7 Tips to Building a Better Social Media Content Calendar

A planned content calendar sets out a program of activity for a public relations campaign or social media community. It is typically laid out as a grid with events plotted against time, like a Gantt chart. In this post I’m going to explore how to build a content calendar for a social media campaign. Here’s a sample calendar that you can cut and paste from Google Documents.

Although most organizations create communities on social media from Facebook to Twitter; and from Instagram to Pinterest, there’s often little thought given to building a community. Instead these online platforms are seen as a cheap and easy way of broadcasting content to large numbers of people.

It’s simply wrong.

The starting point for any online community should be an understanding of your publics, and how and where they engage on social media. What conversations are they having?

Asking people about their preferences is a good place to start. Beyond this explore each platform for yourself and use rudimentary planning tools for a deeper dive.

Beyond all else, your calendar should be based on a clear objective. What do you want to achieve? Here are seven tips to get you started…

1. Setting an Objective:
An objective might include attendance at an event; behavior change; product sales; or donating to a cause. In each case you should set a clear objective and, equally as important, a key performance indicator as a benchmark for success.

2. Implementing a Strategy:
The strategy for any social media community should typically be to attract people to your community and engage them in conversation through content, in order to meet your objective.

3. Analytics and Measurement:
There’s inherent risk in managing a social media community simply to obsess over followers, likes, shares and comments. At best, these metrics are indicators of the successful direction of a campaign rather than success in its totality. Incorporate them into your campaign as analytics by determining what data you need to evaluate ongoing progress against your desired outcome.

4. Planning:
Your calendar should plot content over time. There is typically a natural cycle to a campaign built around events, launches or seasons. For example, if you want people to donate to a cause you need to tell a compelling story, and ensure the campaign has strong momentum from the outset by posting regularly with a clear call to action; maintain this cadence until the appeal has diminished.

Healthy communities should always be a conversation between an organization and publics. Content posted in your community should aim to meet your community’s objective and engage people in dialogue. Be direct – there are enough superfluous posts on the internet. Get it right and people will often drive the conversation and introduce new topics without a need for constant management.

5. Content Types (at Ketchum we break it content down into four areas):

Hero Content:
Deployed for activities or events that are a campaign priority, and typically the focus of significant campaign investment. This will be based on key moments in time throughout a campaign.

Always On Content:
News feed algorithms demand regular content. The life-cycle of content posted in a community is typically a day, and often less. Always on, or “hygiene” content is posted regularly, at least several times a week.

Improvised Content:
Content that responds to the community or a news event. It is created by listening and responding in real time.

Conversational Content:
Your community is a means of public engagement. It will be used as a means of two-way engagement with people interested in asking questions. It’s potentially the most important form of content you can produce to maintain an authentic voice.

6. Content Formats:
There’s been an explosion in the types of content that an organization can create and post online. Content includes audio, either spoken words or music; editorial; images, both moving and static; and short and long form video. Each has its own dynamic depending on the platform. There are additional crowd-sourcing or engagement mechanics unique to each network, such as discussions, live video and polls. Study the content types that your audience is most prone to engage with and build more within that construct for the best results.

7. Budgeting:
The cost of access to a platform may be zero, but that doesn’t mean that online communities are necessarily inexpensive. There are three costs associated with running a community. You’ll need to budget in each of the following areas.

Content Development:
Video production has been added to the skill-set of a communications team alongside copy writing and visual design. Each piece of content developed for a community will have an associated cost for which you’ll need to budget. Tools like Canva may be free, but the time investment is substantial.

Paid Promotion:
The organic reach of content posted in a social media community is typically less than 10 percent. If you want to hit the news feed of the majority of your community, you’ll need to pay. Use a planning tool for each network to determine the cost. Invest in hero and improvised content.

Community Management:
The community manager is the public relations equivalent of the press officer. It’s a critical role that helps an organization tell its story, and acts as the eyes and ears of the organization. The workload will depend on the geographic reach and scale of the community. There’s an ongoing trend in public relations to move community management in house. Offshoring has also been tried to varying degrees of success. Cultural awareness and sensitivity is typically a key part of the role.

Above all else, I’d urge you to explore a variety of online communities and deconstruct their content. Explore how different types of content is used. Look out for hero versus hygiene content and different approaches to community management.

About Stephen Waddington

Stephen is a Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University. Chairman of Future Proof policy unit and Past President, CIPR. Author of Brand Anarchy and #BrandVandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too. Connect with him on Twitter: @wadds