Yes, I believe content calendars are evil. But before I get into why, I want to talk about how content calendars evolve in most agencies I’ve worked with (YMMV).
Step One: Content Calendars
Most agencies launch their social practice using content calendars. These are often Excel or Word-based documents which are designed to allow copywriters/community managers to write content and then for clients to review that content.
The Good: It’s a simple tool that anyone can understand. And, really, any tool a client can understand is often a good tool. At first.
The Bad: The content calendar is often used to move/remove posts, as well as editing content. This can create a significant amount of revisions.
The Ugly: Because of these revisions, we’re often editing content the day/week content goes live.
Step Two: Longer Timeframes
If the issue is that we do too much editing and it takes too long, clearly the solution is to put more in front of the client so that even if Month One is slow, you’ll get Month Two and Month Three approved in time.
The Good: You get to write more content at once, which is almost never bad, because copywriters/CMs get to stay “in the zone”.
The Bad: You never get Month Two and Month Three approved in time, because you focus on Month One, and end up in a constant vicious circle which is really only ever one month in advance anyway.
The Ugly: You start to become frustrated at, and blame the clients, because clearly YOUR process not working is THEIR fault, right? Yeah, I thought so.
Note: I’ve heard that some agencies pull this off. Well done, but just because you’ve solved for this step, doesn’t mean there aren’t better steps out there. In fact, if you don’t fail, you don’t improve… So maybe not failing is holding you back.
Step Three: Separation Anxiety
The next step is to start to use other tools you’re familiar with, to make this process easier. Typically, folks split the content calendar into two steps: content planning vs content creation. Content planning often includes some version of a Blocking Chart, so that clients can review how much of each type of content you’re doing, and where it is positioned, before you write it. This is a good thing, and I’m generally a fan of Blocking Charts, because it’s a single tool for a single purpose, that clients can digest quickly. Also, it typically reduces revisions on your Calendar by 30-50%. You continue to use your Content Calendar for the Content Creation side of things, because it’s the tool you’re used to. But, because of fewer edits, you’re less… frustrated.
The Good: Fewer rounds of revisions, and thanks to separating planning from creation, you often end up with less rounds of revisions and are thus able to plan content 2-4 months out, which everyone appreciates.
The Bad: You end up doing more work for the same results, but you have less rounds of revisions so you feel like this is okay. It’s not.
The Ugly: Users don’t experience content the way you design it, so the tools end up being a kludge.
Step Four: Beyond the Calendar
By this stage, you’ve hopefully developed some epic metrics behind the scenes, which you’re struggling VERY hard to integrate into your content planning. In addition, your practice is likely evolved enough (and bringing in enough revenue) that you can invest a bit in the future. One of the best CMs I’ve ever worked with actually kicked this phase off at my last agency, because he realized that the only way to write great narrative was to write narrative instead of writing 5 posts in 5 random boxes across a content calendar. He realized that he, as a writer, needed to experience the content creation the same way that our users experienced content consumption.
There are actually lots of approaches for this, so I’m not going to highlight the one we built until a later post, but at this stage in your evolution you are likely looking to decrease writing time, increase engagement, give clients more visibility to the “black box” that social content can become, integrate real-time marketing and ultimately:
Bring planning, creation and measurement together
Of course, there is a world beyond this, which involves dashboards, automated systems, cross-functional teams, etc. But the world beyond using the content calendar as the location where you plan, create, edit, approve and measure performance… It’s a fun one. Trust.
Update: I will note that this is for situations where the client requires intimate oversight of all content. If you’re able to evolve a relationship of greater trust, these processes simplify themselves immensely…
Have a better tool to creation or manage content, or think I’m a doofus of doom? Comment beloowwwwww.