We’ve all seen spreadsheets and templates of content calendars. These calendars tend to focus solely on creation due date and the day a story is published onto the brand’s blog, microsite or elsewhere. What’s often missing is how each piece of content should be produced and distributed, how each individual content piece connects to marketing’s broader branding objectives, which channels are most optimal for the specific content, any supporting media plan, and the best publishing cadence moving forward.

Without these elements, the typical content calendar tends to focus on filling gaps rather than the bigger picture, creating effective, consistent content at scale to drive customer actions. To build a more effective content calendar, make sure you address the brand, creation and distribution aspects of your marketing, all powerful capabilities we’ve built into our own integrated marketing calendar.

Understand Your Distribution Channels

Distributing content and campaign creative can appear to be pretty straight forward at first—but when we take a deeper look at the tactics behind effective content distribution, the process starts to look much more complicated. Each of your distribution channels are home to unique features, evolving audience expectations, design format considerations, and other factors that can affect the cadence and strategy behind your content. Media planning and paid amplification adds an additional layer of complexity and collaboration, often with an external agency partner or team that’s separate from the content creation process.

With so many variables to keep in mind, it can be difficult to structure the best content scheduling process for your business. By analyzing how your audience interacts with your content on each channel and adapting your editorial calendar accordingly, you can build stronger messaging that aligns with your marketing and business goals.

Start by evaluating your current content on each of your distribution channels and take note of any data that indicates an important trend or insight into your content’s performance. Look for content and creative variations that drive the most interactions, conversions, or ranked highest on other guiding marketing metrics. Then work to identify common, recurring factors that might have led to the outperformance.

For example, Entrepreneur recently published a tweet that received over 150 retweets, well above their average tweet performance range of 70-80 retweets. The challenge for many marketers is understanding why certain content like this performs so much better.

Was it just a coincidence? Was it because the content was published on Saturday at 11:10am? Did Entrepreneur run it as a targeted Twitter Ads campaign? Or perhaps because it includes an inspirational quote, includes an image, a link, or a combination of all three? Was it because another Entrepreneur Twitter account retweeted the tweet? These are the types of questions you need to ask about your content, and should actively look to develop your own hypotheses around.

Create an Integrated Topics System

Every good editorial system is built on an organized, thoughtful foundation of categories and topics. Newspapers (or the more modern digital publising organization or e-zine) divide their editorial across sections like Business, Sports and Entertainment, and brand publishers should approach their work in a similar way. At the brand level, what are the values, ideas and topics marketing should be talking about? Establish and formally document these topics, then use them as anchors to segment your content development.

For example, MasterCard organizes its brand publishing across 5 core topics: (1) innovation and the future of payments, (2) financial inclusion, (3) safety and security, (4) travel, and (5) small business. By committing to make Global Engagement Bureau a thought leadership engine across these five topics, MasterCard’s leadership ensured that its editorial focus was transparent and consistent across the organization, and relevant to its audience.

Once you’ve established and encoded high-level brand topics, you can start to develop and track sub-topics, which can act as links to specific products, seasons, campaign themes, SEO keywords, geographic markets, or creative approaches. Ultimately, the right topics system will be specific to your organizational structure, needs and marketing objectives, but it’s critically important to make sure your content calendar has a clear organization system that maps back to your brand and goals. Additionally, if your marketing planning relies on multiple calendars for different regions and/or agency relationships, standardize and centralize your calendar system into as few files, editorial rules and systems as possible.

Adapt Your Approach Based on Closed-Loop Testing

To better understand how different factors and variables can affect your content’s performance, you should vary the days, topics and types of content you publish within your editorial calendar, then carefully track the results of your testing across channels. As you begin to gather and evaluate this data, you’ll be in a position to better identify how each content type, distribution channel, and communications or media strategy affects the performance of your campaigns.

Adjust your content and find formats that work well for your target audience, start to incorporate these notes into your content distribution guidelines within your editorial calendar.

Your editorial calendar should give you a view of both content creation and distribution aspects:

creative view in planner

By having this data documented in your editorial calendar, you can better maximize the efficiency and performance of your content. Evaluate each of your distribution channels until you have an editorial calendar that clearly details the type of content that should be created, the time your content should be published, the distribution networks where audience demographics are most relevant to your creative, and any paid amplification, targeting audiences or press syndication that will extend its reach.

In addition, plan to adapt your strategies as your company grows and learns from past content performance. Marketing trends and distribution networks are constantly evolving, particularly ones that are transitioning from web to mobile-first consumer usage. You should schedule time to analyze and review campaign performance at least once per month to account for these changes, as well as plan ahead for innovation with your next activations.

This type of organized, portfolio approach will help you continue to optimize your content creation and distribution tactics, as well as help your broader integrated marketing efforts stay ahead of industry trends. Although each brand and agency will have slightly different editorial calendar needs, by planning for both content creation and distribution in one central place, your team(s) can make more informed, collaborative decisions that achieve your objectives.

To summarize:

  1. Analyze how your content performs on each of your distribution channels; think about how comms and/or media strategies, content types, channel-specific audience demographics, and other unique characteristics affect your content’s performance.
  2. Design an informed editorial calendar by around a system of brand topics and sub-topics.

  3. Measure and reference your content’s performance data to optimize production or distribution steps and tactics. Remember that distribution channels will change over time, and your editorial calendar should proactively plan for these changes, not react to them.

Together, thoughtful use of these strategies and tactics will help you successfully define, develop, and deploy a marketing editorial system that effectively represents the brand, encourages creativity, scales across teams and geographies, and achieves your marketing objectives.