It’s about Time: On Editorial Calendars (and Why You Might Need One)
Most of us have work, school, family, and friends (or any combination of the above) to juggle. Some of us even like spending a few hours (minutes?) a day away from a screen. All of which often means that blogging goes down the priority ladder. Can an editorial calendar help you navigate a hectic schedule? Here are some points to consider.
do you need an editorial calendar?
For many of us, blogging is a way to express ourselves and interact with others during our free time. The idea of setting deadlines and making plans can easily put off those of us who do it for the sheer fun of it, on our own loose schedule (whenever the kids/boss/dogs/cats/baseball playoffs allow it). And that’s absolutely fine.
The great thing about editorial calendars is that they can be as detailed or vague, as rigorous or elastic, as you see fit.
Other bloggers make significant strides in gaining traction by having a plan in place; for group blogs, some form of scheduling is all but necessary.
Whatever your needs, the great thing about editorial calendars is that they can be as detailed or vague, as rigorous or elastic, as you see fit.
For some, publishing twice a week (or once a month, or every day, or… you get the point) is already a calendar of sorts. Many bloggers build a foundation for a calendar when they introduce a regularly scheduled feature mixed in with off-the-cuff material. Making any pact with yourself about the regular rhythm of your posts is a huge step beyond the “whatever, whenever” of having no plan whatsoever.
scheduling: a procrastinator’s best friend
An editorial calendar allows you to plan in advance and allocate your limited time wisely. Let’s say you plan your blog monthly: you might already know that on the second weekend of the month you’ll be offline for a wedding, and that an important deadline is coming up at the end of the month.
A calendar allows you, first, to start writing in advance. Since you can pre-schedule the publication of your posts, you’re done once you’re pleased with your draft. Your blog will take care of the rest while you’re dancing (or working) the night away.
Second, a calendar lets you make smart decisions about the mix and the timing of the posts you want to publish. A busy week? Why not schedule posts that are shorter or easier to write. More free time? You can finally dive into that long essay on the history of Korean BBQ you’ve been meaning to start.
In other words, you can (and should!) play around with the types of posts you publish, giving your audience time to digest your meatier content by punctuating long, serious posts with shorter and lighter fare.
the stats-driven calendar
Once you’ve been blogging for a while and have a bit of a track record, designing a calendar becomes even more important (and can yield even bigger dividends). You should consider examining and analyzing your stats, then take your content planning to the next level. When you know what your most popular posts are, on the one hand, and what your strongest traffic days are, on the other, you can start maximizing on the patterns you detect.
The idea is to identify your blog’s core audience and serve it the content it came looking for, but not to stop to testing out new features that might expand and deepen your blog’s appeal.
For example, try combining a popular topic with a high-traffic day to expose as many readers as possible to your strongest content.
On softer days, you could experiment with a new type of post you’ve been thinking about, or go with an interactive feature (like a post with a poll, or a blogging event) to focus on higher engagement among your visitors.
The idea is to identify your blog’s core audience and serve it the content it came looking for, but also to keep testing out new features that might expand and deepen your blog’s appeal.
“Calendar.” I like the sound of it. Now what?
Regardless of the kind of blog you keep, here are some editorial calendar-building pointers you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Go visual: if it’s only in your head, it’s not really a calendar. Use your smartphone’s calendar app, or a note-making tool like Simplenote. Get any of the many templates available online. Or go old school with pen and paper. Having an actual document will help you to keep track of your progress (and to make changes when you need to).
- Be realistic: it’s better to schedule two posts a week that you know you’ll publish on time, than a daily post you’ll miss three days out of seven.
- Budget in time for interaction: Consider the time you’ll want to spend responding to your audience. Don’t schedule a post that’s likely to generate a lot of discussion if you know you won’t be able to moderate and respond to comments.
- A calendar’s not just a plan, but also a record: Once you’ve crossed off the week’s/month’s/year’s scheduled posts (great job!), don’t toss away your plan. Go over it and try to detect long-term trends: what posts did you most enjoy publishing? What kind of content elicited the strongest reactions from your visitors? Planning will be easier once you rely on actual data rather than gut feeling alone.
- A calendar is not only for publication dates: create a space in your calendar for thoughts that haven’t yet matured into fully-formed post ideas. Keeping an inventory of these can pay off whenever you’re having a moment of writer’s block, or need to change plans quickly. It’ll also make it easier to create future calendars, as you’ll never be starting from scratch.
A good calendar is a flexible one
While having a schedule in place is often useful, having one that’s too rigid can backfire. A predetermined calendar leaving you with no leeway can fast become a fun-killing distraction (and bloggers who don’t enjoy maintaining their blogs, don’t).
Time for an impromptu post? Plan for the unexpected by not over–planning.
Practically, too, having some wiggle room is important. Keeping a day open, here and there, gives you the space to write spontaneously and publish time-sensitive content your readers might be eager to read.
Did your team just win a big game? Did your partner just propose? Did you just accidentally bake the best chocolate chip cookie in recorded human history? Time for an impromptu post! In other words, plan for the unexpected by not over-planning.
Do you have a content plan or an editorial calendar? How do you go about building it? What are the most useful tips you can give other bloggers? Please share your insight with us!