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How to setup and develop a content calendar for public services

I recently got asked about how to create a content calendar on the back on one of my status updates on my Facebook page by the lovely local government comms specialist, @davidgrindlay, whom I met while at @cal444′s legendary #localgov #epicdinnerparty up in Scotland.

As the question was quite a big one, I’ve decided to create a blog post to address it. I’m no content expert, but this is what I found out based on experience and research into the topic.  After extensive research, the big questions when it comes to creating a content calendar that I’ve found were

      • What to post
      • When to post it
      • Who will create it

But before I go on, I would like to stress that an effective content calendar is not about when to WRITE the content, but instead, it’s about when to POST the content.

FREE Content Calendar Template

Here is the FREE content calendar template that I’ve mashed up from other different types of content calendars out there, to form one that is focused to help public services manage and plan their content.

Content calendar template

Getting back to the basics, hardcore thinking – brain power neededPhil-Rumens-Quote

It’s important to talk about integrating the content calendar within the wider digital strategy of your organisation.  As devolved publishing model becomes more and more prevalent within organisations such as government, higher educational institutes and big corporations, it’s never been more important for publishers from each corner of every organisation to really grasp the opportunity to leverage their content and brands.

Things to consider before implementing a content strategy: -

  • Who is your audience? Determine your audience by creating personas of your target audience. Are they a single mum with a disabled child? Are they an elderly couple that are not getting access to your service because of their inability to travel to you? Are they a tech-savvy daughter of an elderly parent needing more information about how to care for them? Are they young adults needing help to get a job? Get at least 3 types of personas that might fit your target audience and this will help shape your content and your strategy around distributing the content.
  • What is your content? What are your weekly themes & monthly themes? You might already have a local government campaign calendar for the whole of 2013, like National Adoption Week/Day, school placement dates, recycling and rubbish dates for your local area and so on. So you would probably already have a rough idea of what your weekly or monthly themes are.  It’s always a good idea to gather your team members and plan out the content according to those weekly/monthly themes. Consider also looking out for holidays such as Christmas and Halloween, so you can design those themes around the content you already had planned for those months.
  • Determine the type of content you have to reach your target audience. Here are some example to start you off.
      • Questions from citizens
      • Long tail search question
      • New services
      • Awards
      • Local events
      • Partner / Third sector activities or shoutout.
  • How are you curating your content? Where are you looking for content? Are you looking at partner websites, charitable websites working with your council i.e. for Falkirk Council, you may want to check out The Falkirk Community Trust website for short burst type of content to post on your twitter feed. If you look on this page, they’ve planned their events months into the future. Therefore you can also schedule your tweets way in advance using scheduling tools such as Hootsuite, Buffer and so on.  What about regular recurring events at Falkirk?  You can schedule those too. It can be scheduled on the day of the activity is being held way in advance, to encourage people to use the service later on in the day. It can act as a reminder using Twitter, emails, Facebook pages and so on.
  • How much content do you want to produce? Determine the amount of content you want to push out on a daily basis or a target number for weekly or monthly outputs. This helps to cap the amount of time you’re putting into your content. You should never try to do more than you can physically produce. They key is to be consistent and produce content that has a purpose.
  • What is the CTA (Call-to-action)? What do you want the target audience to do after seeing your content? Is it to do a transaction? Is it to attend an event? Is it to pass along the information to their friends? Each piece of content must be seen as something of value, and therefore has a purpose. You must create a call-to-action that is easily visible and simple to execute. A good CTA converts results and gives you your ROI.
  • What are your distribution channels? Determine the channels you are or want to use: -
  • Blog
  • email list
  • podcast
  • press releases
  • social media
  • guest blogger/author
  • speaking
  • What is your formatting strategy?  Here are some ideas on types of contents that you can use: -
  1. social broadcasts
  2. tutorial (how to)
  3. get an interview
  4. debunk a myth or address a false rumour
  5. take a controversial stance
  6. case study of one of your victories
  7. comprehensive list
  8. red flags – warnings
  9. crowd sourced question
  10. roundup
  11. book review
  12. infographic
  13. video
  14. industry report
  15. curated rankings/scores
  16. google map mashup
  • What are the keywords, hashtags? You must optimize your content using SEO and find out what are the hashtags being used on social networks like Twitter and Facebook (Facebook also has hashtags now). Make sure it is a targeted hashtag with an existing audience.
  • Determine what technology/software you’re using to schedule or plan your content publishing. Define and fill your schedule. What can you automate? While there are a number of excellent project management tools available, here are a few that focus specifically on developing an editorial calendar that you might want to try:
  • What time is the optimum time? Look at insights (for facebook) or have a look at this infographic  (that shows the optimum time and gives tips on how to post updates) and this  article on best time to post.

optimumtimetopost

  • Determine who will execute each publishing activity. You must determine who will do what and when. Without giving out roles and responsibilities, it’s difficult to assign ownership to a task. Suggest having weekly or monthly editorial meetings to ensure that each task is executed on time.
  • What softwares/wordpress plugins are available to manage your content calendar? You might find that it’s easier to use a tool or program to create a calendar instead of starting from scratch with a spreadsheet. If you use WordPress for your blog, for example, there is an editorial calendar plugin. However, though free and easy to use, the WordPress plugin does have limitations if you work in a collaborative environment, or if you work mainly with other types of content. WordPress users can also check out the open-source Edit Flow.
  • Newsletter. Don’t forget to include your newsletter or email marketing into your content strategy! Add links to campaigns on social networks, polls and summary of content to your email marketing efforts to ensure you leverage every opportunity available to you.
  • KPIs /Metrics. It’s important to measure your content performance so you can make tweaks and improvements to them in the future.

The challenge

You might find that the initially it’s quite tough to follow a schedule. The key is to be flexible but disciplined. If something is taking far way more time than it’s worth, then tweak it. You can either change the format of the content or change the channel, especially if a surprise opportunity on another channel represents itself  – like getting an invite to speak at an event to talk about the content. The strategy might change slightly from creating a useful infographic to writing a short blog post/article notifying people about the event where you’re speaking and including a survey / poll to ask what questions would people like to be answered or presented at the event. If you’ve noticed, the goal here is to engage with content – no matter what vehicle, format or channel you’re using. The end goal is your message. Is it reaching your audience and simple enough to understand?

A few creative ideas

Design a creative campaign calendar for content publishers so they can plan content for the year!

Here is an example of a visual distribution channel calendar that you can create to help you keep organised

Here’s a useful infographic on how to produce good content

nohypeguidetocontentcreation1

I hope this was useful.

@Liz_Azyan

About Liz Azyan

Liz is a CREATIVE digital professional dedicated to helping individuals, governments and businesses realize their digital goals. She offers digital consultancy services on her website LizAzyan.com Liz is also a Google Fellowship Recipient (individuals selected based on their work and initiative in the arenas of technology, politics and social entrepreneurship), an invited expert panel on the Guardian’s Public Leader Network and has spoken at many public events and conferences on the subject of digital engagement.

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