How To Create An Editorial Calendar to Publish Blogs, Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter, and Email Newsletters
This article is an exhaustive overview of how to design, create, and use an editorial calendar with links to additional articles, templates, and more. It brings you up to date on how best to create an editorial calendar and process to manage online and offline publications, including content published in email newsletters and social media sites Twitter and Facebook. This article strives to provide a comprehensive overview of all possible resources online compared to other articles which may be publication-specific or focus on one viewpoint of how to create an editorial calendar.
When this article was first published in 2003, most online publishers had never seen an editorial calendar unless they came from a publishing background. Today it is far more common to find bloggers who understand editorial calendars, how they work, and their benefits. The publication management problem also has expanded to include how best to organize publishing for email newsletters, Twitter, Facebook fan pages, and other social media sites.
However, many articles about how to create and use editorial calendars either are not comprehensive (for example, few mention tracking micro-content like subheads or alt and title tags) or they’re link bait for search engines like eHow articles. There also are a few templates out there that are worth a look as you design or improve your calendar. Finally, this article always has had a focus on small businesses and how they might use editorial calendars, a focus I’ve not found elsewhere.
Most importantly, this article is written for people with no little or no publishing experience. What is an ideal editorial publishing process, for example? What guidelines should be used to write and edit content?
With this as background, let’s get started describing how to create an editorial calendar and editorial process that meets your needs.
- The Editorial Process
- The Editorial Calendar
- Editorial Calendar Documentation
- Writing and Editing Guidelines
- Ideas for Web Publishing Best Practices
- Media Journalism vs Corporate Journalism
- Learn More about Editorial Calendars
- Updates to this Article
This article also has been converted into a PowerPoint presentation, if that’s useful:
The Editorial Process
The Publishing Process
Based on what content is published, the editorial process can be elaborate or simple. A small business owner, for example, might follow this process:
- Brainstorm a list of content to publish, where, and when for a set time period
- Write each piece of content based on the publication schedule
- Edit each piece
- Publish each piece
A corporate web team might have a much more complex, and flexible, publishing process:
- Brainstorm a list of content to publish, where, and when for a set time period; include backup content items for each item slated for publication; include break points to determine whether to delay or kill each content item.
- Assign each piece of content based on the publication schedule
- Write each piece of content
- Review first draft of each piece of content
- Give go/no go based on first draft edits (adjust publication schedule if/as needed)
- If go, finish writing each piece of content and submit draft as FYI to layout team
- Perform final edit, copy edit, fact checking, and rewrites as needed
- Submit for review by legal team
- Make changes if/as needed based on legal input
- Submit content formally to layout team
- Post content on development server and make changes if/as needed
- Publish content on production server
In both the simple and complex process, movement is forward and iterative. You encounter and cross a series of hurdles that lead to publication. If you don’t have a calendar of content to be published, for example, you cannot progress to writing content. Well, you can but you risk publishing content that does not meet the needs of your readers.
The Content Creation Process
You also have a process to create each piece of content. For example, an interview requires some number of emails to line up the interview subject, as well as time to research the interview subject and the topic, create then refine your questions, interview your subject, email your subject any follow up questions/clarifications, and then write up the interview.
Make time to document the different processes for each type of content you publish. Some types of content will have an identical process. But don’t assume they do. Sit down and map out the content creation process to be 100% certain. This step alone will avoid delays in your publishing schedule.
Feed the Beast: How to Create Content Ideas
For both small and larger publishing outfits, deciding what to publish is the start point. Usually this begins by identifying your audience then listing all possible topics of interest to your readers. You might organize some topics into recurring features, for example, publishing fun offbeat articles on Friday, research-related articles on Tuesdays, or interviews on Thursday. Recurring features train readers to return to your blog or Facebook fan page on specific days of the week.
In my experience helping clients with blog publishing and social media planning, there are three types of content you can include:
- Your Product or Service
- Your Customers and Prospects
- Industry News
Whatever you publish, be sure to include stories that cover these three types of content. For example, stories about your product or service might include new feature announcements, how-to step documentation and screencasts, and invitations to readers to provide ideas about how to refine features. But these types of content also can mix. You might, for example, do a how-to screencast that features a customer who uses your product or service in an interesting way. Or you might cover an industry news story through a feature in your product or service, or from the point of view of an actual customer or prospect.
Also realize that, despite your best plans, what you publish on any given day or week will change. And, if you publish daily, you’ll need to add topical stories as they happen. You want to leave room to cover news as it happens. It’s also a good idea to have at least one story held back that you can publish when you get sick, an interview subject cancels, or other mishap.
If you use a spreadsheet to track your editorial calendar, your content ideas should be included in your editorial calendar as a tab called Pending Content or similar label. I’d put this tab first in your spreadsheet so you can create a natural flow from your ideas to calendar to published content, with each step in its own tab.
At the least, if you use a paper calendar or piece of paper to track your editorial calendar, your story ideas should be written down and kept with your editorial calendar. A small business, for example, might create a folder for this purpose and put both the calendar and the story ideas together in the folder.
With a list of content ideas, and possibly recurring feature ideas, the next step is to talk about your editorial calendar, tools to document your calendar, and guidelines to write your content.
The Editorial Calendar
The editorial calendar is the heart of any successful publishing process. Without it, content publishing online and offline is guaranteed to be random in terms of what readers want to read, full of gaps (content doesn’t get published because some pieces take longer than needed and backup pieces are not in the pipeline), and poor quality.
For simple web publishing, the editorial calendar needs these elements at a minimum:
- What to publish based on audience needs and your brainstormed ideas
- Prioritized list of what to publish
- Work effort required to publish each piece of content
- Micro-content needed (e.g., page titles, headlines, navigation link labels, ALT tags, footers, blurbs)
- Dates assigned for writing, editing, publishing for each piece of content
- Publishing location (e.g. print, blog, email newsletter, Twitter, Facebook)
For large groups, the editorial calendar should include these elements:
1-6 above with line items added to #5 for copy editors, fact checkers, photographers, layout team, legal approval, and other participants
- The author who will create the content plus their contact information
- Backup content identified for each piece of content on the calendar
- Go/No Go breakpoints identified for each piece of content and/or within the process (e.g., if interviews are not possible or a writer gets sick)
No matter the size of your publishing team, when you design your editorial process be sure to consider the scarcity of approval resources. Lawyers should be brought in as late as possible and as little as possible to maximize their time. Otherwise you risk endless (and avoidable) rewrite cycles and complaints. With lawyers, this might mean one review towards the end of the process. With the layout team, it might mean showing them early drafts of stories so they know what content will be included in each issue.
One prime use of the editorial calendar is to push back when others in your organization make unreasonable demands. A good editorial calendar makes a wonderful educational tool to teach those outside the publishing team the steps, time, and resources required to publish content. It can help with budget battles. Development and maintenance of your editorial calendar also can be an opportunity to include those who will pressure your schedule. It won’t buy you extra time in some cases but it will give you more leverage than if you have no calendar.
Another interesting use of an editorial calendar is to mesh it with performance metrics, for example, the number of tweets, Facebook Likes, page views, and inbound links each story receives after publication. This expands the editorial calendar so you can make future decisions about what new story ideas might do better than other ideas. You also might want to track maintenance dates in your editorial calendar to ensure you know when site upgrades or changes might impact your ability to publish.
Finally, anyone with project management experience will recognize that a good editorial calendar is, in fact, a good project plan. There is one key difference, however. An editorial calendar is a rolling affair: individual pieces of content are completed but you never get to the end of the calendar until you’re fired or you quit or the publication shuts down.
Editorial Calendar Documentation
Once you have identified what to include in your editorial calendar, how do you organize your information? Most people use an Excel spreadsheet, Google Docs spreadsheet, or similar spreadsheet document with tabs. There even are WordPress plugins for publications that use WordPress to publish content. (However, if you publish a blog, Facebook fan page, Twitter, and email newsletters, a WordPress plugin only helps with the blog portion of your publishing empire.)
There are at least four technologies you can use to track your editorial calendar:
- Pieces of paper and a file folder
- A paper calendar or online calendar
- A spreadsheet or online spreadsheet
- Tracking software within your publishing software
Each of these tools has advantages and disadvantages. Paper, for example, works great for a small business that only needs to publish new content every week or month. Calendars work well if you have only 1-4 stories a day, or less frequency, and you’re the primary or sole author or a one person team. Spreadsheets can intimidate because they can hold so much information. It’s tempting to think you have to track every last detail in a spreadsheet when, in fact, you should track only critical information.
Whatever tool you use to track your editorial calendar, the secret of success is simplicity. Your calendar will evolve and adapt. But simplicity should be a key goal when you design and change your calendar. The more complex your calendar, and what you track, the more likely you are to not use it and benefit.
Within the document you use for your editorial calendar, you might want to create these tabs or pages:
- Story Ideas
- Production Calendar
- Published Content
- Glossary of Terms
Within each tab or page label your columns according to what you need to track, as defined in the Editorial Process and Editorial Calendar sections above. If you use a spreadsheet, this tab organization lets you move a spreadsheet row for each story as the story evolves from idea to production to published. The glossary tab or page contains a list of copy edit decisions over time to enforce consistency across articles.
The Production Calendar tab or page might or might not be broken into tabs for print, blog, email newsletter, Twitter, Facebook fan page, and other venues. Or you might create a column to hold this information so you can sort out your stories by publication destination.
Larger organizations might need a second set of documents to track each issue published, for example, to ensure that a particular theme is adhered to when story choices are made, ensure the correct number of stories (and backup stories) is accounted for with each issue, and related data. For a blog or brochure site or Facebook fan page, however, a basic spreadsheet or pages works fine.
Here is a basic template I’ve created with Google Docs that you can download and modify: Editorial Calendar Template. Note that, like other templates, the left hand columns are the same (e.g. Title, Author) so you can copy/paste one or more rows of stories to the next tab in the spreadsheet with little fuss or adjustments needed.
Writing and Editing Guidelines
In addition to the editorial calendar, your publication process should include style guidelines for writers and editors to follow. These guidelines are in addition to any layout guidelines used to control the publication design. Writing guidelines can include:
- Length of pieces published as well as the different kinds of pieces
- Examples of appropriate tone and structure for each kind of content piece
- Examples of things to avoid (e.g., first person, insulting the CEO, using less than 2 sources for each fact)
- Examples of file names and how they evolve through the process (e.g., to indicate versions)
- Grammar, punctuation, and language guidelines
The first four items are created in-house by the site publisher or publication team. Grammar and language guidelines are either adopted from existing sources (the Chicago Style Manual or Associated Press Style Guide, for example) or modified from several sources. The Washington Post, New York Times, and Newsweek follow the latter route with their own internal style guides.
The primary benefit of these guidelines is a consistent experience for readers as well as all members of the publishing team. Guidelines minimize the number of times the team has to reinvent the wheel when they assign, write, edit, and publish. Consistency does not mean boring, however. Cheeky writing full of attitude may appear to be written off the cuff. More often cheekiness is the result of deliberate writing and editing choices defined well before the writing happens.
For a small business, writing and editing guidelines could be the Associated Press Style Guide and printouts of a few articles that serve as best practice examples. Large publishing teams might document and publish a style guide with extensive examples and links to resources for the team to follow and consult as needed. They also might create and maintain a large glossary as copy edit decisions are made over time.
Ideas for Web Publishing Best Practices
In addition to an editorial calendar and guidelines for writing and editing content, here are some ideas for best practices specifically for web publishing:
Include author name with link to short bio. A reader of this website sent me an email stating that while I had written what appeared to be a useful article, he could not trust my article because he did not know the author or their background. Until he had that information, he insisted most readers would dismiss my article. Being raised Catholic, my first response was to assume guilt and fix the problem. Further reflection, however, led me to the conclusion that he was right. The author bio is an important bit of context needed in any publication but especially on the web where facts and lies can appear equally credible.
Include Publication Date. I see a lot of content on the web that lacks a publication date. My hunch is that the content is evergreen, useful at any date or time, and the site publisher is afraid dating their piece would make the content appear old. Dated content, in turn, would compel the publisher to replace the content, update the content, or add new content. I would argue, however, that publication date is as critical a piece of context as author information and for the same reason: it increases credibility. Issues about content freshness can be handled easily as noted in the next idea.
Include Changes section at bottom of the content. Except for blurbs or other short content pieces, every bit of content should have a heading at the bottom titled “Changes To This Content” (or similar language). If there are no changes, the heading should be followed by a sentence, “No updates at this time” or similar language. In addition, when you do update the content, be sure to put a single sentence at the top of the content that says, in effect, “Changes to this content are noted at the bottom.” This approach will allow you to provide publication date as context, a mechanism to easily note to readers what content has been updated, and take advantage of the immediacy of the web. Specifically, maintaining a change list allows you to expand your content easily over time.
Pay Attention to Version Control. If several people share an editorial calendar, keeping track of the most current version can become painful. Look at using Google Docs spreadsheet. Or ask the IT group to set up something that puts the file in a central location online and lets you track edits to your calendar over time. For individuals, obviously, this is a fairly easy problem to solve: always put the date in your calendar file name when you create a new version, for example, my-calendar-2010-0701.xls works.
Media Journalism vs. Corporate Journalism
I would end this piece by commenting on the perceived differences between content published by media outlets and content published by corporations and businesses. Typically, corporate journalism and writing is considered to be a pale version of the more rigorous and transparent standards followed by media journalists. Media journalists are supposed to be better trained, more thorough, and more fierce than a Director of Communications writing articles for an internal newsletter or website.
Some of this is true, of course. But much of it is not.
While it is true that media journalists are trained to fact check and to be skeptical, these benefits can be undermined by deadlines and subtle issues such as the perceived priorities of different beats. White House reporters, for example, see their stories on the front page of their papers more often than reporters covering the state house. Important stories at the state house level can be buried beneath comparatively less valuable stories from the national level. Reading several different media outlets on the web also quickly shows reporters often omit critical details reported elsewhere. It is unclear if these omissions happen due to deadlines, laziness, or the journalist’s ability (or inability) to refute (or confirm) facts. Readers are left to wonder which reported facts are true.
At the same time, corporate journalists and editors I have worked with realize fact based reporting of corporate activities reads better and is better received than watered down writing. Employees buy into organizational changes, for example, if facts are reported in detail with context that relates to their job situation. They don’t buy in if change is presented with boilerplate happy talk. And there may be little difference between a corporate journalist who does not offend their CEO in print and a media journalist whose editors achieve the same result (intentionally or not) in editing their stories.
Bottomline, an editorial calendar and guidelines for writers and editors are only a start. It is equally important to pursue content that is factually accurate, fully in context, relevant to your readers, and timely. If you’re a corporate journalist or writer, for example, don’t assume your standards have to be lower than media journalists. Force your editors to cut you back rather than self-edit. That’s the only way to ensure you publish good content and make the most of your editorial publishing process.
Learn More about Editorial Calendars
There are many online resources for writers, journalists, and editors. I have listed the most basic resources a small business might need to use to develop an editorial calendar and process to publish content.
Editorial Calendar Process (Some with Templates)
Both the article and the template are the best I’ve found online over the years. Some of the ideas in this article come from this source, for example, including performance data for each story you publish and how to organize tabs in your editorial calendar spreadsheet. However, I’ve not included all her ideas and it is well worth reading yourself. Note that, like other templates, the left hand columns are the same (e.g. Title, Author) so you can copy/paste one or more rows of stories to the next tab in the spreadsheet with little fuss.
Short article has some great ideas to organize blog content into types of content. Her spreadsheet is fairly simple, however, which may or may not work for larger groups.
My spreadsheet editorial calendar template that incorporates most of the ideas in this article. Note that, like other templates, the left hand columns are the same (e.g. Title, Author) so you can copy/paste one or more rows of stories to the next tab in the spreadsheet with little fuss.
The post and template has a blog focus but it could be adapted for a small business brochure site and email newsletter publishing.
No templates but some great ideas for organizing content into recurring features that train readers to show up at your site on a more regular basis.
A good video about how to create editorial calendars with a calendar instead of a spreadsheet.
Excellent example of a simple approach to manage an email newsletter and website.
Editorial Calendar Documentation
Create and share an Excel spreadsheet for your editorial calendar. Another benefit: it’s always online in case you find yourself somewhere without your computer but you do have a hotel computer and an internet connection
After light testing, both of these plugins appear worth a try if you publish with WordPress. Edit Flow appears to be more elaborate and configurable while Editorial Calendar works within each Add/Edit a Post page. Both these plugins appear well supported and under development. As with any software, pay attention to date last updated. Orphaned software can work fine. But it also means any problems are yours to sort out.
Editorial Copy Resources
Associated Press Style Guide
RefDesk Grammar, Usage, and Style Resources
Rensselaer: Revising Prose
Updates To This Article
This article has been published online since 2003. Here are the most recent changes:
- Completely rewrote article to reflect changes to the subject matter area since publication, including links to additional resources for templates and WordPress plugins. (August 20, 2010)
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