This post comes from Managing Editor Janna, whose geekiness over strategy is unparalleled (and really rather embarrassing). :D
In the online content world the term “editorial calendar” gets thrown around a lot. But do you even know what that term means or where it comes from? Does it matter?
Here at Winning Edits, we answer these questions with a resounding YES! The best and most successful content creators online develop a plan and they stick to that plan. An “editorial calendar” is merely a tool that helps content creators execute a well-crafted, strategic six-to-twelve-month plan.
When we talk about long-term planning, people often balk at the idea of having their editorial calendars planned out for six months or a year. But we barely know what we are doing next week, they say, how are we supposed to know what to do in a month or two, let alone in a year from now?
That is exactly what strategy is all about: you have to plan to plan. If you plan your editorial content three months at a time, then you only need to do it once a quarter. So put an appointment on your calendar four times for 2017: Once in January, once in April, once in July, and once in October, and you will already be one step closer toward rocking your very own editorial calendar.
Why Strategic Planning Matters
In the online world you may not think that planning so far in advance is necessary. After all, you can write a blog post tonight and publish it tomorrow, right? While this is true, planing gives you three key advantages.
- Higher quality. When you plan ahead, you can give yourself plenty of time to develop more robust content, whether that be a blog post, podcast episode, or web TV episode. You can research, draft, revise, edit, finalize, and get your content queued up to publish in advance of its publish date. All those steps require time, and the only way you have time to thoroughly complete those different phases of production is if you plan for it.
- Regular consistency. If you are in the practice of throwing together blog posts the night before you publish them, what happens (heaven forbid) when one night you don’t have any ideas for what to write about? Do you skip that post? Maybe skipping a post once in a while isn’t that detrimental. But advance strategic planning ensures that you always know what you’re going to write about when you sit down to work on that next blog post.
- Channel alignment. Perhaps the most vital for content creators with multiple publishing channels, channel alignment is the more advanced phase of strategic planning. When you have multiple channels such as a blog and podcast, or blog, podcast, and web TV series, planning allows you to think strategically about how the different forms of content can complement each other. For example, let’s say you’re a food blogger who would like to get into podcasting or web TV. Your web TV show can become the place where you do cooking demos, and you direct people back to your blog where they can find the full recipe that you’re talking about in the video. Now that we are talking about producing two different types of content that support each other, one video that needs to point to a specific blog post, the planning becomes even more essential to ensure that both are ready to go on time.
Content that is higher quality, more consistent, and aligned across channels is content that will attract an engaged audience, and will keep them coming back for more because they know what to expect from you. And, trust us, your audience will notice.
The Luxury of Banking Content
Strategic planning also allows you to do something called “banking content,” something I discussed on CoSchedule’s new podcast, Actionable Content Marketing. Imagine what it would be like if, at the beginning of a month, all your content for the month was prepped and ready to go, in the queue scheduled for its publish date—all your content for the month is in the bank.
What would this do for you and your brand? You’d be able to focus more on marketing and promotions. You’d be able to think about content ideas for two or three months down the road. You’d be able to give your attention to other important aspects of your business, all because you are not scrambling at the last minute to get a blog post up or a podcast episode released.
Perhaps more importantly, banking content allows you to have more flexibility with your editorial plan. Let’s say you have four blog posts queued up and ready to go for the month: one post scheduled for every Wednesday. The post for the second Wednesday of the month is announcing the release of a new product that you’re planning to launch. Except, as it happens sometimes with launches, the product isn’t going to be ready in time to announce it on that second Wednesday. No problem. You’ve got plenty of wiggle room. You can push that announcement post out to the third or fourth Wednesday and move the other posts up—because they are all ready to go, it doesn’t matter when they publish.
Imagine what that scenario would be like if on the Monday of the week you were supposed to announce the launch of your product, and the launch had to get pushed back a week or two, but you didn’t have the rest of your blog posts queued up and ready to go because you didn’t plan ahead. There you would be, not only stressed about the launch getting pushed back, but now you’d also be scrambling to get a post ready in two days to replace the launch announcement post that had to get pushed back. No fun!
Editorial Strategy in Action for SmartPassiveIncome.com
Here at Winning Edits, we manage editorial strategy for clients like Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome.com (SPI) and I stepped in as the team’s managing editor in the summer of 2015. SPI is a site with several publishing channels: blog, two podcasts, and a web TV series. We are publishing some form of content daily, and our weekly frequency looks like this:
When I came onboard as the team’s managing editor in the summer of 2015, the podcasts were being produced one week in advance, blog posts were being written a few days before publishing and were not published consistently, and the team did not handle production on the TV episodes.
Right away I knew that the goal for managing this much content was to get it banked a minimum of one month in advance of the publish date. That meant in August we started producing content for October, so that come October 1 all of the blog posts, podcast episodes, and TV episodes were queued up and ready to go. To give you a general idea of how that works, Pat writes blog post drafts and records podcast episodes two months in advance (in August he’s writing and recording for October), so that the team is in production on all of that content one month in advance (in September, we are producing all of October’s content).
The first thing I did to implement this strategy was look at the last three months of the year: October, November, December. The team had recently wrapped up a huge audience survey which revealed the top three topics that people wanted more information on: email marketing, affiliate marketing, and information products. So we decided to focus on each of these topics for one month.
- October = Email Marketing
- November = Affiliate Marketing
- December = Information Products
With monthly focuses in place, it becomes much easier to determine specific blog post and podcast topics. Here’s a snapshot of what October’s plan looked like, with the month’s focus on email marketing:
The Results of Strategic Editorial Planning
Quality, consistency, and alignment are all well and good, but what do these things actually do for you? For Pat and SPI, we saw immediate results in October 2015, which was the first month of publishing content from our strategic editorial plan. Pat wrote about these results in his October 2015 Income Report, and here’s part of what he said:
“I’m happy to say that October was a smashing success. Every week in October, a blog post, podcast episode and episode of SPI TV was published, in addition to the five AskPat episodes that come out each week—all without a hitch. Beyond that, most of the content for the rest of the year has already been written or recorded, most are edited, and just ready to fire away when the time is right. As a result of this, October saw a record month of traffic, and page-views, each increasing at a rate of about 15 percent.”
Not only did site traffic increase, but also Pat’s email subscribers in October 2015 increased by 34 percent from the previous month. And, on top of those amazing numbers, Pat’s audience noticed and commented on the consistency and quality of his content, more than once.
Our team has since continued to manage and implement strategic editorial planning for SPI and other clients. We maintain our strategic plans a minimum of six months in advance, and even sometimes have a full twelve months planned out. We begin by outlining six to twelve monthly focuses, and then every three months we outline weekly blog post and podcast episodes within those monthly themes. Breaking down the strategic planning into these more manageable steps keeps the planning from getting too overwhelming. Don’t worry—you never have to sit down and come up with fifty-two blog posts in one planning session!
Tools for Strategic Editorial Planning
If you’re wondering how you even get started with setting up your strategic editorial plan, don’t fret! You can get started quickly and easily with a simple spreadsheet set up with a column for each one of your publishing channels, and rows for each week of the month. A basic three-month template would look something like this:
We recommend managing a spreadsheet like this using Google Sheets, which allows for easy sharing and collaboration with team members.
Here at Winning Edits, we also use a tool called CoSchedule, which we love and highly recommend for brands with multiple publishing and social media channels. We use the spreadsheet for planning, and we use CoSchedule for production, where we keep track of deadlines and production tasks like editing, image creation, and QA. It’s a robust tool that integrates a calendar with task management, which makes it easy to assign tasks to different team members and give each task a unique deadline that is dynamically related to the publish date of the post.
So, Why Does Your Brand Need an Editorial Strategy?
Well, that's simple. For all of the above stated reasons! Building an editorial strategy, complete with editorial calendar and extensive planning, will benefit your brand immensely. It's not only easier on you, but it's better for your audience too. Win-win!
And, remember, brands don't just include companies. Brands also apply to you, the author. As an author, you are a brand. How you present yourself online, with blogging, podcasting, etc., will serve to support your brand, and ultimately enhance your book promotion and marketing efforts.
What are you waiting for? Get started on that editorial strategy! :D Oh, and if you need help, we can joyfully assist. Just let us know!
Your turn, readers! Have you created an editorial strategy before? How did it help your brand? Share your story in the comments below!