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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?

If you’re working for a large company, the primary reason for a content calendar is because you need to have the content you’re posting approved – whether it’s 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 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 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 your records. For agencies, this could be a record of ensuring you’ve met your content quota for a client, for a large business, records can be useful if a legal dispute arises, and for a small business, a record of content can be useful if you want to reuse ideas from successful content 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 and will keep ticking away can be a relief.

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 have the best of both worlds.

Content calendars are usually in an Excel document and saved in a communally accessed document like Excel saved on a shared server, or Google Docs. (Don’t forget to snag the freebie template I’ve got below, or grab the premium version which auto-populates each new month on my online shop.

What’s in a social media content calendar?

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.
  • 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 140 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, however it works for your business. 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.

You can use it however you like, but 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:

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. I also update a list of these every month on my site.

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, it’s important to do a few things. Firstly, post about the content regularly, and increasingly as the close dates nears. 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 – as long as you follow the rules below!

Secondly, post about it in a variety of ways to keep your message being sent to your audience, but without the same phrasing driving them mad.

Finally, ensuring you have a variety of posts not about your campaign so that your audience will not get fatigued with the same message.

A content calendar means that you look at both the individual updates, but also see each update in the context of a week. You will want to ensure the updates don’t all sound the same, they’re spaced out to create regular reminders (or close together to create tension if it’s the final days), and they are interspersed with other content types.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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, 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 funny with it.”

You content calendar is your to make it work for you, so if you want to keep being inspired by on-the-fly content, then do it.

Hook in

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. Feel free to grab the free template I’ve got below and give it a go.

If you’re a convert, let me know in the comments!

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About Rachel Beaney

Rachel Beaney is an Australian freelance social media specialist with over a decade in digital media. She’s worked with global names like Microsoft, Samsung, News Corp and General Assembly, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping clients solve their business needs with creative and data-driven solutions. Get in touch today to jump on a free consultation call to find out how Rachel can help you.

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