How To Handle Editorial Calendar Disruptions

It’s inevitable. That editorial calendar you’ve created and put such care into crafting is going to be blown up eventually. It will happen. After you’ve spent hours making sure every time slot is optimized, that the timing of when posts will go out balances timeliness with respect for the audience and reflects corporate interests, something will bowl it over. After the entire afternoon is approved and scheduled in the CMS and you’re ready to tackle something else, there will something that upsets the apple cart.

I’m not talking about the content calendars that are scheduled months out and which help you plan big marketing campaign beats. I’m talking about the daily calendar that helps you know what you’re publishing today and tomorrow and maybe three or four days out but that’s always up in the air.

These are the calendars that are more likely to be familiar to those who have managed massive content marketing programs that publish a few hundred posts a week across a dozen or more network. They’re the ones that the marketing department doesn’t even want to see because they don’t understand your system and don’t want to get bogged down hearing about the details. But they’re the ones those others rely on you to manage.

Sooner or later the call or email will come that your carefully-crafted ed cal will have to be blown up. Maybe you have a couple hours’ notice, maybe you have 10 minutes. I’ve had both happen to me. The reasons usually fall into one of two buckets:

  • Breaking news has to be prioritized: An announcement is being made at X time that no one told you about but which has to be blast across the network in short order.
  • Tragedy has struck: The instances of this have gone done somewhat but for a few years it seemed as if every week had three national news stories that it would have been offensive and insensitive to publish until things have settled down.

The latter is, of course, less maddening than the former, but both require your immediate attention and action. Based on my experience, here are some tips for surviving these moments that don’t include quitting on the spot and moving to Wisconsin to make cheese.

Take a Moment and Panic

No seriously. This is usually your first instinct anyway, so let it happen. Turn away from your computer, swear, walk around your desk, whatever you do to let off some steam. You have about two minutes at most to give into this instinct, because then it’s time to get to work.

Find Your Place

Take a look at the ed cal and establish where you are. What was just published? What’s next in the queue? What’s already been loaded into the CMS? These are all questions your ed cal should be able to answer. Just like locating yourself on a map, figure out what the landscape looks like and situate yourself in it.

Clear the Deck

If you already have posts scheduled for the time when the breaking news is set to hit, you’ll need to move those. But to when? That’s actually not important now. What’s important is that the planned post get out of the damn way. Depending on how much time you have to make the changes, it might make more sense to just delete it in the CMS and plan to repost it later, after you have a minute to consider and think. Make sure, though, that you are removing the checkmark from the “Published” column in your ed cal so there’s no confusion about what is or isn’t scheduled.

Play In Your Sandbox

One thing I created for my ed cals was a “sandbox” or “staging” tab in the Google Sheet I used for the ed cal. It was space for me to throw things I was working on until I had the timing and balance just right, at which point I would move items over to the main ed cal. The staging tab had the same headers and formatting as the rest of the ed cal, so I could easily move material between the two areas. Take those items you just removed and throw them in the sandbox. You’ll come back to them later.

Plug In Your News

OK, now you should have a whole in your ed cal for the breaking news. Time to plug in the news that’s coming quickly around the corner. Get it blocked out on the platforms and channels it needs to be shared on. Get the copy ready, find your media assets and do all the other prep work you can so you can be Johnny On The Spot with that news at exactly the time you need to be. If you can schedule now, great, go ahead and do so. If not, at least this is now part of the plan and in the same format as everything else.

Measure the Ripples

How much of your day was just disrupted? Do you need to rebalance the whole rest of the day or can you pick everything back up in an hour with just a bit of tap dancing? If the latter, great. Grab those posts you moved over to the sandbox and find new places for them, disrupting as little as possible. If the impact is more along the lines of “entire species just went extinct,” though, you may have to take everything from the rest of the day and move it over to the sandbox, where you can reevaluate the flow of the day and essentially start from scratch. Again, make sure you’re changing any tracking in the ed cal so that it’s clear this content is no longer scheduled. You may need to just reschedule posts in the CMS or, if it’s more drastic, you may want to just delete them and start over.

These sort of urgent situations are why it actually makes sense to use a tool like Google Sheets for the editorial calendar, particularly for daily high-volume programs, and not the built in calendar features many CMS platforms now offer. This system allows you to take a better look at the whole landscape and make changes that make more sense after a few moments of evaluation and contemplation. You can rebalance the whole program in about an hour (assuming you’ve got the chops) and get things back on track without missing a beat.

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.

Organizing a successful brand editorial calendar

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.