This all started because someone asked a question on the brilliant Communications Network Listserv about editorial calendars. There was such a big outpouring of interest, I thought it would be great to get everyone on a call to get into it, and more than 50 people showed up. There are many ways to do this work. As many ways as there are comms departments it seems. But the thing we all agree on is that we have to get our organizations and clients in line. We have to first get them to see the benefit of a strategic plan, identify our audiences and what they need, and listen and engage with our audiences to continuously iterate the content we provide for them. Only then can we plan content that resonates with those we serve, the mechanics of it all is the least of our problems!
ALL AT ONCE
This is what I think ‘communications’ as a field has to deal with daily. (Sweeping the Oscars?) Not quite- but everyone who doesn't understand comms just wants you to do everything all the time, every platform, every audience, wild messaging that doesn't roll up to any kind of overarching narrative. How do we combat the "shiny object" paradigm when we are thinking about planning our outward facing communications? It is so important to highlight your themes that across organizations nearly always shake out to “what are we trying to do here?” "For who? " and "why" Because if a piece of content doesn't roll up to one of the themes, or speak to one of the audiences we have identified then why are we sharing it? It’s a great way to push back on nonsense stories or puff pieces or organizational politicking or maneuvering.”
FAILING TO PLAN
IS PLANNING TO FAIL
I think often what non-comms people do is they jump immediately to the technical solution, before we've even realized why we are doing this in the first place and who we are talking to and why. Then the tech stack is huge and unwieldy and only a small minority of staff are using it (or know how to) and we all know that the tech is not the answer, until we have a plan.
“Our issue is not the tool that we're using. It’s that we are using it in a very tactical way versus the big picture planning.”
“Organizational planning and communications planning are two essential aspects of a successful strategy. When it comes to content creation for social media output, identifying the important goals and mapping them to specific content buckets is critical.”
“We all know that writing by committee but content by silo does not work, and leads to tears at bedtime. “As a communications planner, I was tasked with creating a 3-year strategic plan for a client who did not have an organizational plan. This means my plan would become their de facto organizational plan.
“One of the challenges I face is ensuring that clients do not turn the editorial calendar into a “kitchen sink” and lose sight of priorities. To tackle this, we have separate planning and publishing calendars. One of the biggest challenges we face is getting people to agree on the organization’s highest priority audiences. “ “Our biggest challenge and opportunity is integrating our process into the client's existing ecosystem while also adapting it to their needs. Overall, effective organizational and communication planning are critical for achieving business success.”
“A calendar has two phases. The first one is helping in content planning. What kinds of content are different departments planning to create? So before we decide what to promote, and how we need to get a better handle, and it's not just the communications department that needs to get that handle, it's everyone because you know, publishing content by silo is not helpful. And so if we can get them up front and have some of those discussions in the planning stage, then we can connect the content better. And then the promotion and what we are putting out there in the world becomes a little bit easier and more straightforward.” “I think a content calendar's first job is to help bring people together on that planning part. One way we've done that is kind of by having the cadence you can set yourself so as to what your capacity is, but if you were able to have say a bimonthly stories meeting, which is kind of like an editorial planning meeting that you'd have it a magazine or a daily newspaper or whatever, where you get representatives from many different departments. Most of you probably do all this already. Get them together, ask them the types of things that they'd like to see surfaced in the editorial planning in the near future and the like, not so far away future and then for the rest of the year. And that kind of speaks to those kinds of two calendar situations as well. “
“The first thing we have to do is to get buy-in and agreement with the leadership team, what the themes are that they'd like to see covered, and then kind of like building them into buckets of content. And saying, well, if we don't share the different types of bucketed content, then we're not going to be talking to each of the audiences that we've identified. Educate your people about this as you share the process, which gets you out of the neverending content mill of everybody throwing things at you and saying “make it go viral”, because that's usually what they say to us.”
“So you've got your content calendar that starts in January and ends in December, and you have got certain things that you have to hit, maybe your client/organization is doing an event or there's going to be a new ED search or there's going to be a whatever it is national homeownership month or whatever, then you've got the pertinent to your area awareness months or Zeitgeist or popular conversations that you want to tie your grab on to those coattails to use those trending hashtags?”
START WHERE YOU ARE
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
DO WHAT YOU CAN
Every client or in house team are at different stages and knowledge bases. Some are averse to learning a new piece of software and making them do it never works. You have to make a call- what can you stand, what can they stand and if the end result is you get your information, get it squared away in your editorial calendar, then do whatever works.
“Some people really have spreadsheet brains and want to see the list in a spreadsheet. Some people really have a calendar brain and want to see it laid out over the month. And so finding a tool that works with the brain that you have is really important. Before that you have to nail down the strategy. What are we talking about? Who are we telling it to? In what cadence are we doing that and what themes and goals do we have to hit with the conversation? That is the thing that has to come first and then the technical aspect of literally the boxes it lives in comes next.”
TALK TO YOUR CONTENT CONTRIBUTORS AND THINK OF EASY WAYS TO GET THE CONTENT FROM THEM.
There was amazing knowledge here mostly based around interviews, meetings, pair writing and relationship building. It all comes down to that. I've even walked around to people's desks when I've been in an office with my notebook on a Friday afternoon. What are you doing? What are you up to? Oh, interesting. And then thinking about how those things join together and extrapolating the content into those buckets or themes, and then figuring out what you can pull out to “show not tell” the story of the organization through the programs and the people or places that you're serving. With my Flannel and Blade clients I hold regular story meetings depending on the cadence of the client, where you have a representative from every programmatic area or department who has an interest in outward facing comms, get them in the room and create the content with them. “I embed myself in program meetings. There are things you still don't learn about but it is helping us break through some things and also build relationships in different departments. It's just sort of a trust thing as well. It's trying to help change people's mindsets and kind of helping them to recognize, oh, this would make a great story.”
“We interview staff and it has been a really efficient way to do things and adds to that relationship building because you're in the room with them, interacting with them. Who knows what else you’ll find out!?” “I schedule interviews at the end of the year to talk to our program group directors. It's a time to connect, which helps me fill out my yearly calendar. ( It also kind of stirs things up and gives me calendar markers on when to check back in with people about things that happen throughout the year) The trick is keeping up with that and then figuring out how to put it in those thematic buckets across the year. Those folks also want access to this content so i'm thinking about a central doc that staff can come in and add to when things come up.”
“Pair writing is great! I find that offering drafts for review often gets a quicker response than asking for content from scratch! emphasize the “draft” format as something for them to build upon- Yes. It turns into "Do you just want me to draft something for you to react to?" Here’s more about pair writing - I like how it emphasizes the collaborative nature of drawing out the story and then creating content about it, and brings in program colleagues in a partnership where each team uses their talents”
FIND YOUR CHAMPIONS INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY
It's less “what can you give me”, it's more like “what stories do you wish we were telling?” When we make champions of program leads or whoever is close to the work, and ask them to tell us stories, they appreciate that, and just need a forum to share, and an easiness in the process. Who doesn't like to be asked their expert opinon? “Find the people in your organization that are interested in helping you. We have a centralized comms team and then we have hundreds of new staff, a lot that are in field offices, and none of them have comms people. So for us the getting stories out getting stuff out is for people who aren't communicators. We have regular check-ins with people who we think will be interested, even if they are a program person or a finance person, they're not always the exact right person for us to work with per se, but they might be the person who could push their team to give us stuff.”
“We created an in-house system for a client where we said you're going to have a bi weekly editorial meeting. We ran them through the first couple and we said this is what you're going to talk about, you're always going to look at the editorial calendar together. You're always going to know from all these interested people that they are cherry picked from each of the programmatic areas. Who doesn't like being asked to kind of contribute something to an area that you are super interested in? That should be the best part of someone's week. Getting people involved and listening to their ideas and building those relationships is a way to get a really rich mix of content that you otherwise might necessarily not get.”
“We're really dependent on that expert who isn't a comms person or who may not be up for writing it. And so one thing that has helped us a lot is that we've taken that ongoing interview approach. So therefore, we spend the time with the person that asked them these key questions because they often don't know where to start content wise. And so it's not necessarily ghostwriting, but it's helping them get the ideas out, and then we have the content and we can shape it and we can move it but we found that if we depend on them, even if we give them as much notice as possible, they might be locked on it and next thing you know, your editorial calendar is out of whack and you're trying to fill something else because you didn't get the stuff in time.”
“One thing I tried recently that really worked. A Q&A series with our 15 innovation fellows, posted to Instagram as a slideshow. Key thing was to email the 15 fellows every time I post a new slideshow and ask them to support each other, and request their org as a collaborator so it shows up on both of our feeds. Here’s an example.”
“We've been talking about trying to build some internal case studies, picking out a successful campaign that we've had over the last like year and seeing how it landed with the audience showing the touch points and the engagement we got. This gets people excited about what the final outcome is if they actually give us information. Showing how a certain audience engages and those are the best places to reach them, sometimes it's about the proof of concept. “
“Something that we've had a lot of success with our clients is helping them identify the people in their organizations that are closest to the audience and then doing content planning through live conversation whenever possible, because I find when we do that, and if we ask questions, like, what question are you hearing from your program participants or clients over and over again, or, What's one thing you learned this week that surprised you, we can often use that to get to what they really want to talk about, like a new piece of research or a program and frame it in a more audience centric way. This shows up downstream with increased engagement. So we actually have a little questionnaire and we'll go to our content ambassadors in our clients organizations, and we create a cadence and set expectations, it's going to take 15 minutes of your time, but, you know, that time is so well spent. We find that just to be so much more productive than trying to do it in an asynchronous way. You kind of miss all of that important context.”
“The other thing you could do is show what doesn't work. Sure. We took your advice the last time and we just threw it out there. And we did this message that went sort of against our better judgment. You know what, it didn't work? Yeah. That reverse psychology is sometimes the way you gotta go about making informed decisions. So that we're not taking this approach just because “I said so.” We have learned through data analysis and through trial and error, what's going to resonate with our audience and what's not. Take that content planning all the way through metrics and analysis and then use that and the virtuous cycle of planning for the next time. “
AND FINALLY INTRODUCING
You’ll see that we had a looooong discussion before we even started talking about tools and templates. It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles you have, or how much you spend. If you cannot get people to use it across the organization it’s annoying and you end up back with a Frankenstein approach to just get the job done. That being said, there is no shortage of tools. Here are some that people shared their experiences with.
“I love finding editorial calendars that work with people’s brains - whether they like spreadsheets or calendars, color coding, whatever it takes."
Microsoft/ Teams/ Outlook/ no ‘bought’ solution
“We post our editorial calendar on Teams in a spreadsheet; like that we can collaborate; it is hard to balance simple to view/maintain vs having all the info we need”
Smartsheet (PM tool)
“We use SmartSheet. I like that I can easily get an idea of what is upcoming across such a large organization, but wish we had a way to better forward-organize.”
Hootsuite (Social media management software)
“Good for reporting on analytics, but it’s not perfect. Sometimes we have to go directly to the platform to do certain things. But that has been good for social content.”
Sprout Social (Social media management tool)
“Bit expensive, loads of bells and whistles, easy to use, great social listening tool where you can find what's the popular conversation, what's trending at this moment to make reactive social media. Good reporting gives you proof of concept to hit your managers over the head with”
Monday (PM tool)
“I like Monday the best. I think it's very pretty. And I think that it's a place I want to be versus a place I have to be. I feel like I have to be in Asana but I'd like to open up Monday and see what's going on there.”
Click Up (PM tool)
“I work with various clients, and I have a standard template that I use and then we modify as needed. I also use click up as my management tool. I would love to have an automated system with the approval process, but I don't know if something like that exists.”
“We use Google just for internal purposes because we are moving around to lots of different clients, but then we get into a client and they say we want you to use Box, Bynder, Dropbox, Asana, Monday or whatever it is and then you get into the system that's already been created by that client. Hopefully you make it better, help them have some rationale about the way that they are identifying their buckets of content, permissions for the photography, sign off procedures etc. ”
Asana (Project management tool)
“We use Asana for planning and calendaring and SharePoint (Microsoft version of Google docs) for content / copy review with partners / stakeholders”
USEFUL ARTICLES / SITES SHARED
NPMG is a fabulous resource. I participated in their nonprofit comms director mentorship program and it was invaluable for me as a comms team of one
Social Media Today talking about discounts on social media tools
Nonprofit Marketing Guide also has lots of great resources on editorial calendars
Some of these processes are dependent on the actual organizational model. Identifying which one you are – and which one actually makes sense for your org - is an important step- here’s an article written by one of our attendees that outlines the different purposes for a content calendar, as well as some tool suggestions
Social Media Scheduling Tools: The Complete List from OneUp Blog.