Chris Thilk

The Questions Answered By an Effective Editorial Calendar

Would it surprise you to know I manage an editorial calendar for this blog? It might not if you’ve known me for the last 10 years since it’s in that time that I’ve been creating and managing ed cals for various client programs. And it might not if you’ve noticed how specific features run on specific days of the week. It might seem a bit obsessive and unnecessary to create and run an editorial calendar for a personal site like this, but it’s no less essential than it would be for a Fortune 500 company’s social publishing program.

A snapshot of my personal editorial calendar from last quarter.

An editorial calendar is designed not just to help plan posts. The date and time that are often designated in that document are important, but only part of the equation as they can change at any moment for any of a myriad of reasons. Those elements are the most flexible parts of the ed cal. No, the real purpose is to focus the program and keep everyone on track to meet goals. It’s not just about *what* is being published, it’s also about *why* something is being published. Here are just some of the questions a good editorial calendar should be able to answer:

When Is This Being Published?

Sure, I just said the time/date point wasn’t crucial. That doesn’t mean it’s not important. If you’re running a small program, you’ll want to lay things out to reach different audiences during different dayparts, spreading your small number of posts around a bit. Don’t publish five things in one morning if five posts constitute half your output for the week. Or if you do, then spread the social promotion around a bit. Again, this can shift as things come in and out of the program, but you can’t make changes if you’re not starting with something, however tentative.

What Is It That’s Being Published?

Is it a blog post? If so, what’s it about? Is it a Tweet? If so, what link are you using? You can get as granular as you like in this area. Maybe you just want to capture the blog post title. Maybe you want to capture the post title as well as what business unit the post relates to if it’s part of a larger campaign and more. I’ve managed ed cals that run the gamut here and it really all depends on what’s important to the program. Remember that many social CMS platforms don’t allow for great tagging or categorization, or don’t have reporting that supports the tags it does allow for. So your ed cal may wind up pulling double duty as an important source of program metrics, in addition to formal reporting tools. Whatever the case, the “What” part of this should be apparent to anyone who glances at the ed cal.

Who Is The Intended Audience?

This one is a bit trickier since it requires you to have some insights into who your business audience is. Note I didn’t say “social audience” since that’s periphery. No, it’s about what the business audience is since the program should be aligned to some sort of corporate goal and its subsequent target audience. The best posts are written with a specific audience in mind and the ed cal should show what that target is. Defining the audience allows you to adjust the tone and voice of what’s being produced and shared to best resonate with that group. Again, this may wind up being something you wind up reporting on – how many posts went to each audience segment – so adjust your ed cal accordingly.

What Is the Goal of the Post?

What is it you want the audience to do with what’s being posted? Do you want them to click through and convert? Is it just about social engagement? Similar to the above point, if the manager of the ed cal has labeled the post with the goal it’s meant to accomplish it can help those who are doing the writing or producing of that content to focus their efforts in the appropriate direction. If it’s about generating conversions, that’s one goal. If it’s just about racking up Favs, that’s another. But those posts will be created in very different ways with very different calls to action, so the producers need to know that going in.

Finally, Remember This Is Just One Tactic

As my friend Dave Coustan is fond of reminding people, editorial calendars are a tactic, not a strategy. They’re one part of a larger content strategy meant to accomplish very real goals for an individual or business. You can find templates provided by many of the big publishing consultancies and at this point, it’s a standard feature of most CMS tools. Personally, I like using Google Sheets for the simple reason that it’s separate from the publishing platform. That means the team – or myself – has to be more intentional about the content moving from one tool to the other, which reduces the margin for error. Whatever approach you take, remember that the editorial calendar is meant to reflect, not replace, the strategy document. It is the strategy put into practice.