendar.
Likewise, business Forbes’ editorial calendar maps out the overall theme for each issue and what key pieces of content will be included in each. This provides a good framework for planning.
While the design elements in many of these editorial calendars are aesthetically appealing, they’re certainly not a requirement for a successful social media calendar.
When it comes to working with social, agility is often the name of the game, so I’d recommend focusing on function over artfulness. Having a calendar that’s easy to edit and update as changes are made is key. If you prefer doing this in a format that’s also beautiful—perhaps to get buy-in from higher-ups—that’s cool too, but not imperative.
For more inspiration, try searching for your favorite publication’s editorial calendar—there’s a lot out there. For instance, Meredith Direct Media—which puts out publications such as Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Shape—has one mega editorial calendar PDF for all of their properties.
Free editorial and social media content calendar templates
Now you know why your business needs a content calendar and how to use one, it’s time to create one and get moving.
The best part? We’ve done the hard work for you and created both editorial calendar and social media content calendar templates that you can use for your business. Simply open the link to the Google Sheets file for each, make a copy, and plan away. Below, find instructions on how to use these templates.
How to use the editorial calendar template
This template is intended for planning individual content assets, such as blog posts. It includes sections to fill in for the title of each item, the author, the topic area it covers, and the deadline, as well as the anticipated publication date and time.
To use the template, simply click File in the upper left-hand corner,
then select Make a copy from the drop-down menu.
To use it, simply create a new tab for each month and fill in your content accordingly. The content from each week of the month is divided by colored bars for clear visual separation.
How to use the social media content calendar template
This template is intended to be the single source of truth for all of your social media publishing activities. Like the editorial calendar, it’s divided by week with different months separated into tabs.
Each week is further divided by network. The big four social networks have been included here for simplicity’s sake, but If you use any channels not listed here, you can easily swap them out or add space for them.
To use the template, simply click File in the upper left-hand corner,
then select Make a copy from the drop-down menu.
In addition to the above-mentioned columns for the week and network, the social media content calendar also includes space to designate the time of day the post will be published, the type of content being shared (such as a blog post or video), the topic covered by the post, the copy you plan to use for the post, and the link to the content being shared.
There is also a space for notes. This is a great place to include any additional information necessary, such as if there’s an image or GIF you plan to share with the link.
The social media content calendar also includes a tab for evergreen content. Have a blog post that always performs well? Add it to the evergreen tab.
This part of the template includes space to indicate what type of content the evergreen asset is, when it was originally published, its title, the topic covered in the piece, and the URL.
It also has space to include top performing social copy so you can also see at a glance how you’ve promoted the piece successfully in the past, as well as a spot to indicate what accompanying image has worked best.
Especially important here is the original publication date. You should schedule time for a regular review of your evergreen assets to ensure that they are up to date and appropriate to continue sharing. If something is dated, then it might be a good idea to plan an update for that piece of content so that you can continue to use it.
With these instructions and templates in hand, you’re ready to take the social media marketing world by storm. Once you’ve planned your content calendar, use Hootsuite to schedule all of your social media posts, engage with your followers, and track the success of your efforts.