Posting on social media whenever you feel inspired might seem convenient, but if you’re running a business, it’s not going to bring you much success. If you want to attract attention and engagement, you need to post content regularly.
The easiest way to do this without burning out is to create a social media calendar and schedule your posts in advance.
Whether it’s a simple Excel spreadsheet with a few links or a sophisticated dashboard that can contain plans for a dozen social media platforms, the way you structure your calendar is up to your preferences and needs.
In this piece, we outline the steps needed to plan a functional social media calendar. We’ll also show you some real-world examples, and give you a list of our favorite social media calendar tools. We’ve included a free social media calendar template to help you get started in no time.
A social media calendar is a spreadsheet, calendar, or interactive dashboard (if you’re using a social media management platform) used to organize and schedule social media content across multiple platforms ahead of time. It helps social media managers juggle campaigns better and keep track of deadlines.
You can use any platform you want to create your calendar as long as it outlines all your social media content in one place.
Each entry in a social media calendar should consist of some of these elements:
- The exact date and time the post will go live
- The social media platform and account where the post will be published
- The topic of the post
- The goals of the post
- The post’s copy and visual assets (images and videos)
- Links, tags and hashtags to be included in the post
- Sales cycles
- Any additional information
Your social media calendar can include one or several social networks, depending on the scope of your social media strategy.
Picture this: It’s Monday morning. 9 am.
You just started a job as a social media manager in a fast food restaurant, and throughout your onboarding session, your boss continually emphasized the importance of “going viral on social media right now!”
To avoid getting fired on your first day, you log into the company’s Facebook account and spend the next 30 minutes frantically trying to come up with some mind-blowing content to post. Eventually, you figure something out and post it. And suddenly you can breathe better.
Until you realize that you’ll have to repeat this stressful process for their Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, and LinkedIn accounts.
And you have to do this every day.
That’s why social media calendars exist. They simply make your life easier.
Want more reasons to create a social media calendar? Well, here you go!
Reaching your social media marketing goals requires you to spend a ton of time and effort every day trying to come up with great social content ideas, even when you don’t feel inspired. And scribbling potential topics into random notebooks and post-it notes isn’t a fail-safe way to keep track of the social media posts you need to make.
Using a social media content calendar can help you plan and schedule all your social media posts in advance instead of churning them out on the day they’re supposed to go live. This reduces the risk of forgetting to post and ensures that your content is published when your audience is online.
If you work with a team, a shared social content calendar can help everyone keep track of upcoming campaigns and due dates. This allows you to save time on any research needed for potential topics. You’ll know everything you need in order to stay and schedule your content ahead of time so that there won’t be any last-minute scuffle.
The best way to reach as many of your social media followers as possible is to post content consistently. There’s no way around this.
No matter how much your audience likes your content, not posting regularly will lead to an “out of sight, out of mind” situation, which can harm your brand.
Whether you’re trying to increase the number of your Instagram followers, get more YouTube views, or see a boost across different social media KPIs, posting consistently ensures that you’re on your audience’s radar.
The more your target audience sees your posts on their feed, the better they’ll engage with your content. And the more they engage, the platform’s algorithm pushes your content in front of new eyes, so that new (and relevant) people start following your brand.
As your audience grows, your conversions will, too.
Filling your social media content calendar with posts ahead of time allows you to deliver content consistently, without hindrances like inconvenient time zones and slow news weeks.
Apart from helping you reach more people, posting consistently also increases engagement and fosters community because your followers have something to look forward to.
When your audience knows that you deliver relevant and helpful content regularly, they’ll be more inclined to interact with your brand. You’ll also be able to develop a unified voice across all your social networks and solidify your brand in the eyes of your audience.
A social media calendar is the best way to prevent social media crisis like making embarrassing typos or posting the same content across all social channels.
When you plan your posts days (or weeks) in advance, you’ll be able to cross-check your workflows before they’re executed.
You’ll be able to easily fact-check information, copy-edit your text, and even get your idea approved by stakeholders like the C-suite or legal team.
The biggest social media brands often run multiple campaigns all at once—short-term, medium and long-term, paid and organic. And that’s just the “business as usual” social media posts.
So no, you’re not crazy if, after you have your schedule nailed down, you’re itching to explore other social media channels and diversify your social content mix.
Big questions run through your creative mind: Should you start making TikTok videos? Start partnering with influencers? Maybe you think you should register your brand on LinkedIn or start a social media employee advocacy program.
Whether you’re managing a ten-person content team or you’re posting pictures of your freshly distilled perfume oils that you took at 3 am on Instagram, a social media calendar can help you get more ambitious with your social strategies.
The 2022 Superbowl happened a couple of weeks ago, and I bet you saw all those Superbowl-inspired ads/content that many brands rolled out across social platforms prior to the big game.
Yeah, if you have a social media calendar, you won’t forget to create Superbowl-inspired social content at that time of the year ever again.
A social media content calendar allows you to observe global events, social media trends, seasons and holidays that are relevant to your brand’s audience.
Like Halloween, for example. Or the Olympics. Or that one time when Jay-Z opened his own IG account for the first time ever (and then deleted it the next day).
When pivotal things like this happen, you can make note of them in your social media calendar and brainstorm how to engage with the moment in a creative, on-brand way.
Social media content for brands has gone beyond Millennials posting pictures of the sunset and tweeting memes from their balcony (honestly, I think only Wendy’s can get away with posting memes on social media at this point).
Nowadays, it’s common for a single Instagram post with a one-line caption to have a whole team of creatives behind it: copywriters, graphic designers, photographers, video editors, etc. And asking these people to pause everything they’re doing for an emergency IG Story is a great way to get them to quit. Oh, and produce content that gets zero engagement.
A social media calendar helps you effectively allocate both human and digital assets so that your team can create content and develop a brand voice that supports your marketing goals.
The only way to measure the effectiveness and success of your social media campaigns is to track your metrics.
When you study your analytics, you’ll be able to see where your methods are excelling and where they fall short.
Make note of these numbers in your social media calendar and run A/B tests on your content till you find the right mix for the kind of content, format, post frequency, and the best time of day to post for each social media platform.
Great benefits, eh?
You must be itching to create your own social media calendar now. We have broken down the process into 8 easy steps.
Pro-tip: If this is your first time creating a social media content calendar, you might want to take a look at this guide to crafting a social media marketing strategy first. Your calendar will be much more solid when you’ve defined the goals you want to achieve with social media marketing.
Before you start creating a social media calendar, you need to have a baseline of where you started. That’s where an audit comes in.
Putting together a clear picture of your current social media marketing efforts will help you identify areas for improvement and new opportunities you can take advantage of.
If you’re just starting out with social media, you might not have much to analyze. But if you’re already active, then you should start with this social media audit template that the team at Hootsuite made.
This template will help you gather up-to-date data on:
- Your most successful posts, tactics, and campaigns
- What post types/formats get the most engagement
- Audience demographics across all your social networks
- When your audience is most active
- Goals and KPIs for each branded account across all the social platforms you use
- Who’s responsible for what work on your team
- Underwhelming results, gaps, and opportunities for improvement
- Account security and passwords
- Outdated profiles and impostor accounts
- Key metrics to measure future success on each platform
When you audit all your social assets, you’ll be able to gather all the information you need to craft the best social media calendar for your brand.
If you conduct an audit, and you don’t get all the answers you seek, don’t worry. Your calendar will also provide a way for you to track and report data, so that you can improve your process in the future.
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. YouTube. LinkedIn. Pinterest. Reddit. TikTok…
There are tons of social media platforms out there. It’s not only impossible to be active on all of them, but doing that would be detrimental to your business if you don’t reach your target audience.
When creating your social media calendar, only pick channels that are necessary for communication, audience engagement and promotion.
Are you focusing your efforts on a platform that’s not relevant for your audience? Or, is there a platform that’s popular with your audience that you’re not present on? Do you have dormant accounts on any social platforms? If you do, should you revive them or delete them?
Questions like these are why you need to know each social media platform’s user demographics. You should also study best practices and marketing strategies for each of these platforms. The ones you’re considering, that is.
No, we don’t want you to go into beast mode and do it all at once. Pace yourself. You could even use your breaks at work to look through these strategies, and when you’re done, you’ll be filled with new ideas.
Now that you know the social channels you want to focus on, it’s time to specify the information you want your social media content calendar to track.
If you’re new to social media marketing and you want to, say, promote your new coffee website, a simple spreadsheet might work well as your social media calendar.
But if you’re managing a ten-person content team or doing social media marketing for a dozen different brands, you’ll need something that can tell you who’s doing what, when it’s done, when it’s approved and when it’s live — and then how successful your efforts were.
And sometimes, a spreadsheet is not enough for this. That’s why we’ve listed all our favorite tools at the end of this piece.
Start with basic details like:
- Social platform
- Time (and time zone)
- Social copy
- Visuals (images, videos, illustrations, infographics, GIFs, etc.)
- Link to assets
- Link to live post
You can also add some advanced details that might be helpful to you later. These details include:
- Platform-specific format (feed post, Story, ads, IGTV, poll, live stream, shoppable posts, etc.)
- Geo-targeting (is your content for a global audience? European audience? Or someplace else?)
- The campaign or vertical it’s affiliated with (general brand awareness, product launch, contests, event, customer service, annual giving, etc.)
- Paid or organic? (If it’s paid, then you can add some budget details)
- Value (is it a short-spanned topical post or a huge-budget evergreen masterpiece that can be recycled for other posts in the future?
- Has it been approved?
- Has it been posted? (If it has, do you want to include the link with its UTM?
- Analytics and results (If your work is complex, you’ll likely need your analytics reports to contain and explain this data)
A content library is where you save different kinds of content, including templates, documents, and even audio and video files. It can also be called a content repository, digital asset bank or media resource database.
As a social media manager, your stash of visual content (photos, infographics, etc.) should not be stored permanently in your iPhone or in some obscure folder deep in the bowels of your desktop. Instead, store it in cloud space, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, your company’s internal network, or database software.
The features of a social media content library include:
- It has enough space for large files
- It’s accessible from your phone as well as your computer
- It can easily be shared with team members, but has privacy features
- It provides links to individual files so that you can copy them into your calendar (even better if it natively interfaces with your calendar)
Your content library will most likely contain a ton of files so it’s important to set it up to be intuitive. This will help you find files easily.
Hootsuite’s content library feature, for instance, integrates so seamlessly with the calendar feature that you might not even be aware they’re two different tools. The video below shows you how it works:
Once you have set up your content library, you can start figuring out the workflow you’ll use to implement your social media strategy.
You’ll need to note the following:
- How often you want to update each channel
- The best time to post to each channel (ideally, based on insights from your past performance)
- Your content mix (you can start with the rule of thirds, which is on Hootsuite’s list of social media best practices)
- Your process for brainstorming new content, assigning it and creating it.
- The team members who’d be responsible for different steps (copywriters, proofreaders, etc.)
- Who will approve the posts (is it your copy-editor, your CEO or your legal team?)
Once you’ve outlined your social media workflow, document it in a place that’s easy to access. It could be a separate tab in your social media calendar.
If your team is complex, you can simplify definitions and processes so that your phone won’t blow up with Slack messages and emails from colleagues who are stumped.
Here’s an example from Digital Opportunity Trust, a social innovation NGO, that shows how their comms team keeps a “guidelines” tab in their social calendar, with helpful resources, such as branding and official visuals, linked.
Source: Digital Opportunity Trust
At this point, your head is probably filled with great ideas, yeah? Great!
Now, take some time to go through your content library (or that obscure folder on your MacBook) and start crafting some posts.
Evaluate your calendar as you put these posts together. If your calendar feels like it would take a great deal of effort to execute, you may want to cut down some detail. But if it’s not detailed enough, you might have to add a few more columns.
Or it could simply just be kinda ugly (no offense), in which case, we’ve got your back with the beautiful free templates we talk about in the next section.
But… if you’re at a loss as to what to post in the coming week, you can consult Hootsuite’s social media content idea cheat sheet.
Now that you’ve laid the foundations for social media success, it’s time to show your team what you’ve been up to.
It’s best that your calendar is intuitive, so send an invite to the team members who’ll need to use it every day.
Ask them to run a fine-tooth comb through it and make notes and suggestions if they find any gaps. Even better, schedule a meeting so that everyone can connect and discuss the calendar before execution.
- Does everybody have the passwords to the accounts?
- Do they understand UTM parameters?
- Is there anyone on your team who’s addicted to hashtags?
- Can everyone find, download and upload the high-resolution hero images the graphic designer made for the monthly teardown for LinkedIn? If not, can they figure it out easily?
At the end of the meeting, you should have an interactive, digestible document that even a baby can understand. Well, not a literal baby, but you get what I’m driving at.
Now, your social media content calendar is all prepped up and ready to go.
When you start publishing social content consistently, you may notice that you still have to take time to manually publish your posts, especially if you’re managing high-volume feeds.
In this case, using a calendar that doubles as a scheduling tool will make your life easier.
At this point, you might be wondering what these calendars really look like when they’re populated with content.
Well, we’ve got some real social media calendar examples so you can see for yourself.
This calendar is a great example of how exceptional editorial managers plan long-term content.
This isn’t a social media content calendar but magazine editorial calendars are usually made to give advertisers an idea of what’s coming up, issue by issue–in hopes that these advertisers would be interested in partnering with the brand.
These calendars are visually appealing, concise and only explain the biggest hook in detail. They also usually include mission statements and audience demographics.
If you’re presenting to your higher-ups or if you’re an influencer who wants to show your talents to potential brand partners, an editorial calendar might be your best bet.
Source: National Geographic
Before writing this article, I couldn’t believe how tough it is to find an actual working social media calendar online.
Fortunately, the Director of Communications and Digital Engagement at DOT, Anne Patterson, showed us some screenshots of what her team’s day-to-day social activities look like.
DOT’s social media calendar is simple and intuitive, allowing a viewer to see all their channels in one glance, including their platform, Innojo.
Source: Digital Opportunity Trust
DOT’s social calendar has a content library tab, which functions as a self-explanatory container for evergreen content and unscheduled future posts.
Source: Digital Opportunity Trust
If you’re ready to start making your own social media content calendar, we have two Google Sheets templates created by the team over at Hootsuite.
Just click on the link, make a copy of it and plan your content.
It’s that simple, really.
This calendar template has spaces for the four major social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn). It focuses on a weekly scale by default, but the template is highly customizable so you can tweak this and make it your own.
Like NatGeo’s editorial calendar, all you need to do is open the file and make your own copy. Create a new tab for each month and plan your editorial content for each week.
There are so many helpful tabs in this calendar, but one of the most important ones is the tab for evergreen content. It is a repository for blog posts and articles that always perform well on social media, despite the season.
In the “Evergreen” tab, you can include:
- The type of content
- Original publication date (this is important so that you’ll know when the content should be updated)
- Top-performing images
- Top-performing social copy
This template is designed for planning individual content assets. By this, I mean blog posts, new research, refined videos, etc. This is where you plan out the content that you’ll promote on social media.
Make a new tab for each month and plan out your content week by week.
There are so many social media content calendar apps and tools out there (Microsoft Outlook? Google Calendar? So many!). And it can be quite difficult to pick the best social media content apps for your needs.
So we’ve helped you choose.
I mean, isn’t this obvious?
Google Sheets is a lifesaver when it comes to setting up social media calendars. It’s free and you’ll be able to design your spreadsheet to look exactly how you want it.
Yes, it may take some time to get familiar with pivot tables (or just make your sheet look nice), but Hootsuite’s social media calendar templates take care of that.
This is, hands down, our favorite social media content calendar tool. It even beats the good ole Google Sheets because you can draft, preview, schedule, and publish all your social media posts directly from the calendar. How cool is that?
Hootsuite Planner works for all the major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube.
With Hootsuite Planner, you can build an interactive social media calendar. You’ll be able to see all your assets (copy, graphics, links, etc.) in one dashboard. You can easily schedule, edit or publish your post directly from the dashboard.
If you work with a big social media team, you can share the calendar with your team members and managers. You can even make custom approval workflows to keep your content calendar in check.
This tool even has a Best Time to Publish feature that will help you find the best times to post content for each of your social media accounts. This helps you create maximum visibility (and engagement) for your posts.
Here’s a video to help you learn more about scheduling and publishing social media content with Hootsuite.
After you’ve planned your social media calendar, use Hootsuite Planner to schedule all your posts, engage with your audience and track the success of your social media marketing efforts. Try it for free today.