My sixth-grade homeroom teacher stood over my desk.
“Daniel, you didn’t get your agenda signed again.” Sigh. “Minus five points. You know this is worth five percent of your grade, right?” The question of incredulity quickly following the sigh of disappointment.
Of course, what she did not seem to understand was my view. It was worth only five percent of a grade that did not matter. Harvard was not going to be checking my sixth-grade report card to see how I did. So what was the point of filling out the agenda every single day and getting it signed by my parents over the weekend? It was not like there was never enough time to finish assignments in class.
It turns out there was a very important lesson my teacher was trying to teach me: it is better to be organized than not. It would be years before I fully recognized the simple beauty of this teaching. Cleanliness might be next to godliness, but being organized is sublime.
Any parent can attest to this deeply rooted truth. It is much easier to get the kids ready for school and out the door when you pack their lunches and lay out their clothes the night before. A little time and effort expended in preparation and planning goes a long way for things to run smoothly in the future.
Creating or finding a content calendar is to social media what preparing the night before is to getting your kids up and ready in the morning. It does not matter if you have a communications department or you are the lone cowboy trying to run the rodeo. Being organized eliminates headaches, reduces stress, orients your work toward goals, and helps you be consistent. A content calendar is a terrific way to stay organized when it comes to communicating, especially through social media.
Top Reasons to Have a Social Media Content Calendar
Never Miss Important Dates
It is Friday at 4 p.m. and you realize Ash Wednesday is next week and you scramble to quickly throw a post or photo together to advertise service times. You make a mental note for Monday to work on getting some posts up about the theme you will be using for the midweek services, but you promptly forget about it as the weekend begins.
There are certain days and seasons that are more important to some people than to others. A crucial component of a content calendar is that it contains these dates. I mean, what would a calendar be without dates?
A content calendar helps you plan ahead and avoid scrambling.
You wake up Taco Tuesday morning excited because, well, tacos. Then you realize it is also #Twitter Tuesday. But you do not have a post ready to go. Do you:
- quickly make a video on your phone with a devotional point;
- create a sweet Bible verse graphic on Canva to share;
- check a couple of LCMS organizations’ Twitter feeds to see if there is something to share;
- or remind your mostly millennial and younger audience about the 65+-year-old church league bowling night happening Thursday because your overly competitive grandma texted you to see if you wanted to come watch her roll?
Calendars are inherently organized, so a content calendar begets efficiency. When you plan content, you know when you are re-sharing or reusing an old (but still relevant) blog post (or another “evergreen” item), publishing new content, cross-posting an item shared on another platform, or sharing another organization’s post. This saves time and effort in the future.
Getting and staying organized gives you consistency. Not just for the big dates, but also for all the days in between. A content calendar lets you know what you are publishing, where you are publishing it (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), and when it is being published.
The truth is that while many people have multiple social media accounts, there are only one or two they primarily use. Having your content organized helps you keep on track in posting to the various social media accounts the church has. In effect, you can avoid being over-reliant on one platform at the expense of ignoring the others.
Work Together Easily
There is only one topic about which the Bible says it is good to have your left and right hands not know what the other is doing. Communication is not it. If you are lucky enough to have a few staff or volunteers helping you out with social media management, a content calendar can serve as the single source of what, when, and by whom something is to be published. In my admittedly limited experience, I have never found somebody to be overjoyed by putting a lot of work into something only to find that it was not needed.
It is easiest to use a content calendar when it is in a place designed to promote collaboration, like Google Calendar, Google Sheets, or an Excel spreadsheet in Dropbox. This way, everybody can see what everybody else is doing and can even share ideas. This also means that something will not get dropped because somebody is on vacation.
Discover and Track More Successful Posts
It seems like every other Facebook post we share on my church’s page gets us a notification encouraging us to pay to boost the post because “it is outperforming 85% of your other posts!” Which, by my calculations, means we should be getting one or two million impressions, not hundreds or thousands.
Scheduling some time to review posts and keep track of numbers will help you find what type of content resonates the most and the better times to publish content on your various platforms instead of relying on arbitrary metrics you don’t know how to work.
Creating Your Social Media Content Calendar
When brainstorming some blog ideas, Peter Frank and I discussed the potential of creating a content calendar template. However, it quickly became apparent that there are just too many variables for us to create an effective content calendar for you. From the number of people doing the work to the frequency of posts, all the different social media accounts to the effort and equipment involved, there were too many variables. Just a quick search engine query will bring up all sorts of different templates from the complex to the simple. But you will still need to customize them to your context. Instead, it is better for us here to discuss some principles behind an effective calendar.
Define Your Target Audience
Facebook users tend to skew older than the general population and Twitter younger. YouTube is more male dominated, while women own (or pwn in the young-people language) Pinterest. Nobody but Yahoo! stockholders log into MySpace anymore, and Reddit is a black hole you never want to enter, ever.
Figure out who your target audience is and how to best reach them. What platforms do you want to put effort into or are you already on? Who is the primary target of each post—members, non-members, or inactive members? If you’re promoting an event that is gender-specific, which social media platforms should you use?
These and other questions will help you plan and create more effective social media posts and will give guidance to your overall strategy.
Research Resonating Content
You want to create a video, but what types of videos get watched and shared the most? What were the top ten most engaged posts on your church’s Facebook account last year and what did they have in common? Which posts get the most shares or favorites?
Knowing the answers to these and related questions will go a long way in figuring out what posts and content are the most effective. This will leave you more time to work on posts that will have a higher return and not waste effort on posts that frequently get little to no engagement. Time is finite; do not waste it.
Map Out Major Events
When you start to put your calendar together, make sure to not miss the forest by focusing on the trees. You know Christmas is December 25, but what day of the week is that going to fall on? It is kind of important and it could alter that week’s posting schedule. You need to know when your major events are happening because it will also mean you will want to start alerting or directing people to them. Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, mission month, stewardship month, etc. You might even include some lighter ones, like National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, or National Ice Cream Day.
Think of these days as the poles to the tent. They will give your calendar a framework to build around. You and I know that Lent and Advent are busy times of the year for churches. That might mean reducing the number of posts during those times to ease workloads or saving your best content for times when you see higher engagement rates.
Fill Out and Assign
Once the major tent poles are in place, it is time to flesh out the rest of the calendar. This is also an exciting time to start assigning who is doing what and brainstorming ideas for new content.
Keep in mind that content calendars are not static. While you could put together a calendar that encompasses the whole year, it is more likely (and much easier) to plan one to six months in the future. This means you will need to continually add on to the calendar. Setting aside some time to meet and brainstorm with church workers or volunteers will be crucial in maintaining the calendar moving forward.
A Couple Final Tricks
Assign each platform a different color on your content calendar. This makes it easier to keep track of what is being posted to where with a quick visual scan. It also helps you see how your platform posting breaks down, like if you are posting more heavily on one platform.
Not all social media platforms let you schedule when a post will go live, but some do. Use that to your advantage. For platforms that allow you to schedule, set a due-date deadline at least a few days before the publishing deadline. This will help with consistency and reducing stress.
One possible way to do this is to check out third-party publishing programs that allow you to schedule a post regardless of the social media platform. But make sure to do your research. Some platforms (like Facebook) punish third-party published posts by limiting their visibility.
As you use all these tips to start creating a content calendar, just remember to adjust the calendar however is necessary to make it work for your church. The idea of putting together your first content calendar might seem daunting. But once you have one, you will never want to go back!
Hear more from Daniel about content calendars and how he uses one at his church.
Thursday, April 26 at 11:30 a.m. (CT) on Facebook