Social Media Calendar – 7 Steps to Organize your Content Planning
Social media calendars – often referred to as social media editorial plans – provide valuable help in the planning and organization of content marketing strategies on social networks. While some inspired online marketing individuals have already adapted to working in a structured online environment, the structured planning, coordination and processing of content generation is an indispensable requirement for larger teams or even for whole editorial departments. It can be all too easy to get mixed up or fall behind schedule when each individual contribution is produced in a rush on the day of publication.
The bigger the company, the greater the volume of content required. As a rule of thumb, a minimum of two posts per week should be generated to maintain a successful content strategy. Among other things, your social media calendar should note what is to be published when, by whom and on which social networks. In the case of a larger editorial office, for example, it should also be possible for each team member to determine which employee has made changes or whether a contribution has been released for publication. In the following sections, we provide an overview of how a social media calendar is created and which tools make this task easier.
A social media calendar is used to organize your own content marketing. This will work best if your editorial plan has itself been created according to a logical, pre-defined process. If you already have some experience with social media editorial plans, you can customize the following measures according to your company’s needs. However, we recommend that all beginners stick to the following seven steps:
- Define the time period (day, month, year)
- Set your goals
- Determine the frequency and timings
- Generate topics and themes
- Select your formats
- Select your channels
- Clarify accountability (for teams)
Define the time period
Your first step will be to decide how far in advance you wish to prepare your content for social networks. As a general guide, you should be planning at least three months ahead and up to one year in advance. The period chosen should be consistent with your available capacities. It is always helpful to select a period that allows enough time for research and enables you to make allowances for illness and similar problems. Larger teams make it easier to create posts many weeks or months in advance. Even so, these boundaries are constantly shifted in practice – for example, nothing may be worked for around six months, then the pressure suddenly mounts to draft plans for the next half year completely from scratch.
Set your goals
The defining of the targets you wish to achieve can be carried out in conjunction with step No. 1. What is the most important driver for your own business model? Newsletters, blogs and vlogs need high visitor numbers; traders and service providers benefit from strong customer loyalty and hope to attract potential buyers; and a strong search engine ranking never harmed any company. It’s not necessary to limit yourself to one single goal. If you are interested in new customers, you should plan content which rewards and maintains their interest.
Determine the frequency and timings
The frequency of your content creation and publishing content at the right time are extremely important factors. Anyone who simply goes ahead and pre-plans content without taking calendar events and times of day into consideration may simply miss their target group altogether. Not everyone goes online at the same time of day. For example, professionals use lunch times or evenings for surfing.
Important phases of a year, such as the seasons, school holidays or certain significant events, present lots of ideas and approaches for appropriately adapted content. Forthcoming holidays and events like tradeshows should be entered into your social media calendar well in advance so that you can arrange to publish timely and appropriate articles.
The frequency with which your contributions should appear depends on the scale of your operation, the behavior of your target group and your chosen media channel. In addition, your available resources for research and content creation must be carefully deployed in order to avoid bottlenecks. Beginners can start slowly and cautiously and allow their volume of contributions to grow organically. As soon as users become enthusiastic about the content, a community will quickly develop and will need to be kept updated with a regular flow of content. Here is an overview with a rough estimate of the recommended publication frequency for some of the major social media channels:
- Facebook or Google+: 3 – 10 times per week
- Twitter: 5 times a day, or more
- LinkedIn: 2 – 5 times per week
- YouTube: 1 – 3 times per week (possibly more frequently, depending on your business model)
- Instagram: 1 – 2 times a day
Generate topics and themes
A basic rule of content creation is: Never forget the relationship between your business and the target group. Each contribution should be in some way related to the industry and the service which the company offers. Internet users are more likely to use content they find educational, useful or entertaining.
You can find inspiration by searching for related keywords using Google Search or tools such as Google Trends or Buzzsumo. A trends search will help you to discover which topics users are currently most interested in across social media. Beyond these sources, any discussion with customers or any response to a complaint or inquiry can be used to generate contributions that will be relevant to your target group.
Select your format
In order to present each contribution at its best, you will need to find the most appropriate format for each respective topic. This could be, for example, text-based content, a photo gallery on Instagram or a video on YouTube. A deciding factor should always be how much time your target audience spends on which channels. Infographics or best-of lists attract Facebook likes while tutorials and guides of all kinds in video format always generate a good response. There is no need to choose just one format – the best results are usually achieved via a mix of articles, pictures, videos, surveys, etc. It’s sensible to record which formats are best suited to which strategies in your social media calendar and update this as necessary.
Select your channels
Your posts should be published on whichever channels are the most appropriate for your target group. It is always worthwhile testing the same content across different channels in order to compare the user reaction. This form of split-testing can open up completely new communities because no statistics in the world can predict actual user behavior. For example, an investment tip for shares could be published as a text on Facebook and as a video message on YouTube. If one or the other method proves more effective, you can adapt your social media calendar accordingly.
If a social media calendar is generated by an editorial team which consists of several members of staff, the responsibilities should be clearly defined. It is advisable to make direct reference to cooperation and exchange of ideas within the social media editorial plan. Ideally, team members should record any changes made to individual contributions while the editorial director responsible should enter instructions and authorize releases. The status of each content item should be visible to all of the editorial team at a glance so any problems can be jointly resolved.
Various software solutions are available to support the technical implementation of a social media calendar. If any offline work is also involved, then desktop applications such as Excel should be a suitable choice. However, it is also possible to work directly in an online browser, for example by using Google Calendars and Google Drive to create your editorial plan. This method allows editorial teams to work collaboratively. Other web-based programs such as Trello or Feedly are innovative tools which can be used to compile and organize your content.
There are many free templates for spreadsheet software or plug-ins for CMS programs available for download that can be used to create social media calendars. Some of these have already been described in a previous post.
Comprehensive organizational programs such as Hootsuite or Buffer deserve a special mention. Not only do they offer extensive calendar functions, but they also facilitate long-term planning and publication of content on various social media platforms. It is no longer necessary to sign up individually to Twitter, Facebook or Google+ – access to each can be linked to your organizational platform. It is also possible to answer customer queries and collect news feeds from various sources at the same time.
Social media calendars facilitate the structured planning and publication of content over an extended period of time. They are practically indispensable to all who want to have their say alongside their rivals in online forums. Social media editorial plans are valuable tools for individuals working alone as well as for large editorial departments – though, of course, there are still people who just fill empty calendar columns with content!
Use the time you gain through this calendar organization to become inspired by the behavior of your users. Keep an open mind and respond flexibly to what is important, and what is not, and always maintain your chosen publishing frequency. Record all important dates, possible problems and final decisions in your social media calendar. This will ultimately lead not only to a successful online business but also to a better work-life balance.
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