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14 content planning tools for content marketing

Blog Post Author – Alan
Alan3rd April 2020

Valuable content requires planning, and there’s no other way around it - that takes time.

It can also be complicated, meaning important things get missed, or content veers away from the objectives.

Between social content, blogs, internal comms and other content types, you’ll need to know what’s going out when. Content planning helps simplify and bring order to the complexities that come with planning content.

Why you should use a content planner

Planning helps your social media marketing plan work more effectively, whatever your role. Salespeople use CRMs like Salesforce, developers use planning tools like Jira, and content marketers can become more effective by using content marketing tools like Trello, CoSchedule or ContentCal.

  • Spotting challenges before they happen:

With oversight on the total scope of a project that a content planning tool brings, it’s possible to spot challenges before they happen.

By involving people that can help you overcome technical challenges early on, you’ll be in a better place to tackle technical or knowledge-related challenges.

  • Goals and objectives:

When you’re putting together content, you’re working towards two goals: the business goal, and the content goal. When these aren’t aligned, plans fall through. Plans (or even a content calendar) help you ensure all content fits the same purpose when it comes to your social media content calendar.

  • Staying on track:

Great content usually passes through many hands before it goes live. A good plan involves the right people at the right time. Need hero images for your blog posts? Technical input on the site? Tag everyone involved.

  • Consistency:

When multiple parties are involved in creating content, consistency can be hard to achieve. social media planning tools help consistency because they provide a platform for collaborating on different content types, and setting up custom approval flows.

The steps that go into planning content and an outstanding content creation strategy

Content planning tools and a social media calendar template help to move you through the different stages of planning. Let’s take a look at exactly what you need to consider when you put a content creation strategy and plan together:

Stage 1: Set your goals

What are your content goals? Whether you want to build a community or drive sign ups through SEO, setting clear goals will help you keep your content focused. Clearly established goals will help you to measure and monitor the performance of your content, so you know what’s working and what isn’t.

Stage 2: Choose your channels

Choose your content channels wisely. Which audience are you planning to target with your social media marketing, and where are they likely to be? We would recommend keeping the number of channels you post on to a minimum, and only use those that appeal to your customer base.

Stage 3: Choose how often you post

Be realistic about what is achievable with the resources you have. It is best to create as much content as you can, but this should not be at the expense of quality.

Stage 4: Brainstorm

Brainstorm ideas, keeping them in line with your goals, audience and channels, remember to stick to your social media plan. At the end of this stage, you should have broad ideas of content types (e.g. blog posts, videos, photos and captions etc.) as well topics.

We then like to rank the ideas, based on how much impact they have vs how complex they will be to produce. That will produce your tasklist.

Stage 5: Create a brief

Each piece of content you develop needs a clear brief to keep it in line with the overall objective of the campaign and your company’s goal. Be as specific as possible, and create action points for each person involved.

We spend up to an hour on each of our content briefs to make sure that we’re covering everything in one go. They need to span the complexity of the content you’re trying to produce, and are often paragraph-by-paragraph summaries of what goes into an article.

Stage 6: Research

Excellent content is well-researched. Before cameras start rolling, or fingers start typing, research must be done. This will help to ensure that each piece of content is better than what your competitors are doing, and ensures your content has its own ‘niche’ - whether that’s the ideas covered, the format used, or keywords you’re targeting.

Stage 7: Creation

Finally, it’s time to create your content on your social media calendar template. Some people rush straight to this bit because it’s what they feel most comfortable with. You know what to do!

Stage 8: Design

All content needs to look good. If it doesn’t look good, it’s not going to get read. Draw people in with eye-catching designs and keep them engaged by presenting information in a way that’s as visual as possible.

We cannot stress enough how reluctant people are to read a wall of text! Take every opportunity to chip away at that wall with bright, funny and interesting designs using various social media management apps.

Stage 9: Page set-up

This is the technical part of getting ready to publish content. Chances are, you’ve already got a basic version of this sorted, whichever Content Management System you use.

But have a think what you should add to content before putting it live that can make a difference to the reading, listening or viewing experience. Would a table of contents improve navigability? Would subtitles improve accessibility?

All of that good stuff keeps people around for longer.

Stage 10: Scheduling and publishing

Finally, you need to schedule the post to go out, and publish it. Content planning tools and content marketing tools can sometimes help you beyond the publication stage, by linking to measuring and analyzing how people interact with the content.

Content planning tools: The most important features

Not all content marketing calendars will do the thing you need them to do. It’s important to look out for the key features you need. These include:

  • Content Objective

We’ve already explained the importance of keeping content in line with business and campaign objectives. This focus needs to be built into the content calendar / planner so that at every touchpoint, those involved in creating the content know exactly what they’re doing and why.

  • Content Type

At a glance, the content planning tool or social media calendar template should enable you to see exactly what the format of the content is and where it will be posted. Most content planning tools will use a combination of colors, symbols and tags to help make this clear.

  • Key Dates

The calendar element of content tools are really important to planners. I mean, we would say this, but it should be possible to see an overview of the coming weeks and months.

You should also be able to dive into the calendar and drill down to an individual piece of content to see things like writing deadlines and publishing dates.

  • The Content Itself

This can be written or stored within a planner, or made easily accessible from the planner in an easy-to-share way.

  • Associated Media

A significant piece of content is usually a window to many smaller pieces of content. These can be images, graphs and videos that all exist within the video, blog or whatever it is you’re putting together.

It should be possible to collate and store all these content types alongside the central piece of content, making it easier for the content creator to bring them together when they’re ready.

  • Assignment

Content planners need to clearly identify who is assigned to each task in order to get their content production engine running smoothly.

At each stage of creation, different parties get involved, and different levels of approval are needed. Having these clearly established in the planner facilitates accountability and clarity.

Part of this is also about tracking. With a content planner you should be able to see, at a glance, exactly where in the process a piece of content is.

There are additional features that help as your workflow becomes more complex. For example, some content calendars allow you to link related content or campaigns, helping you to maximize the value of each content piece.

Let’s take a look at the different content planning tools on offer.

Content planning tools

  1. ContentCal
  2. ContentCal Content Calendar Template
  3. Asana
  4. Notion
  5. Trello
  6. Google Sheets
  7. Google Calendar
  8. CoSchedule
  9. Wrike
  10. Hubspot Planning Template
  11. Basecamp
  12. Airtable
  13. Monday.com
  14. Smartsheet

1. ContentCal

What is it?

ContentCal is a simple-to-use visual tool for content creation and publishing. Contentcal is essentiall a social media marketing calendar.

How does it work?

ContentCal makes planning content with teams simple. Custom approvals give control over content going out across your organization.

Product tour

With ContentCal, color coordination helps your team can gain quick insight into all your upcoming content.

VisualCalendar2B

All content, including relevant media and briefs, is kept together in the Content Hub. Here you can see Post Previews and work on draft posts. You can filter and search content, making it even easier to manage:

ContentHub

Teams can work together and collaborate on a piece of content, including pushing the content through relevant approvals. Scheduling and publishing deadlines are clear to anyone given access to the calendar.

CategoryTags2

2. ContentCal Content Calendar Template

What is it?

ContentCal has a free content calendar template that you can download easily.

How does it work?

This is an Excel sheet designed to make populating a content calendar really simple. Just follow the simple instructions to add different content types to the calendar.

Product tour

If you’re new to creating a content plan, this is a great place to start.

Download your content calendar template

Get started by answering four simple questions:

  1. What are your content objectives for 2020?
  2. What are the 5 main channels you use to post content?
  3. What different types of content do you post?
  4. How many times do you expect to post each content type / month

content calendar template 2020 screenshot 1

This feeds through to some of the boxes on the top right. These, in turn, populate the calendar with the relevant color coding. It’s then easy for you to see what needs to be put in the calendar:

content calendar template 2020 screenshot 2

You continue populating the calendar this way, until the cells go green. This tells you that you’ve planned against your content quota:

content calendar template 2020 screenshot 3

You can also follow these full instructions about how to use thel free template.

3. Asana

What is Asana?

Asana is an app that helps teams organize, track and manage their work. You can also create a content calendar within Asana.

How does it work?

You can choose to use their template, or import an existing spreadsheet. You can then make changes and it feeds through to create deadlines.

Product tour

The basic concept of Asana is ‘drag and drop’. You can see everything in a calendar format.

asana screenshot 1

You can make various types of content conform to fixed templates.

Asana screenshot 2

It’s possible to create a brief for each piece of content within the app.

asana screenshot 3

It’s also possible to push the content through the approvals process, tracking things as you go.

asana screenshot 4

With Asana you can see where delays in approvals or other outstanding actions may be causing blockers to meet your deadlines.

Asana screenshot 5

4. Notion

What is it?

Notion is a collaboration app, designed to help teams manage projects and tasks.

How does it work?

This is a paid platform that you subscribe to, and then use the content calendar to organize your teams.

Product tour

With Notion, you do pretty much all the populating, but you can then automatically view your plan with different views: a calendar, a sheet, or a kanban board (like Trello).

That makes it a powerful productivity and collaboration tool. It’s also surprisingly easy to use.

Notion screenshot 1

Using the All Posts feature, you can see which pieces of content need action. You can store images against the relevant content, keeping everything in one place.

notion screenshot 2

Within individual pieces, you can manage which channels, captions and hashtags you want to use. You can also edit the post date and add any extra custom fields to the card.

However, unlike ContentCal, you can’t yet post directly from Notion to your accounts.

notion screenshot 3

5. Trello

What is it?

Trello is another leading team and project collaboration tool.

How does it work?

Trello works by organizing different work projects into individual boards. You can then see what your team are working on, who is responsible for what, and how close to completion different projects are.

Product tour

Trello uses a Kanban-style dashboard with each card representing a different piece of content, and each column showing a different stage of the creation, publishing and promotion process.

Trello screenshot 1

In this example, the ‘Information’ column contains things that everyone needs to see at a glance. For example, here they have included blog writing guidelines:

trello screenshot 2

In ‘Incoming’, team members can put ideas and concepts. Effectively it’s the content pipeline.

trello screenshot 3

‘Forming’ is where ideas get put on ice. It’s for when ideas need expanding, more research, or they’re waiting for a date to be assigned to them.

trello screenshot 4

At the ‘Writing’ stage, you’ve got the blog title, the deadline and the color-coded content categories it falls under.

trello screenshot 5

After that the content moves on to two editing stages.

trello screenshot 6

All the while, it’s possible to see where changes are made. Trello tracks everything you do.

Trello screenshot 7

When the content is approved and ready to be uploaded it goes into the imaginatively named ‘Ready to Upload’ column.

trello screenshot 8

Then, when the post is scheduled to go out, it moves to the ‘Scheduled’ column. You can’t schedule posts to go out directly through Trello, so it’s important to include this final step.

trello screenshot 9

6. Google Sheets

What is it?

Part of Google’s suite of productivity and collaboration tools, Google Sheets allows you to share and work on spreadsheets with others. All you need is a Google account and access to the internet.

How does it work?

Google Sheets is cloud-based, and allows you to use the same spreadsheet functionality you find in Microsoft’s Excel software to create a simple (or more complicated) calendar.

Product tour

Different people and businesses use Google Sheets as a content planning tool in a range of different ways. First of all, it’s important to create the calendar framework. You’ll save a lot of time by using the framework created by Megan Minns.

google sheets screenshot 1

You can populate the calendar with key information. For example, events that occur throughout the year:

google sheets screenshot 2

You’ll then create content topics, relevant to each social media channel.

google sheets screenshot 3

From here, you can set up rules to create workflows.

7. Google Calendar

What is it?

Google Calendar is a familiar app many people already use for time management. It’s also a good place to host a very basic content calendar.

How does it work?

It’s possible to link calendars with others in the team, so that you can see what’s happening and when. To use it fully as a content planner, it helps to import a Google Sheet into the Calendar.

Product tour

Within Google Calendar, you add a New Calendar and complete all the relevant sections:

google calendar screenshot 1

Then import the CSV or XLS file from the same menu. Select the new calendar to add this file to. Here’s a video that shows how all of that works:

You can then import everything from the spreadsheet into the calendar. From this point, you can fill the calendar with content tasks for the coming quarter, six months or year. Using the calendar functions, you can set up content as a recurring event:

google calendar screenshot 2

You’ve now got a good framework for content planning. Now it’s time to move on to actually creating the content. If you want to assign the task to someone else, you’ll need to add them as a guest to the event.

google calendar screenshot 3

8. CoSchedule

What is it?

CoSchedule is a collection of marketing tools, designed for planning and posting to your different accounts.

How does it work?

The editorial calendar is designed specifically as a content planning tool.

Product tour

Like ContentCal, there is a clear calendar view that your whole team will understand. As you can see, color coding makes it easy to interpret exactly what’s happening at a glance.

CoSchedule screenshot 1

You can switch social media posts on and off within the calendar view too:

CoSchedule screenshot 2

You can also set who the overall ‘manager’ for the calendar is, or who owns specific tasks.

CoSchedule screenshot 3

9. Wrike

What is it?

Wrike is project management software aimed at making it easier for teams to work together across projects.

How does it work?

As part of its project management functionality, it can be used as an editorial calendar.

Product tour

You start by creating a dedicated editorial calendar within the platform.

Wrike screenshot 1

The tabs are self-explanatory. For example, Wrike can be used as a central space for storing content ideas.

Wrike screenshot 2

A shared dashboard gives visibility to everyone in the content creation team.

Wrike screenshot 3

Using widgets, you can organize content to be created by date:

Wrike screenshot 4

From here, it’s a simple case of scheduling and publishing each piece of content.

10. HubSpot Planning Template

What is it?

The HubSpot Planning Template is a simple template for brainstorming content, which then feeds through to a basic calendar.

How does it work?

It’s pretty simple. You download the template and complete the template. From there you populate the calendar.

Product tour

The first step is to assess what you want to achieve from your content or campaign. Add your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the diagram. These will help you identify the overall direction you should be heading in.

Hubspot screenshot 1

You then populate a very simple calendar, so that you can see what is happening, and when.

Hubspot screenshot 2

11. Basecamp

What is it?

Basecamp is a project management and team communication tool. It’s typically used by developers, but actually comes in handy when you’re putting together your own content campaigns.

How does it work?

Within Basecamp you will need to ‘Subscribe with Google Calendar’ to create the content calendar.

Product tour

Once you have subscribed with Google Calendar, you can fill in content tasks using color coordination to make them easier to view:

basecamp screenshot 1

12. Airtable

What is it?

Airtable is cloud-base collaboration software. Think halfway between Google Sheets, Trello, and Zapier.

How does it work?

Airtable, like Notion, is a pretty versatile platform. It works a content planning tool, and is a winner if you’ve got lots of data you want your planner to crunch.

This one is for the SEO people.

Product tour

Like all the other tools, you can see what’s going on with existing content. Here’s an example of how web design agency Avoca uses the tool:

Airtable screenshot 1

It’s really helpful to add a level of detail to each content type which doesn’t clutter or overwhelm the planner. Instead you can hide these fields, and call on them whenever you need them.

You’re also able to do some Excel-like functions, including create pivot tables, sort, filter and dedupe data.

If you’ve got a strong technical grasp and plan to create a more demanding content planner, this could be the tool for you.

airtable screenshot 2

13. Monday.com

What is it?

Monday is a team collaboration and project management tool that’s pretty fun to use.

How does it work?

Monday’s project management features work well as a content planner.

Product tour

Within the ‘Marketing’ part of Monday’s product, there’s a pre-built content calendar:

monday.com screenshot 1

This looks quite basic, but it aligns well with the rest of your marketing projects and has some Airtable-like features too for advanced users.

Monday.com screenshot 2

Tasks can be assigned to different members of your team, and your team update these as they go.

Monday.com screenshot 3

14. Smartsheet

What is it?

Smartsheet offers interactive and shareable templates that make remote working easier.

How does it work?

There’s a dedicated content calendar planner within Smartsheet that can be used for mapping out content.

Product tour

Able to store images, assign tasks, and more, it works similarly to many to the ‘next-level’ spreadsheet-based content calendars, like Notion, Airtable, and Monday.

Smartsheet screenshot 1

Summary

Content planning tools make it easier to collaborate on content campaigns. If you’re planning a campaign with any degree of complexity, you’d be wise to tackle your tasks with a tool like these.

While social media toolstools like ContentCal and CoSchedule allow you to post directly to your accounts, other tools like Monday or Basecamp may fit better with company’s project management set up. Or if you’re just getting started, you might want to try a free template or re-engineer simple content calendar tools like Google Calendar to manage your content.

The choice is yours. Just don’t say there aren’t many options out there!


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