In order to feed the insatiable content beast, many organizations use editorial calendars as the driver of their content planning. “It’s National Pancake Day, let’s post!” We presented “Why Editorial Calendars Make Your Content SUCK” at SXSW 2015 with Ben Grossman, VP Strategy Director of Jack Morton Worldwide, about why it might be time to kill—or at least innovate—the much beloved editorial calendar. Keep reading for tips you can bring back to your organization.
Ad Council: Why do editorial calendars make your content suck?
Ben Grossman: Editorial calendars stifle creative thinking and often force you to think inside the box (sometimes literally inside the boxes on the page of a calendar template!). They’re not agile or opportunistic and don’t allow for breakthrough content. Instead, they tend to focus on filling social feeds with posts about obscure holidays or engagement “bait.” And when you’re competing with posts like Grumpy Cat or “my best friend’s getting married!” you’re going to lose! Rather than fostering “big picture” thinking, these calendars make you focus on that next 140 character post and routinize your content. They become glorified content organizers and project management tools that can result in lackluster content that is detached from your mission or objectives.
AC: Okay, calendars kill creativity. What should a brand do instead?
BG: Instead of sitting down with a blank calendar once a month, we propose an alternative. Extraordinary content begins with extraordinary ideas. We suggest three types of thinking: 1) Consumer-inspired; 2) Data-Driven; 3) Conversation-led.Spend less time on what to post next and more about what to do next. Here’s what I mean:
- Consumer-Inspired: Examine what your target audience is doing on social or across the web and gain an understanding of what drives them to like content. Go back to the source—spend time your end users—talk to them, interview them. By sticking to what your audience cares about, your content will resonate more.
- Data-Driven: Look at your own data—what’s worked before? What didn’t? Why?
- Conversation-Led: Leverage existing conversations or start a new one. At Jack Morton, once we have some ideas, we like to put them to the test through the three-two-one idea methodology, which posits that a truly pure idea can be expressed through three words, two sentences and one paragraph.
AC: Are editorial calendars good for anything?
BG: Yes—they’re good at organizing chaos. You can pass them around, share, build consensus and get internal buy-in. As a project management tool, they can help you take inventory of what content you need across your channels. And they’re good for submitting for legal approval—lawyers love it because it’s all there in a spreadsheet! Finally, and most importantly, they can introduce discipline in regards to how frequently you post and what you post. You don’t need to abandon calendars completely— they can be help organize yourself or your organization. But as a content creation tool? Not so much.
AC: But what if National Pancake Day truly relates to my organization’s mission? Shouldn’t I do something on that day?
BG: Sure, you should do something but if the day is really that central to your organization’s mission, I’d expect it to do more than post a “Happy Pancake Day” message. Ask how you can do something that uniquely adds value to that day. “It’s xx month! Celebrate with us!” doesn’t have an idea at its core and adds no value to the conversation. The creative bar should be much higher. American Greetings created a brilliant video for Mother’s Day called “World’s Toughest Job.” Unsuspecting job candidates were subjected to mock interviews for the “world’s toughest job” – motherhood – with all its crazy demands and requirements. Once candidates were beginning to think it wasn’t the job for them, it was revealed that the interview was really for motherhood, along with a suggestion: “You Might Want to Make Her a Card.” It’s emotional, endearing and motivating content, but most importantly, it did more than wish moms a Happy Mother’s Day. It started a conversation about motherhood as a real, demanding job.
AC: Why do we cling to editorial calendars so much?
BG: Because of the ever changing media landscape, it makes sense we’ve landed on the editorial calendar. Today, you need to create tons of content to keep your website, social media, email marketing alive. Ten years ago, marketers spent a lot of time and money to fill a very small window of time—a 30-second ad, some print ads and some radio spots. Now we’re posting multiple times a day across multiple channels. It’s no wonder many organizations have put these calendars at the center of their content planning–it makes it easier to keep up with content demands. But it does nothing for content quality–which for many organizations, falls by the waste side. They end up checking a box instead of accomplishing their business objectives.
AC: How do you measure the success of your content?
BG: Don’t optimize at a surface level on a post-by-post basis (likes, comments, shares). All that means is that people are just responding to what’s popular. If you do that, you’ll simply continue to replicate the same approach each time or cater to the lowest common denominator online. As the saying goes, what’s popular is not always right (for your brand) and what’s right (for your brand) is not always popular. It couldn’t me more true when it comes to digital marketing. Sometimes, the least “popular” (commented on, liked, or shared) content moves your objectives forward the most. Instead of optimizing towards social metrics, look at your organization’s goals first. Then step away from everything and get inspired. Come up with some new ideas and then apply a filter of data rigor to it to make sure it soars.