My friend Jeremy thinks content calendars are evil. I disagree: I think content calendars are useful tools, but they’re consistently and brutally abused to the point where they can seem evil.
Content calendars are here to stay
Like it or not, content calendars aren’t going anywhere any time soon:
Most companies are still trying to break outside the mold of corporate approvals. Legal and compliance loom large and it can take a long time to develop the trust needed for them to step back. Clients’ need to micro-manage content for fear of inappropriate content making its way online is another significant factor. Frankly, as an agency guy the risk of bypassing those approvals is too high to be worthwhile anyway.
It’s important to keep one eye on the big picture. Avoiding planning and taking a day-to-day approach runs the risk of veering away from a strategic approach to content and towards a purely tactical, reactive approach. It’s all too easy to find yourself responding to day-to-day business demands (promote this or that sales message; promote this campaign, etc.) and lose track of the big-picture approach which is rarely so sales-driven.
Content calendars enable consistency across channels. Not that companies should ignore the differences between audiences on their different social channels (you’ve done that research on your communities, right?), but consistency can be helpful when coordinating programs.
So, the key is learning how to use them effectively, rather than become slaves to them. With that said, many people right now are either beholden to their calendars, or mistreat them to the point of abuse.
The Three Abuses of Content Calendars
1. Setting it and forgetting it
Too many people think that once they have a content calendar developed and approved, then they’re all set. However, a content calendar is really just a framework for the time period. Every piece of content should be re-evaluated at the beginning of the day when it due to go live, and again immediately beforehand.
Not every company has the resources to adopt a full always-on Creative Newsroom approach; but if you’re going to invest time and money in social media then you should take the time to ensure that what you’re posting is appropriate at the time and not just when you’re planning it.
2. Content calendar as a crutch
A content calendar isn’t the full extent of the content that you post. As I noted in a presentation at Social Media Week Toronto this year, companies should aim to leave room for 10-20% of their content to capitalize on relevant news, events and audience-relevant topics alongside their planned content.
3. Using the calendar as a hammer when you really need a screwdriver
Your content calendar is a specific tool for a specific purpose. It’s great for reviewing content schedules over time, and for seeing that bigger picture. Sadly, though, it’s also (as Jeremy notes) often used for copywriting, content editing and many other tasks. This can get messy and complicated, especially if you’re trying to coordinate multiple simultaneous calendars for multiple programs. Your content calendar shouldn’t be a one-stop shop for every content need – other tools make better sense and will drive you less batty in doing so.
This abuse extends to the software itself too. Excel is great for checking post lengths or combining copy with links, but if you’re trying to write content in excel or you’re trying to review creative assets through it, you’re in for a world of hurt. I’m yet to find an off-the-shelf solution that works for everything (although I do like Divvy HQ), so unless you can build your own tool then you’re likely to end up with a mash-up of various others.
Content calendars aren’t evil
All in all, Content calendars aren’t evil; they can serve a valuable purpose. The problem comes when people use the calendar for the wrong ends.
It’s like Carrie (pop culture reference, ahoy) – the poor innocent calendar gets pushed to the point where it breaks, and everyone thinks it’s evil.
Stop blaming the tool; start blaming the abusers.