THE BUSINESS OF SOCIAL MEDIA: Everyone Should Keep A Content Calendar

Social media might seem easy to the casual user. You just post some cellphone snaps of your cat and then interact with other people who have also posted pictures of their pets, right?

That might work if you are maintaining a personal profile and your online behavior has little impact on your profession. But for most people, especially those of us who do this sort of thing for a living, it’s necessary to put some planning into what you post. And if you do have the responsibility of posting professionally, whether for your company or your clients, then you definitely need to create a content calendar as part of an overall digital communications plan.

Now I am not going to dive into a full-on digital marketing strategy in this piece. But having one is essential, and should be a part of any integrated communications plan. After all, just because a tactic is easy to execute doesn’t mean you shouldn’t first develop a plan with objectives and a strategy to ensure that it is meaningful and measurable. But, as I said, that’s a topic for another day. Instead, I am going to focus on a single but critical component of that digital marketing plan: the content calendar.

Old School
In this age of digital immediacy, the notion of such a calendar might seem antiquated to some. And, indeed, the calendars you used to hang on the wall, with different photos of kittens dressed up in seasonal settings for each month of the year, are as wonderfully obsolete as the Yellow Pages. But I’m talking about content calendars, which some refer to as marketing calendars – or, to be more specific, content marketing calendars.

Keep in mind, I am old enough to remember when a game changer was called a paradigm shift, and disrupting a market was simply (and often more accurately) referred to as redefining it, so I know these calendars by their original name: editorial calendars. That was back when they were most likely used as part of a newsbureau, another relatively dated term used to describe an on-going media relations campaign. Yes, we’re going old school here!

Once upon a time, public relations professionals would put together an editorial calendar for their client. These were based on the editorial calendars created by publications to attract advertisers. For example, AARP knows that pharmaceutical companies will pay dearly to get their products in front of older Americans, who have plenty of ailments in need of pharmaceuticals, so AARP Magazine has designated its April/May issue to be all about health. The idea is that the editorial coverage will focus on health issues, so advertisers who have cures will want to purchase ad space in that issue as well.

From a public relations perspective, rather than planning an insertion order for an issue of interest, you would work with the media outlet’s editorial staff on a byline or some other story that reflects your client’s interest – to generate earned media coverage, which is more commonly known as publicity. For example, let’s say I have a client that manufactures thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs). I would be sure to pursue earned media coverage in the September/October issue of the European Rubber Journal because it has a special section dedicated to TPEs. And then I’d cry myself to sleep thinking that a ghostwritten byline in the European Rubber Journal might end up being the pinnacle of my career (jokes aside, I actually love TPEs and have represented the industry leader, but – again – that’s a story for another day).

By assembling all the relevant editorial calendars available for a given client, you could create an effective media relations plan – or newsbureau – consisting of scheduled announcements and targets of opportunity throughout the year. And while the traditional advertising business (along with the traditional media business it once supported) has largely tanked in the digital age, reviewing editorial calendars still has validity in the modern marketing mix. They can help you shape (along with industry events like trade shows) a rough guideline for planned events and announcements. Of course, given the immediacy of online publishing and social media, you also need to remain flexible and plan to seize opportunities as they arise.

New School
Being a bit of a geek (OK, I wrote my first computer program back in the late 70s, so I am a total geek), I have often been an early adopter of new tools and technologies, including social media. In fact, I joined Facebook back in 2007, among the first 2 percent of today’s nearly 2 billion users.

Not long after, I helped guide the nonprofit I was working for into the digital age, creating Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube profiles for the organization – along with a digital marketing plan to put them to use as part of my overall integrated marketing program. It was far from easy, though, as I was dealing with a mindset that still wanted to buy display ads in the Yellow Pages…in 2009!

A year later, having decided to leave that Cult of the Yellow Pages (aka the Digital Deniers) after consistently delivering unprecedent results for the organization (that sound you hear is the sound of my own horn being blown), I began what can be categorized as a two-and-a-half-year digital content marketing exercise. I used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as the primary means of building an audience for an online soccer magazine I had created. Not only was it an astonishingly successful exercise, but it also gave me a hands-on, day-to-day opportunity to explore and understand the power and possibilities of social media and content marketing, just as these tools were starting to evolve into the marketing mainstays they’ve become today.

Personally, I remain active on a number of social media channels, including LinkedIn, Ello, Instagram, and Tumblr. I also maintain profiles on Flickr, Medium, and YouTube, but they have all suffered from recent neglect. And I rarely post on my personal Facebook or Twitter accounts anymore. In fact, I eventually shut down my Twitter account because it had become inextricably linked to that aforementioned soccer magazine, which I had shut down in order to focus full-time on my freelance consultancy again. And Facebook has become more of a professional tool instead of a means of staying connected with family and friends.

To that end, I continue to post professionally on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube for certain clients. For example, I am currently managing a real estate team’s Facebook page. And, interestingly (at least to us marketing geeks), my focus for them is on “shared media,” while they handle “owned media” posts internally.

Owned & Shared Media
Shared? Owned? Huh? I know, marketing is fond of redefining things to keep outsiders confused…and therefore in need of our expertise. Owned media is simply content that you or your client create. While this used to be limited to things like vanity publishing or a special event, the digital revolution has opened up the possibilities to include things like blog posts, infographics, photos, think pieces, and videos.

To illustrate this point, let’s imagine I have a client that manufactures high-end televisions. This would give us all sorts of owned media ideas and opportunities we could pursue. For example, just off the top of my head, we could create an infographic highlighting the importance of some exclusive technological advantage that its televisions have, a think piece about how key television moments can actually bring people together, and an annual video highlighting – in super-cool hyper speed – all the memorable television moments from the past year. That’s owned media – content we’ve created specifically for our client.

Shared media is an even bigger bucket, referring to things that others have created which we can use or repurpose to benefit our client. This, of course, includes all the traditional earned media – publicity – we used to hold so dear, whether that be an article that appeared in print or video footage that aired on television. But it really refers to anything that others have created that we can leverage to help paint a favorable picture of our client and its products.

For example, sticking with the television manufacturer scenario, any news – whether from a conventional, accredited media source to things like blogs, vlogs, and podcasts – that talks about the importance of or need for quality televisions can be useful for our client, reinforcing the demand for and value of its products. And if we came across something like an infographic that showcased an uptick in the number of babies born after a major sporting event was broadcast live on television, that’s also something we might want to share via social media and other channels. In fact, we would want to share any positive mention of moments and milestones when having a quality television really matters, including broadcasts of major events as well as season premieres of hit shows like Archer (and now many of you are wondering if this entire article was just a ruse to plug this glorious show). In a nutshell, when people think of watching television, we want them to think of our client.

Keeping A Calendar
This can all be done systematically by creating an annual content calendar that functions as a “living” guide for your communications channels. You should try to map out all of your key events and announcements throughout the year, for your owned media. And then consider thought leadership content – bylines, workshops, speeches, etc. – to fill in the quieter times. Add to that shared media opportunities – again, to use the example of a television manufacturer, known dates for things like televised sporting events, major program premieres, industry trade shows, and other relevant external events – and remain flexible and alert for opportunities that may arise along the way.

I am fortunate because my aforementioned real estate client happens to be a former art director, so she understands and appreciates the need for a content calendar. In fact, she even created a shared online calendar we use to coordinate our social media effort, mapped out daily for the remainder of year. I can see what owned media they have planned, they can see what shared media I have mined from across the internet, and – if need be – we can adjust accordingly. Together, we maintain this content calendar, ensuring that we have a steady stream of relevant posts for their business.

Of course, in an ideal world, this content calendar would be part of a digital marketing plan, which in turn would be part of an overall marketing plan. So, not only would we be sharing these posts on Facebook, but also on other appropriate social media channels as well as through other marketing channels such as the website, blog, email newsletters, etc. And we would add to that any earned media we would generate, along with any paid media (such as ads or sponsored content) they might produce.

But in the freelance world, you often have to make do with what you can. And as much as I would like to be generating earned media coverage, blog posts, infographics, photos, think pieces, videos, and web content for this client, their resources are limited – and, therefore, so is the impact I can have.

Speaking of having an impact, hopefully this think piece has provided you with sufficient information to appreciate the merits of a content calendar – along with enough of an understanding to put one together for yourself, or your clients. And if you agree that a content marketing calendar is an easy, affordable, and essential basis for any professional social media effort, not to mention part of a more comprehensive digital marketing strategy and overall integrated marketing plan, then feel free to share a link to this story on your own social media channels. For me, it’s owned media, but for you it can be shared media!