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How to Manage a Content Calendar

Alex Baker

Content calendars -- also known as editorial calendars -- have been used by magazines, print media, and other publications for decades. But now these calendars are being used by modern marketing departments and agencies that function more like media outlets than the Don Draper-style idea hatcheries of old.

The production and management of content has become central to how businesses market themselves, both on the B2B and B2C sides, which has resulted in a mammoth increase in the volume of content that gets produced on a daily basis. The sheer volume of content that is now required to fuel a brand has made editorial calendars a must-have for marketers.

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The Rising Sea of Content

While the number of content creators doesn't yet outnumber the number of consumers they are creating content for, the reams of content that can be found on the internet are truly staggering. And as a content marketer, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by it all.

Without a solid system in place to manage your content and the various channels it will be distributed over, you can easily drown in it all. That's why having a content calendar and managing it efficiently are both essential to your content marketing efforts.

Maintaining a content calendar ensures that your (and your clients') blogs and other content efforts stay on track in terms of publishing timely, relevant content. It's also a useful tool for honing and implementing your content strategy and even, measuring the effectiveness of the content you produce.

Choosing a Platform

There are quite a few platforms out there dedicated to helping people manage editorial calendars effectively. Wordpress is a popular option for content creators, and HubSpot has a great tool as well. 

When you're first starting out, Google Docs can be effective (and it's free!) And if all else fails, there's always Excel. Perhaps you'll be able to meet your content-management needs with one platform. Perhaps using some combination of different platforms will better serve you. The main thing is to find a platform (or combination of platforms) that works for you, set up your calendar, and use it.

Setting Your Calendar Up

Once you choose a platform, you'll need to nail down a system for how to populate and manage the content. The nuances of just how an editorial calendar is used to track content vary from organization to organization and there's no "right way" to do it.

But the essentials of what a content calendar should track include:

  • Publication date
  • Topic, title or headline
  • The author, or person responsible for creating the piece
  • Current status in production queue (e.g. in progress, in review, approved, etc.)
  • Campaign associated with the piece
  • Who is responsible for publishing the content
  • Social media posts that will be used to promote the content
  • URL or file location where content can be found

Stay on Target

Just as it was important for the Rebel X-Wing pilots to "stay on target" in the face of overwhelming firepower from the Death Star in "Star Wars," it's important to stay on top of your content calendar in the face of the overwhelming urge to check Facebook.

A content calendar, no matter how advanced the platform, will only give back what you put into it. That means making like Santa several times a day and "checking it once, and checking it twice."

While you may not be able to find out who's naughty or nice, you will be able to determine which of your writers are on track to make their deadlines and which aren't. You can also make sure you've got the content requirements taken care of for the coming weeks or months.

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This is particularly important in an agency setting, where you're going to be managing content for a number of different clients with varying needs, brand voices, preferences and publishing schedules.

Keeping your content calendar on track is a multi-faceted process. It involves ideating topics for individual content pieces, possibly having those ideas approved by the client, tasking someone with producing the content and another person with editing it, and finally scheduling the content (and its accompanying social media posts) to go live.

Stay Ahead of the Game

If there's one piece of advice you take to heart in terms of keeping it all on track, it's to stay ahead of the game. Don't put yourself in a position where you have to play catch-up or scramble around at the last minute. In the Murphy's Law world of marketing, having to juggle last minute surprises is going to happen anyway, so don't make it harder on yourself.

Your content calendar is a means of keeping all your ducks in a row and making sure that if something does break down, you can keep track of what happened and self-correct while minimizing the need for a fire drill.

Getting your calendar up-and-running, devising a tracking system and mastering that system may require time and patience. However once you've done the heavy lifting, you'll find your editorial calendar really is one of your most valuable assets in terms of keeping content strategy on track for you and your clients.

Again, repeat after me: your content calendar is your friend.

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