Why Content Calendars Are Dangerous

by | Jan 11, 2016 | 0 comments

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This is a blog for those looking at agile specifically in the fields of marketing, advertising and communications, so if you’re not interested in those fields, I’d probably skip on to something else now.

However, if you’ve arrived at this blog with an interest in agile or content marketing, then really do read on.

In the world of social media or content marketing, content calendars are generally seen as a good thing. A few years ago when I took on responsibility for social media content at a major corporate, the very first thing I did was institute a content calendar. It was simple, just an Excel spreadsheet, but it in theory gave us a view of what content was being or had been published when. We also included performance data into it, so it gave us a single view of what content worked and what content didn’t. All good and agile in many ways. However, it caused a number of problems for our agility that I think are well worth bearing in mind.

The first is best summed up by the saying that ‘if all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. If all you’ve got is a content calendar, then you start looking at content in terms of dates. So if you’ve got some big gaps in your content calendar, you look to fill them with content, whether you’ve got something to say or not. Generally you haven’t, which is why you’ve got the gap in the first place, so you end up dropping the quality of your output just to avoid having a gap. A gap you wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t have had the content calendar. Agile is all about driving up quality, and being a slave to the gaps in a content calendar generally doesn’t do anything for the quality of output.

Another side effect of seeing your content in terms of dates, is that you start looking at your content calendar like it’s a normal calendar like the one you get around christmas every year. You start adding in dates to it like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween. If you fancy yourself as an international brand, you may even add in other dates, like Thanksgiving, Australia Day or Bonfire Night. Once you’ve added all these dates to your calendar, you then start to try to find content for them, a message your brand can share on each of those days. This ends up in a phenomenon I call ‘Happy Everything Day’, where for any given day in any country’s calendar, you end up posting some content wishing people a happy version of that day. No actual content, nothing of use to the people reading it, just a message saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’, ‘Happy Australia Day’, ‘Happy Bonfire Night’ and so on and so forth. Agile is all about delivering the things with the highest value to the business and / or the customer, and throwaway ‘Happy Everything Day’ messages deliver value to neither.

Finally, content calendars have another really big risk for agile. Once you start setting out your content in advance, you start setting plans. Once you start setting plans, you risk always trying to stick to those plans, and ignoring the part of the agile manifesto that says you should value:

Responding to change over following a plan

Not only this, but if you start sharing your content calendar far and wide, you risk becoming accountable for that plan, with people criticising you if you don’t stick to it, meaning you before ever more wedded to the plan rather than responding to change.

This is not to say content calendars can’t be useful tools. Used correctly they certainly have value, but to do this you need to remember three important facts about them:

First, you prioritise quality content over filling gaps in the calendar. Sometimes silence is golden.

Second, you’re planning content into a calendar, a calendar is not planning content into you.

Third, your content calendar is only a serving suggestion. Changing it, ignoring it or filling it in retrospectively are all perfectly valid things to do.

In short, in an agile approach to content and social media, your calendar serves you, you don’t serve it.

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About The Author

Gez Smith is an agile communications coach, trainer, author and speaker, and is also the author of ‘Agile Marketing: The Incomplete Guide‘.