What is a Content Calendar, Explained

Content marketing is nearly impossible without a content calendar to keep you organized.

Any business that engages in content marketing is positioning itself for success. Content marketing means that a business creates useful, interesting, and engaging content. That content is then shared on social media or on a business’s website. If done well, the content is even sometimes shared by other businesses or fans of the brand. Content marketing is a fantastic way to engage your existing audience, pull in prospective customers, position yourself as experts in a subject area, and enhance your SEO. 

That being said, a critical part of any content strategy is planning your content. If done right, the content you create will not be some quick-and-dirty information pulled together. It will be useful, engaging, and easily digestible. This requires planning, workflow management, and research to ensure that the type of content you create is useful to your content marketing strategy.

What does this mean? A content calendar is a fantastic planning guide that can be used by team members to ensure that you are planning your content appropriately. It can be integrated with all of your marketing efforts and used for the purposes of better managing the content creation process. Because many people are familiar with social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, and TikTok, we’re going to first focus on how content calendars can be the cornerstone of any social media marketing strategy. 

With that said, content calendars can apply to blogs, infographics, podcasts, and many other forms of content where organization is crucial for producing new content. Let’s dive in with social media first. 

What is a Social Media Content Calendar? 

A social media content calendar is a file that lays out what specific content will be published on a company’s social media platforms. It will lay out a content schedule that will delve specifically into what content will be displayed on a company’s various social media platforms over time. 

However, a social media content calendar should get into more information than just a broad overview and theme of the content that a business will use. It should discuss what content will be displayed on what social media platforms. How in-depth a content calendar is will depend on the needs and abilities of the marketing team in general. Social media content calendars work best when they lay out the specifics behind every post and layout – word for word – what content will be created. Content can then be customized based on the social media platforms that it is being published. This gives the digital marketing team the chance to customize content based on the needs and culture of each platform.

Once this information has been created, it can be used for scheduling purposes. This information can then be easily added or amended based on current events or the changing needs of a business. A social media content calendar can potentially extend months into the future, giving businesses the opportunity to better prepare future content based on their needs. If a business is heavily involved in long-term planning, a social media calendar that keeps an eye on long-term needs can be highly useful. 

A social media content calendar can then be used to schedule posts in advance. It is important to realize that a social media manager must still monitor all of these posts to address potential last-second changes in a social media strategy. Automated posts can be easy and help streamline the process of publishing information, but they can also create problems if last-second events at the company in question – or in the world as a whole – necessitate changes to the company’s strategy.  

In order to be most impactful, the social media posts that are developed using a content calendar should all be themed around the same general topic. This ensures that your business is pushing the right message across all of its social media platforms. Doing so can make it more efficient for content planning, as individuals on your content marketing team can use the same facts and information. You should also create content with an eye towards the future. This means that your infographics can encourage people to keep an eye on additional content later down the line, such as future sales offerings, webinars, or more. 

However, social media content calendars also acknowledge that different networks have different content, tones, and other idiosyncrasies. For example, a text-based, formally-toned post is perfect on LinkedIn – but has no place on Pinterest, which is a very visual-heavy medium. As such, a social media content calendar can help a social media marketing team better manage the various cultures of different social media platforms. 

How Do Content Calendars Help Content Marketers?

Content calendars can be extremely beneficial for content marketers because they keep managers and teams organized. Think about it this way: have you ever gone to the gym or grocery store without a checklist of exercises you need to do or products you need to buy? Chances are you walk haphazardly around the gym or grocery doing random routines or buying a mix of goods. When you leave, you feel like you’re missing something. Having a checklist can help as you cross items off. That’s kind of how a content calendar template can help: it’ll keep you organized so you don’t feel like you missed any important events, days, or deals that can dramatically impact your business. Let’s examine a few ways content calendars can help not only marketing teams but entire organizations:

Help Brainstorm Ideas

Content calendars can be a cornerstone of any content development process. You can use them to develop high-quality content ideas that fulfill business goals. You can then orient all of these content goals around a calendar, thus enabling you to create a stream of content that is planned and researched appropriately. 

Content Calendars Allow You to Define Success

A well-designed content calendar won’t just have content: It will also allow you to track and define success. A content calendar can have a separate analytics section. Using pre-defined metrics – such as viewed, likes, or clicks – you can easily find out how many people view your content. This, in turn, allows you to see what works and what doesn’t.

This success can be determined across numerous metrics. For example, you may see what types of content work best and what doesn’t. You may also easily discover where you should concentrate your efforts. If a post is successful on Facebook but completely ignored on Twitter, it may show you that your Facebook platform is more successful than Twitter. This may mean that you need to put more time into developing a Twitter feed that cultivates the kind of audience you need. Conversely, it may also demonstrate that a certain platform is a waste of time for your business. As such, you can redirect resources to a more appropriate network. 

Provide a Solid Visual Foundation for Content

As the name implies, content calendars provide an excellent and easy-to-understand calendar view of all of the content you are creating. As such, you can easily look at a calendar and understand what kind of content will be published and when it will be published. This can help to orient your entire marketing team and business around the content you are creating. If you know Valentine’s Day is in February, maybe your posts can incorporate love language, hearts, and the colors red and pink in them. It’s always nice to pass these themes and creative strategies along to your design and creative team well ahead of time so they can generate new and innovative copy and graphics. 

Creating Evergreen Content

Evergreen content refers to content that can be used over and over again. This means the content is relevant, timely, and always useful. It will enhance your SEO and almost always be worth sharing or including in an email. Developing evergreen content is not always easy, and content may not be evergreen forever. However, this type of content can pull people into your website. It can also be repurposed or tweaked for newer information or statistics. 

Ensure Appropriate Planning

It’s impossible to go about your day without knowing where you have to go and when you have to get there, right? A content calendar works the same way. A well-designed content calendar can ensure that you know what you are going to say when you are going to say it. It thus enables appropriate planning, division of labor in your team, and ensures that you have the right resources at your disposal in order to create the marketing content that you need.  

What Should a Content Calendar Include?

You should understand that there is no set, required information that your content calendar should include. Each business has different needs, requirements, integrations, and more. Some businesses create podcasts – others are obsessed with LinkedIn. In other words, what works for your business may be a disaster for another. As such, your content calendar must be customized to meet your needs and ensure that every piece of content you create in a content calendar appropriately reflects what will have the biggest benefit for your business. 

That being said, content planning is most effective when a content calendar includes certain pieces of information, including important dates and the overall research you will need to put into the development of each piece of content. Other facets of a content calendar that must be included are: 

Goals of Each Day

Content shouldn’t just be published for the sake of making sure you publish something. Instead, all content must be oriented around a specific goal. This begs the question: What are you trying to achieve with your current blog, podcast, or social media use? What are your goals for each day? How does the work of your content team tie to your current business initiatives, and how can you orient your content around that work? In all probability, this is not a determination that your marketing team will be making on its own: You’ll have to talk with your sales and finance team to find out what they are doing and how you can orient your content calendar around these efforts. However, this is another strong benefit of a content calendar: It forces you to better communicate with your team and orient future content around their needs. This creates social media and blog content that better incorporates the needs of your entire business. 

Date of Publication

The publishing schedule is vitally important. Indeed, in most content calendars, the content is specifically oriented around the date of publication. A well-designed content calendar will not only have the date of publication but will also display the time that each piece of content is published. This is another example of where a content calendar can be useful: If you track the success or failure of your content, you will know which times of day a published piece is likely to get the most engagement. This means that you can time the publication of your content for the moment where it will be most useful. 

Content Calendar Due Date

Remember, a content calendar doesn’t just display when you are going to publish a certain piece of content. It should also list out when you are going to need that content prepared by and checked by any relevant stakeholders within the company. This ensures that all content is ready to go at the appropriate time. It also ensures that content can be checked for accuracy and compliance. This is even more important in some fields, like health care, legal or financial planning, when the content that you create could have a significant impact on someone’s life – and may thus have legal implications. 

Specifics Behind Each Piece of Content

Here’s where things get a little more interesting. On one hand, a content calendar can explicitly plan out each piece of content, down to the word. This is obviously more necessary for longer-form content, such as blog content or webinars, where you need each and every piece of content specifically laid out. On the other end, some companies prefer to wait until the last second before writing each word. This may be more useful if you have a smaller company, less stringent requirements, or the ability to create content on the fly. 

Either way, this is a good example of why a “one-size-fits-all” content calendar model may not work for everyone: Different companies have different needs, and the content calendar that your business uses should be reflective of whatever content you need to create. 

Content Calendar for Relevant Internal Stakeholders

When planning content – including brainstorming ideas or developing specific verbiage – your business may benefit extensively from laying out a list of anyone in your business who should have input or needs to give final approval into the content you are developing. This can include general departments or specific individuals. Either way, the answer to this issue will flow from the format of your business and the specific lines of approval that have been laid out by your business.

Again, here’s an added benefit of a content calendar: It encourages internal communication and collaboration. 

Upcoming Content

It is important to keep an eye on upcoming content when developing your content calendar. This enables you to potentially steer your currently published content in a manner that will smoothly transition to upcoming content. For example, let’s say you published case studies about how one business used your services and created more streamlined or efficient operations as a result of the help you gave them. Upcoming content might include a future examination of that service, with links to the case study presentations. As such, keeping an eye on upcoming content can help when it comes to publishing content that you are using today. 

Potential Partners

In some instances, you work with other businesses, bloggers, or organizations in order to jointly promote your content. This can be highly useful for SEO and link-building purposes, as you can work with other organizations to jointly enhance each of your social media strategies. If you are going to work with partners outside of your business, your calendar should note this. Project management software can be useful here, as you can use it to track what pieces of content each business or group will be pushing. 

How Do I Make a Content Calendar?

Fortunately for marketers, there are many ways to make a high-quality content calendar. 

First, understand that there is no set form for a content calendar. There are absolutely free templates for content calendars. You can also work with a marketing agency to develop a content calendar that fits your needs.

Content calendars can be created using any number of computer programs, including Word, Excel, Google Calendar, or Google Sheets. If you use project management software or social media management software, such as Trello or Hubspot, you can integrate this software into your calendar as well. Furthermore, there are a variety of content calendar tools that you can find on the internet, and these tools go beyond the templates that are available. Many marketing agencies have made examples available at no charge. These examples not only create a format for you to use but show you perfect case studies on how to get the most out of a content calendar. 

It goes without saying that you will want to create a content calendar that is as easy to use as possible. Once you determine the format that you want to use for your blog content, you will want to make sure it can be easily revised, changed, or updated. This means that you may want to look into some sort of format, like drag-and-drop, that can be easily managed and manipulated. The easier it is to update your content calendar, the easier it is to create a robust and frequently updated guide that can help manage your content to best reflect your business’s goals and needs. 

Finally, remember this: A content calendar is not just the domain of the marketing or social media departments. As you likely know from reading this article, one of the main benefits of a content calendar is that it encourages integration and collaboration within an organization. A well-designed content calendar requires that a social media or marketing team work with all relevant departments in order to ensure collaboration and maximum input from inside a business. As such, the format of your content calendar must be easy to read and easy to provide input on. This does not mean that a content calendar should be managed by a committee: lines of creation and authority must be clear. However, it should be easily viewable, and people who are engaged in the process must understand how they can give input. 

What is the Difference Between a Content Calendar and an Editorial Calendar?

There is an important difference between a content calendar and an editorial calendar. Much of this difference comes down to the content types that are created when using both of these formats. 

To an extent, editorial calendars can be viewed as being precursors for content calendars. An editorial calendar can specify what content will be discussed. This can include if a business will be reviewing product launches, creating white papers about a subject of expertise, highlighting a customer, or more. In other words, an editorial calendar can be used to lay out the general subject or specific copy.

However, that’s where an editorial calendar ends. An editorial calendar is all about what is being said – not how or where it is being said.

This is where a content calendar comes in. As you now know, a content calendar is used to customize content to an appropriate social network, lay out where content will be published, discuss the format of that specific content, and define what makes a piece of content successful. As such, content calendars provide much of the same information as an editorial calendar. They just provide more information, and in a more useful way.