Strategerize’s Jeremy Wright 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 anytime 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 certain constituencies to step back. Clients’ need to micromanage content out of fear that inappropriate content will make its way online is another significant factor. Frankly, the risk of bypassing those approvals is too high to be worthwhile anyway.
It’s important to keep one eye on the big picture. By avoiding planning—and instead taking a simple day-to-day approach—you run the risk of veering away from a strategic approach to content and toward a purely tactical, reactive approach. It’s all too easy to find yourself responding to daily business demands (promote this or that sales message, promote this campaign, etc.) and lose track of the big-picture approach that 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. Many people are either beholden to their calendars or they 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 that it is due to go live, and again immediately beforehand.
Not every company has the resources to adopt a continuous "Creative Newsroom" approach
, but if you’re going to invest time and money in social media, you should ensure that what you’re posting is appropriate at the time of posting 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, companies should leave room for 10 to 20 percent 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 Wright 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. 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.
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 purpose.
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It’s like the movie “Carrie
.” 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.
Dave Fleet is senior vice president of digital at Edelman‘s Toronto office. Follow him on Twitter @DaveFleet or connect with him on LinkedIn. A version of this story originally appeared on the author's blog.