Content Calendar Planning Like A Pro

I’ve been delivering a training session to small businesses a lot recently across Northern Ireland and every time I do it, guaranteed, the bit that gets the most attention and scribbling of pens on notepads is the Content Calendar section.

Why is this so popular?

Well, because everyone wants to know how to make one. What to put in it, how often to post on social media, what to blog about and just generic inspiration for good content relevant to their business.

When content is your day job (like me) this can seem so straight-forward it’s borderline-boring. But when you’ve worked with a lot of businesses (again, like me) you soon realise that modern digital branded content is something we have learned to do.

In reality, it’s as natural as my hair colour.

So of course, small companies managing their own content will want a helping hand to get into the swing of it.

And everyone is desperate to avoid the “I don’t know what to post!” panic of social media marketing

(By the way, the entire training session is a condensed version of Chapter 8 of my paperback book - now £9.99 on Amazon!)

So when I sat down this month, like many of my Social Media or Digital Marketing peers, to plan ahead on a content calendar* for my own eCommerce client, I thought I’d be especially nice and share it here for any other small businesses, solopreneurs, or startups who need to think up ideas for their own branded content online.

*I tend to attack such calendars in 3 to 6 month ahead chunks, hence why this one is June-December 2016…


Content Calendar Planning

Step one involves creating a basic calendar (months across the top, dates/days down the side) and filling it with every type of National Day, Holiday and retail indicator you can find. As well as the usual new stock lines, SS/AW fashion shows and generic themes like “Back To School,” my favourite sources for inspiration include:

There is also inspiration to be found on Pinterest for this kind of planning, where companies create great infographics like this one from Marketing Savant:

And this one:

By going through these lists, I can pull out what content themes might be relevant to an online store, particularly one that operates globally (e.g. Mother’s Day has a different calendar date in the UK versus the US/AUS/NZ).

Of course, not everything will be relevant to your shop. And some things might only be loosely related. But we can still work with those. Because it’s good to get involved in topics and hashtags that your customers will already be talking about online.

This is called “newsjacking” and, as long as it’s not too obscure or, cardinal-sin-offensive (we’re looking at you Homebase!) then it can make your customers feel that you ‘get them’, that you’re part of their world and their thinking.

It also increases your exposure to be involved in wide-reaching hashtag discussions or by creating content people might want to share themselves.

I’ve put a few examples below of how I make generic content themes relevant for my client, Utility Bear. They are a global eTailer selling designer underwear, loungewear and accessories. They operate an eCommerce website, branded blog and 4 main social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. The brand and online store will be one year old in June this year!

There’s only so much one can say about boxers and bras to be fair. So I always encourage audience members at my training talks - don’t worry that your business is “boring” - it’s about constructing the personality and conversations around your corporate news and your Calls To Action (that’s the outright-sales-bit!)

This comes with practice, as it’s about training your brain to find the links between content topics and your products/services. Building out from the central idea like a mind map spiderweb.

For example, June 2016 is Candy Month.

Utility Bear doesn’t sell sweets. Or anything remotely edible.

But, being Spring Summer season, we may have a lot of candy-coloured items that I could montage and link to. Just like we did when the 2016 Grammy Awards saw the red carpet flooded with brightly coloured gowns.

I use a free programme like Canva to upload our own imagery and logos, use their formatted size templates and overlay text fonts to create free social imagery like this:

It might seem a loose connection. It might look like it couldn’t possibly work to sell underwear.

And yet it remains one of our most popular Instagram posts. Ever.


Content Marketing Inspiration

Given the above, a draft content calendar for an online retailer could start off looking like this:

P.S. You can download this as an Excel spreadsheet and add to/amend for yourself here: Draft Content Calendar 2016 June-Dec

The next step is to decide what topics will make it into full blog posts and what will remain only as social media content.

Some items are short and sweet - ideal for small posts across your social channels, and nothing more.

Steve Jobs Day is a great example of this, for anyone promoting an app or the fact that their website is optimised to work well on Smartphones - his iPhone being the first one that revolutionised how we shop forever, using just our fingertips!

You could use a free website like to insert a picture of your website onto stock images of tablets or smartphones to show it off:

Going one step further then, you could take that image, put it into Canva, add your logo and a snappy headline and post it using the hashtag #SteveJobsDay

Adding a discount code for the day will make your Call To Action even more impactful if you choose to.

There are also great ideas to be found for using content to take customers behind the logo, getting to know you and your team.

Remember people want to do business with other people, so each week it’s good to take followers behind the scenes.

Bring Your Dog To Work Day, Hug Your Boss Day and Ugly Christmas Sweater Day are all good reminders of how easy it would be to take a quick snap on your phone and upload it, giving customers a feel for the passionate people behind your brand:

Ugly Xmas Sweater Day at the labs with NexusBrain!

Inbound Marketing Content Ideas

Some of the ideas you’ll come across, despite being listed only as National Days of Observation, could make for really good blog posts within which you could include images of products and links to buy.

Gift Guides are the obvious one you will plan for such as Father’s Day in June for example, or like this one I did for Mother’s Day.

But you could also do less obvious articles, such as a swimwear guide in the run-up to the Rio Olympics in August. Or what about Tie Month in December? You could make a list of classic accessories that are making a comeback!

Even something as obscure as “Button Day” in November could provide content inspiration. You might want to focus on the quality and craftsmanship of products, getting up close and personal with the details and finishing touches. This works particularly well if you produce what you sell yourself.

Or if your site stocks shoes, then Wiggle Your Toes Day is a great opportunity to talk about the importance of properly-fitted shoes and the problems you can cause your feet by wearing ill-fitting footwear.

The possibilities are endless…

There’s a day dedicated to mourning Lost Socks so we blogged about it!


Inbound PR

Within the blank spaces of the Content Calendar we have room to include more corporate news.

These content posts are borne from the type of stories you might create a press release for, i.e. your more traditional business news. Elements such as new business contracts, new staff members, new stock or product lines, appearing at a trade show/exhibition or doing something for charity.

You should be able to plan many of those dates in advance and slot them in to your calendar.

After you’ve decided which ideas work best for your business, be it social media posts or blog articles, then added any corporate news and seasonal gift guides you’ve created, you’ll soon find your calendar is filling up with few blank spaces left to fill!


Spontaneous Social Media

Of course, I’d advise not sticking to the calendar too religiously.

If something great comes up while you’re going about your day, talk about it! Perhaps a great snapshot of media coverage you managed to get, maybe you won an award, or it’s simply a sunny day and the staff go out for a picnic lunch; all of these spontaneous things are good too, and you should train yourself to grab those opportunities.

Learning to do this will help you start to think like us, social and digital managers, who are always on the lookout for great content within the normal working environment.

If you’re not quite confident enough yet, there’s lots of great “31 Day” challenges online to give you social media inspiration in advance, but help you look more spontaneous and personable as you grow your brand voice online (again, Pinterest is a great place to find these exercises - I store them all on my Digital PR pin board!)

Like this one:

And this one:

And this one is good, too:

So hopefully this post has shown you a glimpse behind the Social Media Manager’s not-so-iron-curtain, and given you some tips and inspiration for creating quality branded content across your own channels as you grow your eCommerce business.

If you try it, do let me know how it goes - and share any tips I’ve missed!