Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 6.57.12 AMWith all the sturm and drang about “real time marketing” that has emerged since Oreo got a bunch of headlines with their quickly-turned-around Super Bowl ad, what hasn’t been discussed much is what role these sorts of updates play within the bigger picture of a brand’s publishing program. Todd Wasserman at Mashable asks if brands should have an editorial calendar for such a program and I’ll put in my vote as a resounding “yes.”

I know there are people out there who say that pre-planning social media updates runs counter to the very spirit of the social media world. Those people say things should be very spur of the moment, spontaneous and conversational. I don’t necessarily disagree. But the reality of the situation is that companies have certain goals they are trying to meet and by planning out content publishing and distribution means they can be sure to get certain messages out while also leaving room for those more spontaneous moments.

It also allows brands to schedule updates throughout the day. Often a bunch of news will break within a short period of time. But it’s not good (in all cases) to then push out seven Facebook updates inside of an hour. It’s better from a number of perspectives to space them out over the course of the day, with each update getting a time-slot that’s appropriate for its topic, priority and other variables.

But what should a brand editorial calendar do and what should it look like?

I’d love to be able to share a “must use” type of template that everyone should use but the reality of the situation is that it depends. The best form for an ed cal is what’s working for everyone involved. I swear by a Google Docs spreadsheet but if there’s something else that fits with everyone’s workflow then by all means go for it. A lot of publishing suites come with ed cal management as a feature so if that works for everyone then so be it.

However, a good ed cal I’ve found should certainly contain a few things:

  1. Platform designation: What platform is something being published to.
  2. Date/Time: When the message is being published.
  3. Topic: What is that message about. It’s going to be important to setup a good taxonomy or set of categories that everyone agrees on and understands.
  4. Message: What is ultimately being published.
  5. Approvals: Someone needs to be the final sign-off on things, and your ed cal should have this layer of accountability built into it for everyone’s sake.

Optional items to include are:

  1. Audience segmentation: If you’ve been dividing up your audience, whether it’s by message type or platform, it will be good to track this here so you can measure it against your program goals.
  2. Shortlink tracking: Keeping a record of the shortlinks you’re using will allow you to easy go back and see how one performed after a period of time. It also allows for another level of accountability since it’s so easy to use the wrong link or make another easy mistake.

Again, this is going to vary from program to program. In some cases an agency or the program owner within a company will have relative autonomy to operate within agreed upon program parameters. In others there will need to be multiple layers of approvals that are needed.

What’s important is that everyone knows what this workflow is and is holding up their end of the bargain. If approvals are needed within X period of time then everyone needs to commit to that and then be held accountable to it.

There need to be clearly defined roles on a publishing team. Who is writing what? Is it broken up by time of day, platform type, topic or something else? Whatever the case everyone on the team needs to know what they’re responsible for and when they need to be delivering what they owe.

A good ed cal should absolutely be editable. On more than one occasion I’ve completely blown up an ed cal I manage in order to rearrange things and balance them out a bit, whether it’s because there are suddenly a glut of updates in one period of time or some other reason.

It’s also important that items be identified as being something that’s time-sensitive versus something that’s evergreen, so when things do need to be rearranged there’s a sense of priority that guides the process.

Ideally there’s also room in the planned updates – the kind that can be scheduled for publishing in software like Adobe or Hootsuite – for those sorts of ad hoc conversational moments. And whatever scheduling is done should be in line with the best practices which have emerged for that individual program, meaning how many posts per day is the tipping point at which fans start to see you as spam and other considerations.

When it comes down to it an editorial calendar for a brand publishing program is something that benefits everyone, from the brand itself to the readers. The people involved in the publishing can’t *always* be on call and so scheduling items in advance helps them plan ahead and make sure important news gets out when it needs to. And it helps upper management see that a nice, balance program is being run as opposed to something that’s all willy-nilly, which is a preconceived notion social publishing has to fight against enough as it is.

That being said, it is just a means to an end. But with so many things that can’t be planned for, an organized and maintained editorial calendar helps manage those that can be executed in a more efficient manner.