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I’ve seen a surge in questions lately about content calendar software. This blog post is by popular request.
Before sharing tool suggestions, I wanted to explore what we are actually managing with a calendar and what a calendar can and can’t help your organization achieve.
What a content calendar can manage: the “what”
A content calendar is really helpful. Organizations sometimes use a calendar for scheduling content for publishing on the organization’s site and sharing via a newsletter or on social media, or for recording content that has been published and/or shared, whether or not it has been scheduled/planned.
The right content calendar depends first on what kind of content you’ll be tracking.
Marketing content (blog posts, social media, etc.) usually:
- is scheduled in advance (sometimes written in advance)
- is produced by a small group of people with resources to create, test, and measure it
- covers a specified set of topics
- marches along with predefined frequency
- has clear, explicit goals for action/conversion
Business content (program updates, new reports, advancements, press releases, news articles, etc.) usually:
- happens with varying frequency
- covers a myriad of topics
- may be created by many people with different skillsets, with limited time to create it
- is not tested
- may not be measured
- may have one of numerous audiences
- may not have an explicit goal
Multimedia content (videos, podcast episodes, etc.) has special concerns:
- may be connected with marketing or business content
- may have a schedule
- often produced by a central team or outside agency
- has specific requirements and limitations
Because content varies so much, the calendar needs and capabilities are very different.
Some possible content calendar “requirements” – the “why”
Content calendars began in publishing. Magazines typically have editorial calendars, conceiving the themes for their issues far in advance, to help their advertising staff sell ads on those topics, as well as to establish a focus to use in their editorial planning.
Website management teams use content calendars, primarily to record the business or multimedia content they know they will publish, to “pencil in” expected content, and to record what they have published.
Marketers have started making extensive use of editorial calendars to plan and schedule marketing and/or multimedia content.
The vast majority of content calendar software is built for marketers, and for marketing content. Therefore, many of the online calendar tools offer functionality that serves the needs of marketing content: scheduling, recording metrics data, tracking SEO keywords, etc.
A web team managing business content will almost certainly have different content calendar needs than a marketing team.
When developing your content calendar requirements, you have some questions to answer:
- Does our tool need to include the internal workflow for content: creators, fact-checkers, legal approvers, management, etc.?
- How much content are we talking about?
- How many people will populate the calendar?
- How many people will use the information in the calendar but may not contribute to it?
- Do we need to record our content plans?
- Do we need to use our calendar tool need to incorporate metrics about content, post-publication?
The answers will depend on what other tools you already have and use in-house, as well as your “what” and “why.”
Tools, templates, and frameworks – the “how”
You might think that after defining what you’ll manage with a calendar, and your end goal, it would be relatively straightforward to choose a tool to help you do that. Unfortunately, it’s anything but simple. There are so many tools, and each one has a slightly different focus and set of features. I’ve done my best to list and categorize those tools. (Each category’s listing is in alphabetical order, not implying any preference on my part.)
For the majority of online tools, price depends on quantity of content and/or users of the system.
Please comment below with those not on the list, or your experiences with any of these.
- access by multiple users
- can categorize content
- good for recording what will be published and/or what has been published
- can’t hold any other information
- Eminently flexible
- No automation
Airtable Editorial Calendar Template
Excel doc on an internal drive. Download a sample template that I created.
Lightbox Collaborative Editorial Calendar from Spin Academy (created for nonprofits)
Calendar tools that also hold content
- Ready-made editorial calendar tools.
- Also accommodates content planning, structure, and publishing
- Ideal for business-focused content strategy publishing
Project management tools that also have a calendar
- Meant to track projects, so not built for content
- Calendar is attached to tasks and people
Content marketing tools that connect directly with a blog
- Assume that the primary publishing channel is a blog
- Assume that there is a central team creating content
- Incorporates some data about SEO keywords
Percolate – marketing software, content is just one piece
ScribbleLive – a suite of connected products
Collaboration software that some orgs are using for content
- Share and comment on “files”
- Not very content-centric
Sprinklr – social media management tool
Jira – issues tracking software
Editorial calendar template ideas (primarily marketing-focused)
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