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How to Brainstorm and Create Your 12-Month Content Plan

As we near the end of 2016 and gear up for 2017, many of you are probably thinking about finalizing your content and social media plans.

A few weeks back, I had my team here in person for our annual brainstorming session and one of my goals was to hammer out our 12-month content calendar while they were here. Our plan included our #GetSocialSmart Academy content, webinars, my book, weekly blog posts, videos and live video (i.e. Facebook Live).

My team and I at our annual brainstorming session.

My team and I at our annual brainstorming session.

After a few hours (and a few cups of coffee later) – we did it! In this post today, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts on how to brainstorm and wrap your brain around creating a 12-month content plan – because if you are like me, sometimes it’s hard to think beyond what’s happening today and tomorrow let alone 12 months from now!

First, let’s start with why this is so important. Creating a strong content strategy accomplishes a few things:

  • Credibility. It helps to establish your credibility over the long-haul. In this day and age of ‘experts’ coming and going – someone who consistently creates meaningful content is going to win in the long run.
  • Top of mind. It helps to stay top of mind with your current and past clients in a meaningful way – because you aren’t ‘selling’ to them, you are staying in touch by providing relevant information.
  • It generates the best leads. It generates the best leads because the leads you receive when you create great content consistently will say things to you like, “I’ve been reading you for years!” or “I feel like you are in my head!”

So, how do you think about creating a robust 12-month strategy? Here’s how we did it:

Step 1: Have the right supplies. First, we headed over to our local office supply store and picked up what I call the “big post-it note boards” – these are those giant boards that you can write on with an easel that you can then tear off and stick anywhere? Yep, those! We also made sure we had a nice fresh set of markers (I love office supplies) 🙂

Make sure you have the right supplies for brainstorming. My favorite tool is a giant post-it pad on an easel.

Make sure you have the right supplies for brainstorming. My favorite tool is “big post-it note boards”.

I have to say, as much as I love technology for planning something as big as a 12-month plan, for me – I have to take it to pen and paper and I have to take it big. So, I recommend going somewhere where you can visually map out your entire 12 months.

Step 2: Lay the ground rules. Our next step was to first lay some rules about the year in terms of what I wanted to do more of and what I wanted to do less of – in terms of content and my time. As we know, time is all we have – so we set some ground rules for how many webinars I would do each month, how many podcast interviews I would agree to, and what type of content we would publish and where. Now, we had already discussed the year in review and had already made some assessments on what worked and didn’t work from the year before (especially looking at Google Analytics to see our top ranking content) – but if you haven’t taken time to do this for yourself, I highly recommend it! We also made some decisions about what type of content we would create. For us, we will have a variety of written (blog) content, my book, webinars and lots of video (recorded and live.)

Your first step should be to outline rules for how you will allocate your time.

Your next step should be to outline rules for how you will allocate your time.

Step 3: Start with what you know for sure. Laying out the next 12-months can be daunting. I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner later – how can I possibly think about 2 weeks let alone 2 months, right?! Here’s how. You start with what you know to be true. So we started our 12-month content plan by writing down what we know will be happening – events, holidays and other things that year-after year are just part of what we do. For example – every year we attend Inman Connect in New York in January and in San Francisco in the summer and we usually do some content around that – so we put that down. We know that I’ll be attending Social Media Marketing World again and will be creating content around that – so we added that to the calendar. My recommendation to you – is to look ahead at what you know to be true each year. If this is your first time creating a content calendar – look at a regular calendar for inspiration. For example, you may have on your calendar things like: tax time, summertime, back-to-school, holidays, etc.

Where do you start? Start with what you know for sure.

Where do you start? Start with what you know for sure.

Step 4: Add in the big rocks. Have you ever heard of the analogy of trying to fill a bowl with big rocks and pebbles? Which ones do you have to put in first? The big rocks of course! And then you fill the rest of the bowl with the pebbles. If you start with the pebbles there will be no room for the big rocks. The same is true with content – start with your big rocks – the big things you want to do or accomplish or create this year and then you can add in the little stuff. So for example, for us, we want to feature big updates to our #GetSocialSmart Academy quarterly in 2017 which includes more video content, more downloadable materials and more time to create these! These are our big rocks – we know they will be hugely beneficial to our members and will also help to drive new business for us as well. For you, your big rocks may be that you want to become the ‘digital mayor of your town’ (as Gary Vaynerchuk has said.) So to do this – you want to create one-two great videos each month. These are your big rocks! Think of your big rocks as the things you are going to invest the most amount of time, money and energy creating, and then much of your other content will come as a result of this.

What are your "big rocks" for 2017? Add those to your content plan first!

What are your “big rocks” for 2017? Add those to your content plan first!

Step 5: Start assigning dates. It doesn’t get real until you actually start putting in dates and writing them down on your big board along side the topics you’ve started to lay out. The dates is what makes it happen. You can’t just say, “every month I want to create a video.” You have to think about when you will create it, edit it, what day each month you will publish it and then how you will promote it. But at a bare minimum – start with your publish dates and then you can always work back from there.  For us, we consistently post to our blog on a specific day and we always send our email out on a specific day. When you get consistent – perhaps it’s the first of the month or the first Friday of the month – or whatever works best for you – consistency helps you be better and more efficient and it helps people because they will come to expect your content.

Start 6: Add in the the medium rocks and the pebbles. For us, our medium rocks are our weekly blog posts. Posts like this that we spend a fair amount of time on that get us great long-term rewards from an SEO perspective but primarily to build our credibility as we talked about in the beginning. So, yes, we planned out 52 blog post ideas. Now, I can’t give you all the details here because we have some exciting things coming – but what I can tell you is that brainstorming 52 topic ideas is actually a lot easier than you may think. Start with what questions do you get asked all the time and what questions do you get asked that you think, “oh my goodness, doesn’t everyone know that?” That is the place to start! Also, think in terms of bite-sized pieces. For example, if you are in real estate – think about all the micro topics you get asked about. Instead of “How is the market” (which is a really broad topic) you could break that down into a lot of micro topics like:

  • The top 3 things about the market today versus last year
  • If I were a first-time homebuyer today in the market – this is the number one thing I would need to know
  • What affects market value?
  • What doesn’t affect market value?
  • What is market value?
  • How do you know who to trust when it comes to people talking about the market?
  • Should you just wait it out?

Once you start thinking in micro topics – or bite-sized pieces it will make it a breeze. Start writing in these micro posts – but make sure to space them out. You don’t want 12 videos about the market right? Space those out over the year. For us, we plan to do a lot of content around things like content strategy, social media strategy, Snapchat, live video and Facebook marketing. Once we took some of those big generic topics and started brainstorming – the topics came easy!

Finally, get your systems in place. Three of our favorite tools are Asana, Google Docs and Canva.

Finally, get your systems in place. Three of our favorite tools are Asana, Google Docs and Canva.

Step 7: Implementing a system for getting it done. At this point in the process, if you are like us – you will have notes all over your boards and now it’s about getting them into a system and a process. We use a Google Docs Spreadsheet to house our content calendar. We like Google Docs for this because a content plan is always a bit of a moving target. As much as we know for sure – there are always going to be thing that come up that we want to change or edit and since we have our team looking at this – it’s important to have a living breathing document. We also tightened up our systems for not just creating content but creating the content that goes with the content; the graphics that go with each piece of content. For example, for every blog post we create – we need a featured image and we need images for each social media platform. We use Canva for this. It’s important to put into your plan who will be creating these pieces and how that is going to fall into your work flow – as well as the promotion process (getting it out on social media, ads, email, etc.) Lastly, we use Asana for project management so we put all of our content into there as well as tasks for us to work on with due dates and any other sub-tasks that may need to happen (i.e. additional research, editing, etc.)

Whew! So now you can see why we needed a few cups of coffee! 🙂 Now, it’s all about execution – and treating your content plan like any other part of your business. It has to be a priority! Remember – anyone can create content – but people will resonate with you because of YOU and your voice, your opinion and your style.

Last but not least – make sure you don’t suffer from analysis paralysis. Don’t wait until you have everything laid out perfectly to begin – just start and the more you create – the better you get – I promise!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – leave me a comment below or join us in our Social Media Forum Group on Facebook!

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