An 8-step guide to social media content planning

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(This article was originally published by Hootsuite Blog. It has been edited for content and style.)

Content planning is the most important factor in the success of any social media strategy. It’s much more than choosing a photo, writing a caption and scheduling it to post. You can have the world’s best social media marketing strategy, but it won’t be successful without proper content planning.

Here’s why that is, and the eight steps anyone can do to plan effective, goal-crushing social media content.

Step 1: Plan themes for your content

Before you can create content, you need to choose the categories you’ll post about. How many topics you have and what they are depends on your unique business, but as an example, Hootsuite posts about:

  • Social media marketing tips
  • Social network updates and best practices
  • Marketing research and statistics, like the free Social Trends 2022 report
  • Social media marketing experiments
  • Product updates and features
  • Company news
  • Product education (tutorials, tips)

This is your content creation roadmap. If a post isn’t about one of the things on your list, you don’t post it. (Or, you rethink your marketing strategy and add a new category for it if it’s merited.)

Step 2: Brainstorm campaign and post ideas

With your topic list in front of you, create! Just… think! Write! Do it!

Write down all the ideas you can think of that meet the following criteria:

  1. It’s about one of the topics on your list.
  2. It’s connected to your marketing goals.

It’s not that simple to “think of ideas,” even for those of us who smash keyboards all day for a living. How you brainstorm is up to you, but here are a few ways to get inspired:

  • Scope out your competition: What are they posting? Can you put your own spin on those ideas?
  • Review the past: What campaigns have been most successful for you before? What elements of those campaigns were most effective? How can you replicate that for your new goal or campaign?

Step 3: Decide when you will post

We’ve got our why and what, now we need the when.

  • Why: Why are you posting this? (What business goal is this content serving?)
  • What: What will you post? (The actual content you brainstormed.)
  • When: When is the best time to post it?

Sometimes, the when is obvious: Holiday content, a product launch, etc. But there’s a lot more to the “when” than the day you’re scheduling it for. You also need to consider your overall posting frequency.

You’ll need to experiment with how often you’re posting every week, how many posts per day and the times of day. And, platforms change their algorithms all the time so what’s working now might not in six months.

Step 4: Decide on your content mix

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel daily. A successful social media and content marketing plan contains a mix of original and curated content. But what should you curate? Where from? How often?

Great curated content is:

  1. Relevant to your audience.
  2. Related to one of your content themes (from Step 1).
  3. Connected to a business goal.

How each piece and type of content fits in with your other social media content is more important than how much of it you share, but a standard content mix is 40% original and 60% curated. Of course, adjust that up or down depending on your preferences and production capacity for your own content.

Some weeks you may share more curated content than others but, on average, stick to your plan. A surefire method for ensuring you don’t overdo it? Share one post, create one post—repeat!

Step 5: Assign responsibilities

It can be easy to lose track of planning content ahead of time and end up in that familiar “Oh, crap, we need posts for tomorrow!” space, right? It’s the planner’s job to ensure the work that needs to get done flows down through to everyone else.

Clear expectations around who’s doing what are essential for content planning. If you’re a lone content manager and don’t have a dedicated social marketing team with writers, designers, customer support and so on, now’s the time to build one.

If you’re on a tight budget, find freelancers to outsource tasks to as you need them so you can control expenses. For in-house and larger teams, you need to plan your planning. It’s redundant and truly true.

So spell it out: Literally put it on your calendar. Assign a planner/strategist to manage the overall content planning process and assign each week or month’s work. Then, assign a designer, writer, project manager, etc. to each client and/or campaign you’re managing.

Step 6: Write post captions

Whenever possible, it’s best to write your social media post content before the campaign goes off to the design team (the next step).

This has a few key benefits:

  • It gives context to the designer so they can work efficiently.
  • They will have a better understanding of the entire campaign’s structure and goals.
  • While writing the posts, you may think of more ideas to add to the campaign to fill gaps.
  • It saves time by allowing copy editing and approvals to happen simultaneously with design, so you can publish it sooner.

Want to write posts really efficiently? Like the first five minutes of every dystopian thriller, place your trust in wholesome artificial intelligence. AI-powered writing tools are out there, and while they can’t totally replace human writers, they can suggest topics, check your grammar, help with SEO and assist with the overall content creation process.

Step 7: Create (or source) design assets

This is often where content plans get bottlenecked. You can think up all these amazing campaigns but without the creative assets that get it noticed, like graphics and videos, you can be stuck in your drafts forever.

But this is exactly why assigning responsibilities is important. Having a dedicated person for each part of the content planning process keeps things moving along and everyone’s on the same page.

Step 8: Schedule content in advance

Last but very un-least, scheduling. I don’t need to tell you scheduling your content ahead of time is important for basic efficiency. But it’s also the one thing that can make or break your entire social media marketing strategy. No pressure.

But really, what’s the point of content planning and following all the steps here if you’re not going to schedule out that content ahead of time in an organized, efficient, strategic way? Exactly.

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