Here at CoSchedule, we follow the philosophy of planning your work, then working your plan. For content creators, there’s no better organizational hub than a well-planned content calendar.
When your entire strategy is planned out on one calendar, it’s easier to keep organized, focus on deadlines, and be more productive. Not only that, but it keeps your entire team up to date with the latest and upcoming projects.
Just picture this:
- You have a versatile content calendar that can help you organize all of your campaigns, track your projects, and easily collaborate with your team.
- You’re provided with an easy-to-follow process for managing said calendar.
- You have several examples of what a great content calendar looks like.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
Well, start investing in more lottery tickets because your content calendar dreams are about to become a reality. All you have to do is read on!
In this post, we’ll show you how to build the perfect content calendar and keep it full.
Download Your Annual Content Calendar Templates
Before we show you how to organize content calendars, you’ll need the right tools in your arsenal. Get started with this trio of templates:
- 2021 Content Calendar Template for effectively planning out your content all year long and keeping your team organized.
- Email Marketing Calendar Template to map out every email before they’re sent.
- Social Media Editorial Calendar Template to help keep track of all your social media content in one place.
Snag your templates now, and then read on to learn how to use ’em.
Get Your 2021 Calendar Templates
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What Exactly is a Content Calendar, Anyway?
There are a lot of different types of marketing calendars out there. You might see them called a “blog calendar”, “social media calendar”, or “editorial calendar”.
Their basic purpose is the same no matter what they’re called, though.
For the purposes of this post, here is the definition we’ll work with:
A content calendar can be anything used to plan, schedule, and organize content and other marketing projects.
Here are three common types of content calendar:
- Printed calendars. This is the old-school hardcopy solution.
- Spreadsheets. Excel and Google Sheets can be cost-effective tools for building marketing calendars.
- Apps. This includes full-featured interactive software, like CoSchedule. Tools like this offer useful automation and workflow management capabilities to save time and keep you organized.
Here’s an example of a printed calendar that works great for hand-writing your ideas, plans, deadlines, and so forth. While this might be a good idea for personalizing your own calendar, they are not as effective for sharing with your team or project contributors.
This is a screenshot directly from the content calendar template you can find in the download bundle at the top of this post. Because this type of calendar is digital, it’s easier to share and you can link references, meetings, and so forth right on the calendar.
Content Calendar Apps and Software
We may be biased, but it’s for good reason. CoSchedule’s Marketing Calendar product is the most powerful calendar on the market. The marketing team at CoSchedule uses our own software to organize every piece of our strategy.
So, Why Should I Use a Content Calendar?
The easiest answer is because “winging it” doesn’t work. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll end up wasting time you could be spending being productive.
That much is nearly guaranteed — if you don’t keep organized, you’ll be less likely to succeed.
Using a calendar makes it easier to plan out what you’ll be doing in the future; this could mean a week, a month, or however far ahead you’d like to plan ahead. You could even plan your content marketing efforts for an entire year, like we’ll show you in this post.
Just think about this: when you plan ahead for your future content, the likelihood of your content being significantly better is astronomical. This is because you have more time to research, draft, and add finishing touches to your final product.
Once you get your calendar built out, you’ll be able to:
- Hit deadlines more easily and hold yourself accountable for getting stuff done. Being able to visualize these deadlines on your content calendar makes this a walk in the park.
- See everything you’re working on in one place. Blog posts, social messages, events, email newsletters, podcasts, videos — whatever you’re busy creating.
- Think strategically about the content you’ll create. For example, instead of scrambling at the last minute to create content around a major holiday, you can plan for it ahead of time.
Your team will also be able to quickly see what everyone else is working on and when — making collaboration simple.
For an example of what a calendar can do for your content, take a look at what ON24 was able to accomplish in a short period of time once they started using CoSchedule:
That’s a significant increase in publishing volume. They were also able to:
- Provide their team with full visibility into all content and social media projects. Eliminating ambiguity improves content collaboration.
- Hit deadlines more consistently. That means less stress, more efficiency, and better work.
- Increased blog traffic by 98% over a 2-year period, and specifically increased organic traffic by 1,412%. Those are incredible numbers, and numbers don’t lie.
How to Use Your Content Calendar Effectively
To begin planning your editorial calendar, start with at least two week’s worth of content.
If you want to leverage your calendar to its fullest though, you’ll plan out as far ahead as you reasonably can. That means allocating space for holidays, seasonal events, and other calendar items you know are going to eventually crop up.
Know Your Content Channels
Before we get too much further, figure out which content channels and types you’re currently creating, and plan on creating this year.
This could include:
- A blog or regularly updated website content. This is likely the bread and butter behind your content marketing strategy. It’s also the type of content most often associated with editorial calendars and planning.
- Social media. Determine which networks you’ll use to promote your content.
- Email. According to Campaign Monitor, it’s 40 times more effective than social media for customer acquisition.
- Podcasts. Don’t know how to start one? We’ll show you.
- Video. Video marketing is growing in importance, and you can use your calendar to plan every shoot.
- Print magazines, brochures, or newsletters. The print world is changing, but it’s not going away anytime soon.
- Anything else you’re working on. If it’s a marketing project, you can organize it on a calendar.
Consider Creating Content Themes Based on Holidays, Shopping Seasons, and Buying Cycles
Since we’re talking about year-long planning here, it makes sense to discuss seasonal content. If you know you’ll have particular holidays, sales events, or other times of year requiring special promotion, plan that out on your calendar.
Start by breaking down these kinds of events into categories. These could include:
- Holidays: Are there any holidays that are relevant to your business?
- Peak buying seasons for customers: Are certain times of year better for your business than others?
- Times of year that have particular importance in your industry: This could include events that have an impact on your business.
- National Days: National days are a great way to mix up your usual content.
Next, consider creating monthly themes for your content.
You know how magazines sometimes focus issues around one central topic? You can do that for your content and other marketing initiatives too.
A theme could be any broad topic you’ll create multiple pieces of content about during a given month.
You don’t need to strictly limit yourself to your themes, but they can make it easier to brainstorm content ideas (since you’ll have a target to think around) and help your audience know what to expect from you month to month. They can also help you build authority around particular topics, helping you become known as a go-to source for that particular information.
Brainstorm Content Ideas
Before you can fill your calendar, you’ll need ideas to plan around. You’ll need a lot of ideas, and you’ll need them fast, too. That’s where our simple brainstorming process comes in.
Here’s how it works in three parts:
- Spend ten minutes writing down every idea that pops into your head. Don’t worry if they’re good or not just yet. What’s important is getting your ideas down on paper.
- Spend another ten minutes scoring those ideas on a three-point scale. 3’s are great ideas, 2’s need more refinement, and 1’s are duds. You’ll likely end up with more 1’s and 2’s than 3’s, but that’s okay.
- Spend ten more minutes choosing which of your 3’s you’ll create or implement. These are the best of your best ideas.
Add a day and time on your calendar to run through this process once a month, and you’ll always have enough ideas to keep your content marketing machine moving forward.
Setting Your Publishing Schedule
Now, you’ll need to determine how often to publish content. This entails determining your posting frequency, as well as days and times.
When you’re starting out, it’s helpful to start small. Even if you only schedule one blog post, that’s one more thing you’ve gotten organized than before. You can worry about scaling your content production later.
In order to ensure your content gets seen on social media, consider these optimal publishing days and times.
This graphic shows that Tuesdays are the best days for publishing your blog posts because this is when they typically get the most social shares. Use this as a starting point, then test other days to see what works best for you.
As for timing, the average results for the most pageviews and social shares come between the hours of 9–10am. Try out this timing and see how it works for you. Again, consider this a starting point, but not a final prescription for what you should do long-term.
Assuming you’ll be promoting your content via email as well, it’s important to keep timing and frequency of sending emails in mind:
The last thing you want to do is annoy your prospects with too many emails in their inbox. You also don’t want to be sending them emails when they’re most busy because then they’ll completely miss your reach.
Don’t forget to include an option for your lists to opt out of emails, in case the subscription isn’t working for them.
In order to get a better understanding of your promotions, list out the different platforms in which you plan to post your content, then figure out how often you want to publish on each platform.
Add Ideas to Your Calendar
After you have a solid idea of what your content is about and when you’ll be publishing it, you need to add those ideas to your content calendar.
Don’t be afraid to move them around if it isn’t working out. That’s the great thing about having your own content calendar: you can do whatever you need with it in order to make your ideas fit in with the rest of your calendar.
Implement a Consistent Color-Coding Scheme
A color-coding scheme can help quickly identify content on your calendar.
You can color-code your calendar any way you’d like. However, a successful scheme should incorporate the following elements:
- It should be agreed upon by everyone who will be using the calendar. Everyone should know which colors refer to which types of content.
- It should be consistent. If you decide Twitter messages are always highlighted in green and your graphic designer’s tasks are always in blue, it’s important to keep that straight. Otherwise, you can run into confusion and missed deadlines.
- It should be simple. Try to use only as many different colors as you need.
Here are a few different ideas for laying out color-coding schemes:
- By campaign. If you’re creating campaigns that span multiple channels, then color-coding each piece of that campaign can make it easier to see when each piece will be publishing.
- By theme. Similar to color-coding by campaign, if you’re creating content across channels around a theme, it can be helpful to see each piece that belongs to that theme at a quick glance.
- By team member. If certain team members have content or tasks they’re responsible for; this can help them see everything they need to get done, and when.
- By channel. If you’d prefer, you can also color-code content based on channel (ex: all Facebook posts in blue, all YouTube videos in red, all blog posts in orange, etc.).
If none of these ideas work, you can always come up with one of your own, too. Here’s what your calendar might look like once you’ve added some content to your color scheme:
Do This With CoSchedule: CoSchedule has built-in color coding functionality, called Custom Color Labels, to keep your scheme consistent.
Developing a Process for Managing Your Calendar
If you’re working on a team, it’s helpful to have one person be in charge of project managing the calendar.
Of course, you can have team members add their own stuff, and make them responsible for hitting their deadlines. However, having one person keeping an eye on everything can be helpful.
Your calendar owner should be responsible for determining:
- Who will manage the calendar
- Who will have access to the calendar
- Which projects go on the calendar
- How often the calendar will be updated
- It would be helpful to your whole team if you scheduled monthly or quarterly content planning meetings, so everyone stays in the loop about your calendar.
Calendar owners should also be giving team members a nudge if their projects are nearing a deadline and ensuring the timing and planning of content and marketing initiatives makes sense.
Your calendar should be your single version of truth. If it’s on your calendar, it should be an actual project that you’re really going to create, and it should be tied to.
Finally, owners need to throw a red flag if something looks off. If something doesn’t look right, it’s this person’s job to call it out. This person can be anyone on your team who is suited for this task.
Let’s Look at 7 Content Calendar Examples From Leading Brands
Here are some popular brands we analyzed (based on their public content marketing activities) to see how they manage their publishing frequency and schedule.
Each one of these companies and organizations fits the following criteria:
- They have an active blog.
- They’re regularly posting on social media.
- They span a variety of industries and company sizes.
No matter what kind of company or organization you work for, you can see a variety of schedules to inspire your own goals. While you may not achieve these kinds of results immediately, they may give you something to work toward.
Red Bull is a massive media powerhouse that just happens to sell an energy drink. As you can see from their content calendar, they publish a lot of stuff whether it’s blogs, social media messages, videos and more.
What conclusions can we draw from Red Bull’s content calendar?
- Post your content where your audience is most active. Red Bull’s audience of 20 to 30 year old males is most active on Facebook and Instagram. Therefore it makes sense that Red Bull would publish a larger amount of content on these channels.
- Reuse video content on social media. Red Bull is known for their incredible video content. Much of that gets shared on Facebook and their other social platforms. You might not be able to shoot the same kind of video, but if you have video content at all, repackage it for social media for maximum mileage.
- Create content that looks and feel authentically like the non-branded content that your audience seeks out. Red Bull is so successful because it looks like content from a publishing house. They don’t feel like they are being sold too.
Takeaway: Organic social media content doesn’t always need to sell directly in order to be successful.
Reverb.com is an e-commerce website that sells pretty much any music related instrument you could think of. They know their audience well and have created a reliable and consistent publishing schedule that’s jam-packed full of content about musicians, new and old instruments and techniques their fans would find interesting.
What conclusions can we draw from Reverb’s content calendar?
- If you’re going to publish a lot of content make sure you do it well. One of the reasons that Reverb.com is so successful with their content is because of their ability to tailor it to their audience. They publish a lot of information, but all of it is executed well.
- Establish trust with your audience. By talking to industry experts, popular musicians and more they are able to establish a sense of trust with their audience. People can drop a lot of money on their sites because they can trust what they find.
- Create content that makes it easy to understand how to use complex products. Reverb does a great job explaining what their product does and how to use it. Their product base can get overwhelming and stressful so Reverb makes it easy to understand and find the dream product their audience is in search of.
Takeaway: Earn your audience’s trust through the content you create.
ModCloth is another e-commerce website that sells women’s vintage style clothing. ModCloth caters to a very niche market place as the demand for vintage clothes falls to a unique group of buyers.
What conclusions can we draw from ModCloth’s content calendar?
- Put your audience’s interests first. Modcloth’s audience is interested in fashion. They aren’t satisfied with what they can find at the mall. By creating content that gives their audience fashion ideas by itself, it’s okay that the copy tells them where to find it. This is an exception where direct selling can work for a retail brand.
- Start small and grow. You don’t need to publish 67 blog posts and 123 social media messages right off the bat. ModCloth’s publishing schedule is small but that’s what works for them. You have to walk before you can run and that includes your content creation.
- Your blog doesn’t have to be your main focus. Blogs are great, but they’re also time-consuming. If your team doesn’t have the resources or the time to publish a ton of blog content, that’s okay. Focus your efforts on creating great content on your social media pages,e-books or landing pages and slowly grow your blog.
Takeaway: Organic social media content should not always look and feel like an ad.
Disney is a behemoth in the hospitality and service world and needless to say they publish a lot of content. The Disney Parks blog is just one of several blogs, Facebook pages and more that Disney runs.
What conclusions can we draw from Disney Park’s content calendar?
- Create content that creates FOMO. Disney has many massive theme parks that are packed full of attractions and fun family things to do. Their content creates a FOMO or feeling of missing out on all the fun. This move creates a sense of urgency and longing for your audience hopefully promoting them to take action.
- Show them what they will experience. Create content that shows your audience what they will get or experience when they purchase your products. Instead of letting them guess what will happen, show them instead.
- Help them have the best time when they do business with you. Disney’s content focuses a lot on the experiences that their customers have. You can do this as well by letting your content show them how working with you creates the best possible experience they’ll ever have.
Takeaway: Show your audience how to create an experience when they visit you.
Whole Foods is a natural grocery store that was recently acquired by Amazon. They’re blog integrates the products they’re selling with fun, easy to read content.
What conclusions can we draw from the Whole Foods content calendar?
- If you don’t have enough blog content to supplement your social media messages, curate it from other sources. Whole Foods doesn’t publish a ton of blog content throughout the month so to supplement some of its social media posts it will scrape content from other related blogs, news sources and even their own customers.
- Try publishing themed content. One thing that Whole Foods does well is post themed content. Whether that be new Halloween recipes or ways to use seasoned fruits and vegetables Whole Foods finds a way to make their content timely and themed.
- Don’t publish blog content just to fill your content calendar. If you’re experiencing gaps in your content calendar, don’t randomly publish blog content trying to fill it in. Your blog content should always be strategically written.
Takeaway: Everything that Whole Foods publishes is high-quality content that their audience cares about. They might do well to publish a little more, but you don’t have to have a publishing schedule like Red Bull to be successful.
BMW is a world-renowned luxury vehicle maker. Their designs are timeless, classic, and out of reach for many pocket books. Their content marketing strategy however, is not.
What conclusions can we draw from BMW content calendar?
- Use your blog to show behind the scenes stuff about your product. People love seeing what makes a product tick. Use your blog to show them information that they may not get by seeing advertisements or use cases of your product.
- If you sell an expensive product, use social media to reinforce your brand not make a direct sale. People know who BMW is and how it makes them feel. Their product is out of reach for many of their audience members meaning that a link to a dealership in a post probably isn’t going to result in a sale. If your product has a pretty hefty price tag use your social media to reinforce the luxury idea of your brand.
- Make people feel like they’re part of the community. BMW is great at making their audience feel included when they buy their product. They’re not just purchasing a car, they’re also becoming part of a community.
Takeaway: If your product is a hard direct sell, create content that caters to your audience’s aspirations.
Concordia College is a small liberal arts college in Moorhead, Minnesota. Like many colleges, Concordia keeps an active blog and social media presence to attract prospective students.
What conclusions can we draw from Concordia’s content calendar?
- Reshare your blog content. Concordia shares one blog post multiple times on one social media channel. This can help ensure that as many people see your content as possible.
- Let current customers tell your story. Concordia uses their content to show potential students what it would look like if they were to attend the college. Word of mouth is more powerful than what you could say about yourself as a brand.
- Once you’ve published your content, respond to what people have to say. Your content publishing schedule is not complete once it’s live. You need to be able to continue that conversation about your content with your audience. Find out what they think and take the time to show them that you care about what they have to say.
Takeaway: Reinforce the idea that your organization creates a community.
Start Using Your Own Content Calendar
Today, we’ve discussed what makes up a content calendar, why they’re helpful to you and your projects, how to use them in the most effective way, and provided some awesome examples of businesses that put all of these ideas into practice.
With all of these great reasons to use a collaborative content calendar and examples to back them up, it’s time to start putting your own content calendar together. It’s a boatload of work that is well worth the extra effort, and your team will thank you for it.
Your future self will be thanking you, too.
This post was originally published on February 8, 2018. It was updated and republished on March 24, 2021. Ben Sailer and Breonna Bergstrom contributed to writing this post.
March 24, 2021