There are as many ways to create a content marketing plan as there are content marketers. That said, there are some standard components that most content marketers include in their strategies.
In today’s post, I’m going to outline a basic framework you can use to create your own content plan for 2014. This framework will cover everything from defining your content vision and the purpose of your content, all the way to disseminating and promoting your content.
Keep in mind that the purpose of a content plan isn’t to set out hard and fast rules for how and when you must create your content. The goal of a content plan is simply to give you some general direction and purpose, and to alleviate the stress and uncertainty that can come when you don’t have a plan.
Use this framework and make it your own: for instance, if you don’t feel like specifying exactly what types of content you’re going to produce, that’s ok. Use it as you like, to achieve the level of structure and planning that you feel comfortable with.
Step 1: Define the Purpose of Your Content
Before you even begin coming up with a content plan or marketing strategy, it’s imperative that you can clearly articulate the purpose of your content. Depending on your business goals, your industry and your product or service, the purpose of your content may vary significantly.
For instance, if you run a content-based website that relies on advertising as its main source of revenue, your content has a very clear and obvious purpose: to generate as many page views as possible. If, on the other hand, you run an e-commerce site, the main purpose of your content will be to sell your products.
Take a few minutes before you start working on your plan to understand exactly what you hope your content will accomplish. This will give you an overall goal you can continually come back to as you create your plan, and measure its success.
Step 2: Figure Out Who Your Target Audience Is
Now that you’ve defined the purpose of your content, it’s time to figure out exactly who you’re creating all this content for. Hopefully you already have a clear understanding of who your target market is, as this is who you’ll be writing for.
It’s at this point that you’ll also want to figure out if you’d like to make use of segmentation in your content plan. There are ways you can segment your website visitors, email subscribers and social media followers so that you can offer unique and highly relevant content to each group. If this is something you’d like to implement, be sure to include each of these groups in your content plan.
Step 3: Decide What Types of Content You Will Make Use Of
There are no hard and fast rules for what type of content you’ll need to produce. It will all come down to what types of content you prefer, what types of content your audience prefers, and what types of content are most fitting for the topics you’ll be covering.
The main types of content you’ll want to choose from include:
- Blog posts
- Other website content, articles, etc.
- Social media posts
There are many smaller subsets of content types you may want to choose from; for instance, if you decide to use video as part of your content plan, will you use them for tutorials, white boards, commercials, or something else entirely?
Step 4: Decide What Topics You Will Cover
Now that you have an understanding of why you’re creating content and what types of content you’ll produce, it’s time to decide exactly what topics you’re going to cover. This will be a necessary step in order to be able to create your editorial calendar.
Some strategies you can use to mine for ideas for topics and themes include:
- Visit competitors’ websites to see what topics are popular
- Look at your analytics to discover what topics have been popular on your site in the past
- Read visitor comments and questions to see if there are common themes
- Ask your email subscribers and social media followers what topics are of interest to them
- Visit sites like Reddit or Google Trends to find ‘hot’ topics in your niche
Although these strategies will give you some content ideas, you will very likely come up with other ideas as you go along. The important thing is to have a solid idea of general themes; you don’t have to feel like each and every post topic is planned out for the entire year.
You will want to build some flexibility into your content plan so you can address reader questions, current news and trends that emerge over the course of the year.
Step 5: Create a Content Calendar
At this stage, you’ll want to come up with an editorial calendar to plan out exactly how and when you’re going to publish your content. My best advice here is this: don’t overthink it. A content calendar is no different than any other schedule; the point is simply to have a clear picture of the themes you’ll be covering during set periods of time, specific post ideas you’ll be writing about, and exactly when this content will be published and promoted.
When planning your content calendar, some things to be aware of include:
- Holidays: Will you be holding any holiday-related sales or promotions? If so, you’ll likely want to incorporate holiday-themed content around these dates.
- Industry Events: Will you be attending any conferences, tradeshows or industry events in 2014? Plan to write content relevant to these events both leading up to the event, as well as recapping the events afterwards.
- Overarching Themes: Do you want to come up with specific themes that you’ll write about each week, month or quarter? Or do you want to vary the topics of your content randomly throughout the year?
- Do you have any business or blogging milestones coming up in 2014? For instance, if this will be your 5th year of blogging, you may want to create a series of blog posts focused on ‘the best of’ your blog, or on what you’ve learned over the past 5 years.
Many times all you will need at this stage is a simple shared calendar (like Google Calendar) that all your team members can have access to. If you use WordPress, you can also just use a free plugin like Editorial Calendar to plan and schedule your posts. If you have many team members, or anticipate needing more functionality in your content plan, you may want to consider using inexpensive content planning software like DivvyHQ.
A final note here: It’s at this point that you will also decide who is responsible for specific blog posts, social media updates, etc. Be sure to note this on your calendar, and make responsible parties aware of their tasks.
Step 6: Determine How You Will Promote Your Content
Finally, this is the point at which you’ll specify exactly how you will promote your content. This is essentially the ‘marketing’ part of the content strategy. Obviously your social media content will be shared via social media, so your task will largely consist of figuring out how you’ll promote your website or blog content.
The question is: after you hit ‘publish’ on a post, what happens next?
Some promotional methods you may choose to use include:
- Sharing blog posts on social media: Will you promote each and every blog post on every social network? Or certain types of content on certain networks?
- Sharing via email: Will you promote each and every blog post to your email list? Or will you only promote 2 blogs posts per month to your list?
- Guest posting: Will you use any of your posts as guest posts as a way to promote your blog?
- Syndication: Will you syndicate your content using sites like Alltop or Outbrain?
Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to plan how you’re going to track the results of your strategy! Although this goes beyond the scope of this article, it’s critical for determining how effective your content plan is, what changes you need to make, and how you can improve in 2015.
Do you already have a content plan in place for 2014? What framework did you use to lay out your plan? What’s missing from the framework above, in your opinion? Share below!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles