Twitter, facebook, youtube, blog posts, forum threads, press releases, emails… the list could go on. We are constantly talking about how important it is to communicate with our users through these various routes. However, many website owners fall into two categories:
The “I’m too busy” content provider – These are the people who just don’t ever seem to have the time to communicate. They want to, and recognise how important it is, but other work always sweeps aside their good intentions.
The “over enthusiastic” content provider – These individuals are passionate about engaging with their users. They are constantly tweeting, blogging and communicating. However, as a result they often overwhelm their users with too much content.
Then there is the problem of larger organisations who have many different content providers all trying to talk to the same audience. Much like the “over enthusiastic” website owner, multiple content providers can quickly overwhelm the user with too much ‘stuff’.
Whichever group you feel the biggest affinity with the solution is the same: You need an editorial calendar.
What is an editorial calendar?
An editorial calendar is something that has existed in the print world for years. It is essentially a master calendar that dictates what is published when and ensures there is a good spread of relatively constant communication on different topics.
For example your editorial calendar might dictate that blog posts go out on tuesdays and thursdays or that you try and tweet 10 times a day with major announcements put out at specific times when you know your audience will be looking at their twitter stream.
The form this calendar takes is entirely up to you. It could be a whiteboard, excel document or something more sophisticated. Whatever the case it provides some tangible benefits to your communication strategy.
Why you need an editorial calendar?
There are good reasons why editorial calendars have been used in print for years and why web content strategists constantly encourage their customers to adopt them. Here are just a few of the benefits that sprung to mind when I was planning this post. Editorial calendars…
Use the optimal time to communicate
An idea for an engaging tweet may occur to you at 10am UK time. However, if you want to reach an american audience you will have to schedule the update to go out later in the day. An editorial calendar would take into account the best time to reach your audience.
Controls the flow of information
As I have already said it is easy to overwhelm users with too much communication. It can easily begin to feel like spam. However an editorial calendar will enable you to see at a glance just how much you are communicating with users and decide whether it is the right amount.
Ensuring you are in the minds of users
The other extreme from overwhelming users is allowing them to forget you are there. An editorial calendar makes sure you are communicating with users on a regular basis rather than in concentrated bursts. This ensures that when the user next has a need for your services they will turn to you rather than your competition.
Gives you time to prepare content
Once you have an editorial calendar in place you do not need to constantly panic about what to write next. You have a schedule that allows you time to think and prepare for upcoming topics. In short you are much more in control of the process.
Keeps you communicating
With many other responsibilities above and beyond the website, it can be hard to stop content production from slipping down the list of priorities. By having an editorial calendar that includes deadlines and release dates, it ensures that your online communication receives the kind of priority it deserves and is not sidelined by “more important” work.
You create expectation among your users
Because your editorial calendar ensures you are releasing content on a regular basis your users begin to expect to hear from you. For example if you release a blog post every Thursday they will start to check back to see what you have written.
Hopefully I have now demonstrated the value of having an editorial calendar. The next question therefore becomes “what goes into an editorial calendar?”
What should your calendar include?
The exact make-up of your editorial calendar will vary depending on your type of organisation and the target audience you are trying to reach. For example if you are trying to reach business users then regular updates to LinkedIn are probably more relevant than updates to twitter. Equally if you work in a slow-moving industry on large projects that take years to complete then your editorial calendar would not include daily updates to your blog.
However I think there are three rules that any editorial calendar should abide by. These are:
Different content for different audiences
If you are attempting to cater to different target audiences with different needs, ensure that your editorial calendar reflects this. This means ensuring that each audience receives content for them on a regular basis rather than intermittent bursts when you suddenly remember you haven’t communicated with a particular audience for a while.
A mixture of different delivery mechanism
It’s also important that your editorial calendar does not just focus on one delivery mechanism. Different users prefer different methods of communication and your editorial calendar should cover everything from blog posts to status updates and e-mail marketing.
Variety in content types
Be sure you also include a variety of different content types. For example when blogging make sure you have a mixture of at least some of the different blogging styles below:
- Third party links
- Q&A sessions
- Short form posts
Obviously this is not a comprehensive list. However it should give you an indication of how important it is to vary the presentation of your content if you are to keep users engaged.
There is so much more I could write on the subject of editorial calendars. However I want to conclude this post by pointing you at one or two tools I use to deliver a rudimentary editorial calendar myself.
Tools that help
Now I should probably confess that although I recommend editorial calendars to my clients I’m not great at sticking to one myself. Admittedly this somewhat undermines this post but writing it has encouraged me to be more disciplined.
Fortunately I have many of the tools in place to enable me to do this. Below I just want to highlight three that I find particularly useful.
WordPress editorial calendar plug-in
The WordPress editorial calendar plug-in enables you to see at a glance when upcoming posts are going to be released. Used by sites such as smashing Magazine and copy blogger, this plug-in gives you a bird’s eye view of all your posts allowing you to plan the best time to release new content.
However it is not just blog posts that need to be scheduled. You also need to schedule the release of status updates on various social networks. By far the best tool I found to do this is HootSuite. I have already reviewed HootSuite on this blog so I will not repeat myself here. However it is sufficient to say that it allows you to schedule status updates both via its web interface and iPhone application.
Tweet this WordPress plug-in
Finally I would like to give a quick mention to the Tweet this WordPress plug-in. This plug-in allows you to schedule automatic tweets to go out at the same time as a new blog post is published. Although I’m not a fan of automated status updates I happily use Tweet this because it enables me to personalise the tweets that go out with each post. Effectively it allows me to schedule tweets to coincide with the release of a new post.
So as I’ve already said writing this post has inspired me to get more organised with my own editorial calendar. Hopefully it is done the same for you. I guess the next step for both of us is to sit down and workout realistically how often we should be posting each day and using what tools. We must walk a fine line between not taking on more than we can realistically deliver, while at the same time ensuring that we communicate regularly with our audience.
As I also said earlier there is a lot more that could be written about editorial calendars and I would encourage you to do so in the comments. I’m no expert in this area and I’m sure a lot of you have something to add. Please post your thoughts below.