PSA for marketers! Look out for these signs of severe planning deficiency:
- You don’t have clear deadlines in your content creation process.
- You plan and create content on a weekly basis.
- You settle for mediocre deliverables due to lack of time more than you’d like to admit.
- You recently missed a content opportunity because you found out about it too late.
- You spend most of your time in reactive execution mode.
If you’re experiencing one (or a few) of the above symptoms, the good news is that there’s an easy cure. It’s called a communications calendar and you’re in the right place to kickstart your path to healing.
Keep reading for an overview of all the calendar basics you should know when creating one that works best for you.
What is a Communications Calendar?
A communications calendar is a central hub used to plan and schedule upcoming content and marketing deliverables. You can think of it as a visual representation of how you execute your content marketing strategy.
When done right, this tool keeps marketing teams aligned on content deadlines and ensures a steady flow of high-performing content.
You might know the communications calendar by other names, including marketing calendar and content calendar. These can generally be used interchangeably because they’re broad enough to encompass your entire strategy, from individual assets to larger projects and campaigns.
If you want to organize your schedule by types of content, other kinds of calendars include:
- Editorial calendar: Tracks publishing and posting schedules for long-form written content, such as blogs and white papers.
- Social media calendar: Focuses on upcoming posts and campaigns for each social media channel.
- Email marketing calendar: Organizes the schedule for newsletters, campaigns and one-off messages to email subscribers.
- Internal communications calendar: Formalizes a schedule for sharing internal information with employees.
Many times, marketing teams will start with an all-purpose communications calendar that provides a high-level, visual overview of their strategy across channels, tactics and audiences. Factors like team size, content focus, publishing cadence and overall marketing goals then help teams decide if it’s useful to have complementary calendars specific to content type.
There are several ways to approach marketing calendars. We’ll get into more of these details later but for now, know that the best calendars share a few important characteristics:
- Shareable resource: Make sure your calendar is accessible for all stakeholders involved in planning, creating, distributing and analyzing content. You’ll also likely want to share it with any leaders who are tracking your progress.
- Living and breathing tool: The best content marketing strategies are flexible, which means your calendar should be as well. Feel free to make changes to your calendar as you go, adapting to the news cycle, trends and unpredictable moments as needed.
- VIP details: Your calendar doesn’t have room for every piece of information, but it should clearly note the important details, such as publishing dates, distribution channels and team member ownership.
You can fill out your calendar month-by-month, though the best results will come from planning ahead on a quarterly or annual basis. Once complete, it will be your trustworthy guide toward meeting your content marketing goals.
The Content Marketer
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Why a Communications Calendar is Worth Your Time
A communications calendar is an important step in optimizing your content creation process for better results. As such a useful tool in building and maintaining an intentional communications plan, your calendar will come with many benefits.
Stay Grounded in the Big Picture
A marketing calendar provides a complete sky-high view of your communications plan and upcoming content. This makes it easy to organize all of your assets, ensuring you’re covering your content goals throughout the year rather than relying on a final sprint to the finish line when the last quarter rolls around.
What’s more, this big-picture perspective allows you to spot gaps in your plan so you can fill them sooner and establish a balanced flow of content.
Boost Team Alignment and Motivation
Your team will also directly benefit from a communications calendar that keeps everyone on the same page. Say goodbye to confusion, duplicated efforts and other symptoms of a disorganized content creation process.
A calendar improves coordination between team members by clarifying ownership at each stage of the process and opening channels of internal communication to ensure everyone is prepared to fulfill their role. The result is a team that takes accountability and individuals who carry equal weight for every marketing task, asset and campaign.
The visual representation of deadlines also has the added benefit of motivating team members to complete their tasks and work toward tangible end goals.
Make Life Easier for Content Creators
Specifically for the creatives on your team, communications calendars are especially useful for scheduling their content creation time. The clear roadmap of upcoming marketing activities helps content creators plan their weeks and months with ease.
When they have enough notice, content creators can even work in emergency time for creative blocks and other potential bumps along the way.
Streamline Your Content Creation Process
As marketers, we’re always prepared to jump into reactive mode but a communications calendar will save your team from a constant state of scrambling at the last minute and settling for what you can manage in a short window of time.
Planning ahead will help expose scheduling conflicts so you can adjust timelines and publishing dates to accommodate employee capacity. By balancing the workload throughout the month, your content creators will have the headspace to consistently produce their highest-quality content.
For the marketing team as a whole, this streamlined process helps maintain posting cadence across various marketing channels. Ultimately, these improvements in your internal workflow will mean more consistent output externally, leading to better content engagement and more conversions.
Spend Your Budget More Wisely
Your communications calendar also has monetary benefits! When you have a better idea of what content is in the pipeline and where you’ll be focusing efforts throughout the year, you can easily pinpoint the best opportunities to dip into the budget and track spending over time.
Take Advantage of Content Opportunities
Looking ahead to fill out your communications calendar makes it easier to plan for seasons, holidays, relevant thematic days and other content gold mines. With more time to prepare, your team can produce more intentional and targeted content to reveal at ideal times.
Perform Even Better Next Time
More than a tool for looking to the future, a communications calendar also provides a historical perspective to reflect on when building new strategies. Use it to bookmark everything from what worked well to what’s not worth repeating again so that you can continue improving year after year.
Include These Integral Elements in Your Communications Calendar
Warning: You may experience a sense of panic when you first sit down and stare at your empty calendar. Don’t worry! Much like a writer overcomes the blinking cursor on a blank document, this moment will pass.
The best way to get your gears going is to ground yourself in the necessary elements of a content calendar. Here’s what you can include:
- Project name: No need to get fancy with the title — the clearer the better. The goal here is for everyone to know exactly what you’re referencing so they can seamlessly dive into their tasks.
- Content type: Identify the type of content, such as social media posts, blog articles or email blasts.
- Publishing destination: Make sure it’s clear where the asset will be shared once it’s complete.
- Deadlines: Include important dates for each project, including when the content will go live and when each piece of the puzzle needs to be completed to reach the final result.
- Team responsibilities: Be clear about who’s responsible for each task so that each stakeholder understands what they need to do and when they need to complete it.
- Updates: Keep everyone aligned on project status by providing updates in a note section or linking out to more detailed project materials.
- Color coding: Utilize colors to quickly indicate certain details, such as the type of content, campaign or team ownership.
You can get as detailed as you’d like in your calendar, though we recommend some limitations so that it remains a helpful, high-level tool for your team.
Your calendar is a complement to your overall marketing strategy so while it should clearly align with your content goals, target audience and other elements of your overall approach, it helps to highlight only the information that’s most relevant for streamlining your internal communication and content creation process.
Creating Your Calendar
Remember that while a communications calendar can trigger plenty of new ideas, it’s more of a scheduling and organization tool than an ideation machine. It’s best to have your marketing strategy in place before you build a calendar since it will inform the content and campaigns that fill each month.
Once you’re feeling good about your strategy, you can follow these steps to create your calendar.
1. Assign Calendar Ownership
Before you get too deep into calendar making, be sure to determine who on your team will be responsible for managing and updating your calendar throughout the year. Without clarifying ownership from the beginning, your calendar could quickly become an outdated and unhelpful resource.
2. Determine Your Planning Timeline
Next up, you’ll want to decide how far into the future you’ll be looking. Do you want to fill out your calendar for the next month, quarter or year?
It goes without saying that the more you can plan in advance, the better. That said, there are often various factors that prevent marketers from planning every detail in one sitting. If this is true for your team, consider mapping out loose plans for the whole year that you can return to on a monthly or quarterly basis to fine-tune.
3. Choose Your Calendar Format
There are several ways to format a communications calendar so don’t be afraid to customize yours to best suit your team and content goals. Some marketer favorites include traditional calendars, spreadsheets and kanbans.
This is also a good time to think about where your calendar will live and who will have access to it. Your answers might lie with content planning tools that can help streamline the process and make your calendar readily accessible to various stakeholders.
Some options for marketer-approved calendar software and project management platforms include CoSchedule, Hootsuite, Loomly, Trello and Brafton.
4. Build Your Library of Content Ideas
The easiest way to fill out your calendar is to pull from a list of content ideas that you’ve already determined are winners. The ones that don’t make the cut just yet will become your backlog to reference as needed throughout the year.
If you don’t already have a library of content ideas, dedicate some time to brainstorming so that you’re prepared to complete your communications calendar. Give yourself the freedom to jot down any and all ideas, then take a step back to cross out the bad ones and rate the better ones to help you prioritize which ones to act on first.
You can also group your thoughts by themes, content buckets and goals, which makes it easy to diversify your content as you plug your ideas into the calendar.
Another pro tip: You don’t have to create everything from scratch! Go through your current assets to find ways that you can repurpose them or share them in new ways.
5. Fill In Your Calendar
Armed with content ideas, you’re finally ready to fill in your marketing calendar.
Start by determining your posting cadence so that you plan for the right quantity and frequency of content each month.
From there, consider your content creation workflow when deciding publishing dates for each asset or campaign. Work backward from how long it will take to create, review and approve the content to choose a posting date that gives your team ample time to make it happen.
Put It on the Calendar
With all of this in mind, you’re ready to create a communications calendar and follow a clear and organized path toward your content marketing goals.