It’s 7 a.m., and you’re sitting at the breakfast table. You've got a full day ahead as the manager of a highly influential grilled cheese community. You know you need to post 5 interesting articles on Facebook, tweet 7 funny quips, and somehow manage to publish a 1,200 word article on the Zen of comfort sandwiches.
Where do you begin? Do you start feverishly looking for articles to share? Frantically scroll through your Facebook feed for mentions of bread and cheese? Or do you sit down at the keyboard and try to knock out a few witty things to say about the inferiority of deli meat on Twitter? What about that blog post? How will you “sandwich” that between all the other things you have to do? (Sorry, but I couldn’t resist.)
One mouth-watering solution is to let someone else generate the content for you—namely, your users.
That’s definitely a fantastic option and one you should lean on as much as possible, but the fact remains that you still have to say something to your community.
So, today I suggest a simple solution to the unappetizing breakfast-table scenario I outlined above.
It’s called the Content Calendar.
This is the bread-and-butter in every successful community manager’s toolkit. Whether you want to go fancy with a solution like Sprout Social, or DIY with a pencil and paper, the content calendar is your masterplan to keep a steady stream of content flowing to your community.
The Content Calendar isn’t some new, exciting discovery that came about in response to the advent of social media. Editors at magazines and publications of every stripe have long used the editorial calendar to keep their houses in order. Community managers who haven’t been trained in journalism or a related field, therefore, have largely missed out.
But no more. Today, we’re going to show you how it works.
Before You Write a Content Calendar
You need to prepare your garden before planting ideas. This is the basic spade work you must do to get started:
1. Identify your market segments and channels – In other words, define your target audience(s) and determine the best way to reach them (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.).
2. Find out what resonates and how much of it – Every audience is unique. Every channel resonates differently with different types of content. Figure out the best for yours.
3. Brainstorm/Source Content Ideas – Give yourself time for creativity. Set aside a few hours to fill a whiteboard with ideas that you think will jive with the people you're after. Don't edit or restrict yourself here; just start throwing the ideas out there. Keep a running notebook of ideas for future posts and ideas that need more development. Set aside a few more hours to dig through the internet to sniff out potential sources and articles. Drop them all into a spreadsheet.
Pro Tip: Vanilla has a couple of helpful content generation guides you should look at before generating new content. Check out Making your Community Content Work For You on Social Media and The Ultimate Guide to Content Distribution.
Building a Calendar
Now that you know who you’re talking to, where the conversation is going to happen, and the basic conversation points, it’s time to work out the specific content you’ll need and begin to map out a plan.
4. Find Your Tool – While I prefer a sheet of paper or a simple spreadsheet myself, there are several different packaged tools out there with a ton of bells and whistles. The important thing to remember is that the tool you choose doesn’t matter nearly as much as the process.
5. Create a List for Each Segment – So let’s say you’re focusing on a community of community managers (meta, I know). Write down “community managers” at the top of your list and add slots for your predetermined communication frequency. Like this:
Example: Community Managers
- Facebook (1x per day)
- Twitter (3x per weekday)
- Blog (3x per week)
And so on…
6. Fill in the list – Once you've got the schedule outlined, fill in the blanks from your spreadsheet of brainstormed ideas. But be cautious; depending on the medium, you may want to give yourself "flex" space to share more time-sensitive and immediate content.
Putting Your Calendar to Work
7. Turn Your List into a Calendar – Again, I prefer keeping it simple, so I use Google Calendar. Create a separate content calendar and then create an event for each content piece. If you need the extra reminder, you can even assign an alert to each item to make sure you don’t get sidetracked during the week.
8. Schedule Things Out – This is where those digital bells and whistles can come in handy. Super nifty tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social automatically schedule content delivery. While this involves a couple more steps for up-front planning and content generation, it's an excellent way to stay consistent.
9. Delegate Content Generation – Finally, it’s time to get down to the business of writing! Now that you have a plan with specific content ideas to deliver, you can begin assigning tasks to team members and leaders in your community with realistic deadlines. If you know you need 5 articles to share on leadership next week, you can quickly ask someone on your team to track those down.
Keeping up with content delivery is hard, especially when you start each morning staring at an empty screen and hoping for inspiration to fall like cheese sandwiches from the sky.
Content Calendars are the answer. The process I shared above will help you minimize those terrifying, eleventh-hour moments and keep engaging, fascinating content flowing to your community.
Just take the basics of what I shared and work them into your own process. What matters most is that you develop your own strategy for cranking out quality content and sharing it with your community.
Do you have a plan for your content generation? If not, tell us how you manage to keep up without one. We’d love to know!