Updated July 1, 2021
Unless today is your first day as a content marketer, you know a documented strategy is essential to content marketing success.
But let’s face it: Not all of us play a direct part in crafting or controlling our company’s strategic, high-level view of content. For some of us, the job is to fulfill the promise of those strategic ideals.
And to do that, you have to develop a content plan that positions your content marketing program for long-term success. Whether you’re building a tactical editorial content plan for your organization or refining the one you have, read on for a handy tutorial and some of our best resources to guide you.
By the way, if it is your first day on the job, you’ll want to catch up quickly. I recommend starting with our Content Marketing Strategy Essentials guide and branching off from there.
What is a content plan?
A content plan documents the policy, process, team resource, and task-related decisions that go into executing your content marketing strategy.
Similar to building your content marketing strategy, planning your editorial can seem intimidating at the outset. You need to consider a lot of moving parts and design each aspect to align with your strategic goals.
Your plans also need to allow for flexibility since your content will likely need to adapt to shifting business priorities, emerging tech trends, audience preferences, and other changes over time.
Fortunately, if you break down your plan into three focal areas, the tasks should come into clearer focus, making the process much more manageable. The three areas include:
- Guidelines and governance
- Processes and tools
- Team resources
Take a shortcut: Strapped for time but want a plan? Grab some tricks, tips, and helpful templates from these Time-Saving Tips, Checklists, and Templates to Conquer Content Marketing Goals in 2021.
Set your guidelines and governance policies
Governance lies at the heart of every editorial program. The decisions you make – and the guidelines you set – define and distinguish your brand’s content experience.
Developing a single set of communication standards makes tactical, go/no-go decisions easier. Focus on editorial quality standards, preferred practices, and guiding principles, including:
Set your content tone, voice, and style
Outline the qualities and characteristics that make your brand’s content recognizable and distinct from everyone else’s. Clearly define the preferred tone, voice, and stylistic standards all of your content should stick to.
Set standards for editorial quality and value
Your editorial content team should be the keeper of the standards of content quality that make your content worthy of your audience. Poor content quality can hinder results and reflect poorly on your brand’s value and reputation.
All content should be judged against its ability to provide the value your audience expects. Ahava Liebtag’s Creating Valuable Content, a Step-By-Step Checklist gives you a great starting point for ensuring quality. If your content doesn’t measure up to these standards, consider sending it back to the drawing board.
Take a shortcut: For a deeper dive on how to take control of your digital content, consider creating an editorial board, as CMI Strategy Advisor Robert Rose suggests in this article.
Develop your processes and select content tools
Editorial content planning involves:
- Defining the tasks to complete and detailing how each asset is routed through a workflow
- Determining how team members will collaborate and communicate effectively
- Identifying the tools and technology they’ll use to do the work
Define your workflow
Good workflow has been called the secret sauce for content marketing success for a good reason. If you don’t define the steps, sign-offs, and stakeholders involved in transforming ideas into assets, you risk breakdowns and bottlenecks. Tasks slip through the cracks, necessary approvals get overlooked, deadlines get missed, and even minor errors and setbacks can easily snowball into productivity nightmares.
Try the tips and tools in these articles to define or improve your workflow:
Promote communication and collaboration
Once you’ve defined the workflow, help your team members understand their role in the content creation process – and how it impacts and overlaps with the responsibilities of everyone else involved in your content program. This makes it easier to put in place tools and techniques to foster better communication and collaboration as your team members do their jobs.
A detailed editorial calendar is a great tool for managing collaboration. It helps each team member see where each asset is in the production process, what tasks still need to be accomplished, and with whom they need to work to move it through to completion.
Try these tips and tools to create and maintain your editorial content calendar:
As your team runs more efficiently, you might realize it’s generating more content ideas than it can be expected to execute. To keep the influx of killer ideas from snowballing into total creative paralysis, you need a system for evaluating ideas to prioritize the projects that align most strongly with your goals and to reject the ones that might hinder productivity, tax resources, or fall far outside your content’s primary purpose.
Try these resources to help you focus on what matters:
Assess content requests
Once word of your content team’s success spreads through your organization, you may receive requests from other teams, departments, and business units that want your help producing similar results for them. It’s helpful to have policies and documents for handling content requests to preserve your team resources for the projects that are best positioned to achieve success.
Once news of your #ContentMarketing successes spreads, you’ll be inundated with requests from other teams. A #content plan keeps you focused – here’s how to create one via @joderama and @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Build-in quality assurance
While your team can be flexible in how it manages editorial processes, procedures, and collaborations, be rigid about one thing: maintaining the highest standards of content quality. Even a small factual error in your content can erode your brand’s credibility in a social media minute. Put in place a quality assurance (QA) process to keep typos, grammatical mistakes, and factual inaccuracies out of your published content and keep your brand’s reputation above reproach.
Try these ideas to keep content quality high:
Beyond the basic tools of the content marketing trade – like calendars, workflow maps, and process checklists – make sure you have the necessary technology infrastructure. Depending on your goals, team resources, and budget, the tech systems can range from simple spreadsheets and desktop-publishing programs to full-scale content management systems (CMS), multifunctional marketing automation solutions, and more. You should evaluate your technological needs early in the planning process to make sure you have the power to build and execute your strategic content marketing vision.
Without the right human resources, even the priciest content program isn’t likely to bring the ROI you expect. Your content planning process needs to account for each role, the skills and expertise team members need to bring to their roles, and the support that enables everybody to perform to their potential.
Culture and mindset
Because of the nature of the work they do, content teams typically function best in an environment that fosters creativity, minimizes distractions, and enables constructive feedback to be shared and discussed easily across multiple functional teams and organizational silos. Paying attention to the small details that make for a more supportive content marketing mindset and collaborative culture can pay off in greater team productivity, lower team churn rates, and higher efficiency and effectiveness.
Try these resources to get the most from your team:
Team structure and roles
Your content marketing program’s potential for success lies squarely in the hands of your team members, which is why putting the right staff members, functional roles, and overarching team structure in place is a critical component of every editorial plan.
Here are a few places to start:
While today’s content teams may have to learn to do more with less, they can only be expected to multitask if they possess the required skills. And while certain skill sets – like writing, editing, and design – are essential for every content marketing operation, others may be nice-to-have additions when you are ready to take your content programs further.
Depending on your organization’s size, available resources, and level of content marketing maturity, determine which skill sets need to be acquired immediately and which ones you can outsource, share, or do without until your need grows.
Take a shortcut: Having trouble getting your staff to realize its potential? Follow these tips to diagnose and treat the source of common team problems.
Now you’re ready to create
Now that you have your plan in place and resources gathered, you can get down to the business of content creation. That’s a whole other story, which you can read in Discover the Secrets to Successful Content Creation.
But before you go, take a moment to let me know in the comments how you approach content planning.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute