One of the biggest differences in working with social media accounts for large corporations compared to small businesses is the use of one tool: the content calendar.
The simple fact is that large businesses couldn’t run their social media accounts without them – and I believe they are a tool which small businesses could find a useful asset to help them manage their business. Here’s why.
What is a social media content calendar?
A social media content calendar is a plan of what posts your business will make over the next day, week or months on your social media accounts.
A content calendar can be as rigid or as flexible as your business needs – if you want to use it to jot down ideas, that is fine. If you want to use it so no content is posted online unless the calendar has been signed off by the boss, that’s fine, too.
So why do they exist?
There are a lot of benefits to a content calendar, the simplest being that you can get super creative and plan your content for a week in advance, without having to stop and think every day about what you need to do. It means you batch your time, which makes you a super effective worker. Love it.
If you’re working for a large company, you might also need content to be approved by a manager or a client. The copy needs to be on-brand and have the strongest language possible for engagement – so another person critically evaluating each post before it goes out is often why this exists.
A secondary reason of why they are useful is because a lot of departments in the same company use the same social media channels. Marketing, sales, corporate comms all might need space on your social media accounts. Planning these updates across the week means your audience will receive a variety of content across the week, and it means your content can be organized and smooth in its execution.
Even if you’re in a small company, a content calendar is useful because having a second set of eyes can pick up typos or grammatical errors that you might miss yourself – so pencilling in your ideas means someone else can review them. (Or, if you’re solo – I love Grammarly to help spot typos!)
A content calendar can be useful for record keeping. For agencies, this could be a record of ensuring you’ve met your content quota for a client and for a small business, a record of content can be useful if you want to reuse ideas year-on-year.
And, of course, if you’re taking a holiday or you’ve got a big week coming up, knowing that your social media content is scheduled for the whole two weeks means they only time you need to pick up your phone is to take some selfies with baby elephants. (Or whatever your dream holiday includes!!)
For those with businesses who are concerned about the rigidity of a content calendar which might lose the fresh, playful nature of your posts – remember that having a content calendar doesn’t mean that you simply stop posting spontaneous content. It’s just a tool to help you forward plan. You can most certainly post spontaneously if you like – but this just ensures you’re also hitting your big picture goals each week, too.
What’s in a social media content calendar?
Content calendars are usually in an Excel document and saved in a communally accessed location, like a shared server, or Google Docs.
The basic structure of a social media content calendar is comprised of a document which addresses each of these aspects:
- Platform – is this going to be posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram..?
- Date – What date will it be posted?
- Time – What time of day will it be posted?
Content – What is the copy in the post? Don’t forget usernames you might @mention and hashtags.
- Time – What time of day will it be posted?
- Images – If you are posting articles, images often pull in by default. However, you may find it useful to either paste in an example of the image you’re using, or a link to it, depending on how detailed you want your approval process.
- Character count – This is usually a cute bit of Excel code which counts how many characters your copy is. This is very useful for Twitter, where you cannot have over 280 characters.
- Approvals – This is leaving room for whoever is reviewing the content to mark whether they’ve approved it.
- Scheduled – Marking off it is has been scheduled is one of the most important steps. Posting content twice is a little awkward.
- Notes – Depending on your needs, you may want to add some colour coding or add a column for notes for your team internally. For example “Email Jono in Sales when this is live!”
How do I use a social media content calendar?
A social media content calendar is yours to use as you please. Whether it’s a creative space for ideas, or a streamlined workflow to get your content out the door, it’s what you make it.
Part of the strength of a content calendar is not simply in it being able to have the content planned for the immediate 24 hours, but it can also be useful in the mid-to-long term with ideas pencilled in for several months away.
There are a few ways you can use a content calendar to help you plan for the future and run your digital campaigns more effectively. Some particularly useful ways to use a content calendar are:
Following your strategy
If your social media strategy for the year is to drive more traffic, or to raise awareness, or to build community, having your social media content plan on a weekly basis divided into buckets to help you stay on track is a really simple way to do this. It’s one of the easiest ways to maintain your overall business goals when you get into the nitty-gritty day-to-day.
Fill it with key dates
Make a note of essential holidays like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas and public holidays. But also make a note of days which relate to your industry. Make a note of Coffee Appreciation Day. Or Star Wars Day. Or Bert and Ernie’s birthdays. If you’d like a copy of the key dates for the next year, I’ve got a key listing of key dates that are a must-have for anyone managing social media accounts in Australia.
Special days and dates can pop up out of nowhere, so a content calendar means you keep ahead of the curve and can put out teaser content (for example, if you have a Valentine’s Day special, the week before, put out a teaser post)
Campaigns and promotions
When you’re promoting a new sale or a campaign, post about the event regularly. You’d be surprised how often you post about something and people still didn’t see anything about it. Just because you know about your campaign, doesn’t mean your audience does. Don’t be afraid to post every day about a campaign in the previous week leading up to its launch so there’s no chance it was missed by your audience!
I also recommend posting about a campaign in a variety of ways to engage and capture your audience’s attention in different ways.
A content calendar means that you look at both the individual updates about your campaign, but also how they work together to build tension and excitement over a week.
Mix it up
Having a content calendar means that you can ensure a variety of content because you can see your social channels as a whole.
You might post a photo gallery, a video, a text update, a link to an article. While you may lean toward one content type or another, it’s important to use a variety of mediums to keep your audience engaged so they’re not seeing the same thing day in, day out, then tune out.
If we’re talking about a platform like Instagram where the medium is mostly the same – photos! – consider looking at the kinds of content and ensuring it’s got a strong mix. It might be brand photos, a team photo, and an inspirational quote – mix up the topics and content to keep your audience surprised and engaged.
Jot it down
One of the most useful things a content calendar is for is just for jotting down ideas relevant to a specific time or context. Sometimes the difference between a good post and a brilliant post is the context. If you’re a cafe, posting a steaming cup of warm coffee at midday with the text “Coffee up!” that is fine – but if the same post was posted at 8 am on a Monday morning – that would be far more powerful because you know that’s what everyone is craving.
Using the content calendar to hold off some of your brilliant ideas until the right time can make all the difference. For example, if you get fresh cakes delivered on Monday, post about it on Monday. Or post about your milkshake specials during school holidays. You can take photos and prepare brilliant content – but hold onto it and release it in at the right time.
Jot your ideas down, even if they are just placeholders because sometimes it makes all the difference to post content at the time people will be most receptive.
Dive into data
Get messy with your data. I’ve written in the past about how you can use data to inform your content ideas, and this post is no exception.
Look through your post history, see what kinds of content people have engaged most strongly with based on your goals, and pencil in your content calendar throughout the week to create content inspired by what worked well in those posts.
This time last year
If your business is seasonal, having a strong understanding of the content people want at different times of year is essential. If the weather is cold – are people eating hot soup? Or staying in with Netflix? Or is it tax time?
Reviewing successful posts for this month last year can give you ideas of the kind of content people might engage with this year. Pencil it into your calendar.
Keep it loosey goosey
For those who really want to keep reactive and spontaneous, there’s no reason you can’t leave spaces in your content calendar for unique daily content.
You might even want to pencil in ideas like “Instagram the team laying out the cutlery” or “check today’s trending topics on Facebook and see if we can do something fun with it.”
A content calendar is there as a tool to make your life easier – so make it work for you.
If I’ve convinced you that there’s some value to a content calendar, try it for a month, and see if it’s a tool that can help your business.
It saves you time creating in batches, gives you visibility for the week, helps you stick to your strategy, and ensures you’ve got a variety of content. It’s a simple document, but it’s pretty gosh-darn special if you ask me!
It’s something I recommend for all of my clients so that they hit their social media goals – and it’s something I recommend for you too. Get in on it.
Originally written in July 2016, updated February 2019
Want to work with Rachel?Rachel Beaney is a writer and social media content specialist, helping businesses connect with their audiences.
She’s worked with local, national and global companies, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping businesses tell their stories with creative and data-driven solutions.
She is based in Sydney, Australia.
Want to work together? Rachel would love to hear from you. Get in touch today.