How to Create a Kickass Editorial Calendar
Managing your content can seem like a daunting task.
If you’re new to editorial management management, or just looking for a way to keep all your content well organized, you might be asking a few questions. How do you organize your content? How do you know what content to post? Is there an easy and efficient way to stay on top of your content-posting goals?
That’s where an editorial calendar can save the day.
In this post, we will define what an editorial calendar actually is (and isn’t) and explain how to create one that works for your team.
What is an editorial calendar?
An editorial calendar, borrowed from the traditional publishing world, is an actual calendar outlining high-level, thematic frameworks to show when your overarching content should be scheduled throughout the year.
It is a useful resource to build the foundation for your content in that it establishes the starting point for your content planning by looking at the big picture, and then delves into the details of what to post. A strong editorial calendar will categorize content and show the corresponding timelines to ensure transparency on upcoming material. Think of the editorial calendar as the blueprints for your content responsibilities—it shows where you need to go and how to get there.
Why create an editorial calendar?
Picture Jane, a marketing manager for a medium-sized company. Jane manages a team who is responsible for social media, traditional marketing, events, and (importantly) content. But they are struggling to stay organized. The company’s social media pages haven’t had a post for a week, and before then they were inconsistent at best.
Jane is trying to stay organized, but the hustle-and-bustle of the workday is dragging her down. She needs resources that plan out her team’s content responsibilities. Insert the editorial calendar. Not only would an editorial calendar make Jane’s life easier, it would also add value to her team by acting as a tool for communication and planning. At any given time, anyone would be able to refer to the calendar and see what’s going on from a 30,000-foot view.
If you’re like Jane, you have a team who needs help planning and organizing relevant content throughout the year. As a snapshot of your year’s overarching content, an editorial calendar would solve that problem by allowing the team to see content gaps ahead of time and prepare the right content at the right time.
What is the difference between an editorial calendar and a content calendar?
It’s important to note: an editorial calendar is not the same as a content calendar, though the terms are often used interchangeably. While they may sound like the same thing, they serve different purposes.
At Convince & Convert, we define a content calendar as “a tactical, executable calendar for planning all content activity. It takes existing content and repurposes it through atomization and determines how certain content should be used.” Content calendars instruct the day-to-day management of content–tactical, granular, and detailed. They often include the exact messaging and content to be posted, such as article links, videos, or blog posts for each of your channels and the exact dates for when to publish. This content corresponds with the overarching editorial theme for a certain point in time.
Conversely, an editorial calendar directs the content by setting high-level themes over a long period of time. It is used to plan ahead for upcoming material, allowing teams time to create, repurpose, or curate relevant content as it fits into the publishing schedule.
Think of the editorial calendar as the strategy and the content calendar as the execution. The editorial calendar guides the content that will be published. And the content calendar defines and publishes the specific content.
Create your editorial calendar by answering 4 basic questions:
What does an editorial calendar look like?
Similar to a content calendar, an editorial calendar looks like an actual calendar. There are several different ways to design your calendar, and various templates available online. But each calendar should have key elements, including month/day, content theme, platform, etc.
Your editorial calendar can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as complex as a paid tool (more on tools shortly). But it’s probably best to avoid PDFs. It’s often helpful to organize your calendar by color-coding themes, posting platforms, and months as well as key dates.
There is not one right way to create an editorial calendar. You have to decide what your team needs and will best be able to follow and use on a regular basis. Below are some examples of editorial calendars, all different, yet effective.
The first calendar is one that we use at Convince & Convert. Seasonality is important to our content, so we plan our editorial calendar around holidays and large events. Having a simple calendar showing the holidays allows us to reference it and immediately know what’s coming up and what can wait.
The second is from HubSpot. It shows an individual month’s snapshot of what and where content will be posted. Notice how it doesn’t actually include any content topics, allowing the user to fill in the details but still have a sense of what they need to create to follow the plan.
The third example is from CoSchedule. They call their editorial calendar the “Broad and General Calendar” because it shows multiple months and associated topics and sub-topics. It does not list the channels but still gives a clear picture of what’s to come.
Remember, this is a visual representation of your content. You should be able to look at your editorial calendar and clearly see the topics or themes to be covered throughout the year.
What should be (or shouldn’t be) included in an editorial calendar?
When creating your editorial calendar, certain pieces of information will be important to include in order to be of value to you and your team. Consider including some of the following elements, keeping in mind what is right for your team:
- Important dates (events, seasonality, etc.)
- Themes/Topics (subtopics may be relevant, too)
- Posting cadence (weekly, monthly, etc.)
- Key distribution channels (website, social media, etc.)
The calendar can also include content owners, assigning tasks to each team member responsible for producing the content. Stages of production (in progress, editing, approved, etc.), with the timelines associated for each, will further ensure transparency on upcoming material and provide clearer communication if delays are anticipated.
At the end of the day, the information contained in the editorial calendar should be those elements that help you and your team manage content in a more streamlined fashion. If an element begins to drag you down, and isn’t making your content life easier, then ditch it.
How often should you update and use an editorial calendar?
There’s no right or wrong time to start planning your editorial calendar for the year. But the earlier you tackle it, the more you give your team enough time to plan upcoming content. A strong editorial calendar at the start of the year will guide your content strategy, making sure everyone is aligned toward content goals. But it’s important to also allow flexibility. This shouldn’t be carved in stone–go ahead and make necessary changes along the way. Again, the editorial calendar is to be used as a guide, not a mandate.
We also recommend you refer to the calendar early and often. In practice, this means using the calendar to keep your content organized and on schedule. If your marketing team has a weekly touch-base, it can be a great idea to pull up the editorial calendar at each meeting to do a quick review. This ensures the calendar stays fresh in the minds of users.
Finally, it’s critical to measure your content’s performance along the way. If future content is planned, but hasn’t shown to resonate with your audience, change the plan. This helps you better serve your audience by focusing on topics that are important to them.
Do you need an editorial calendar tool, and, if so, how do you select one?
Depending on the size of your team and budget, you may not need a robust tool to manage your editorial calendar. It usually depends on the amount of content you publish. If you aren’t publishing multiple pieces of content each week across a large number of platforms, you may be able to get away with just a spreadsheet. Just be sure it is accessible to your entire team.
But while a living, breathing, shared document is manageable for most teams to use, a formal tool is often easier, cleaner, and automated for this exact purpose. For those reasons, several tools exist in the marketplace. Some of those have free versions, like Trello, Airtable, and Meistertask, while others are paid subscriptions. Our Convince & Convert team uses CoSchedule’s paid tool, which we like a lot.
Whichever option you choose, make sure it fits the needs of your team.
If you are trying to figure out where to start, begin by keeping it simple. Create one single editorial calendar via spreadsheet to work from. It’s hard to keep track of everything when it’s in different places. And it makes it even more difficult for your team to know what they should be doing when. By keeping everything in one place, communication is streamlined, expectations are set, and efforts are not duplicated. And, the more organized it is, the easier it will be to get buy-in from your team to use the calendar.
Let’s return, for a moment, to Jane our marketing manager. In recent months, Jane has put together an editorial calendar for her and her team. She started simply, with a color-coded Excel template stored on a shared drive. And her team has begun reviewing the calendar at their weekly meetings.
The results have shown. Not only does Jane feel more comfortable managing her content requirements, but her team’s content have become very consistent. Even better, her teammates have begun engaging with the calendar. Some of them have even sent her emails with content ideas, including the exact date where the idea would fit into the calendar!
Hopefully, Jane’s example highlights for you the power and simplicity of the editorial calendar. With this tool in your arsenal, you are fully capable of managing high-quality, relevant content and delivering it on a consistent schedule.
This post was originally written by Nathan Ellering in 2015, and updated extensively by Donna Mostrom in 2019.
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