Creating content without a plan is like trying to drive a car without looking at the road. You might make it somewhere, but you’re likely to end up in some trouble along the way.
To stay on track, and make it to your destination, it’s advisable to create a content plan before you start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
Below, I’ve shared some insights which I’ve gathered along my journey of building a digital agency to help academics share their research online.
What’s a content plan?
A content plan is a document that has all the information about what you will write about and when. This plan helps make sure that you stay on track and don’t forget to write about anything important. The document can also act as a ‘dumping ground’ for all the ideas you have about potential content you want to share with your audience.
A content plan doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it can be as simple as a list of topics you want to cover. But it’s important to have some sort of plan in place before you start creating content so that you can ensure your content is on-brand, on-message, and aligned with your overall goals.
Steps to creating a content plan
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips for creating a content plan:
- Define your goals. What are you hoping to achieve with your content? Do you want to increase awareness of your research or of your profile amongst your peers? do you want o drive traffic to your website, or generate leads? Once you know what your goals are, you can start brainstorming ideas for content that will help you achieve them.
- Identify your target audience. Who are you creating content for? What sorts of things are they interested in? What questions do they have that you can answer with your content? Understanding your target audience will help you create content that resonates with them.
- Decide on the format. Will your content be blog posts, infographics, videos, social media posts, or something else entirely? The format you choose should be based on what will work best for your target audience and the goals you’re trying to achieve. It should also align with how you want to spend your time. If you’re like me and deteriorate into a panic attack at the thought of posting videos of yourself on YouTube… don’t include videos in your plan. This should be fun, not a chore! (otherwise you’re unlikely to keep doing it for long)
- Choose a topic. Once you know the format you want to use, it’s time to choose a topic. Try to come up with a few different ideas, so that you have options to choose from. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, consider using a content idea generator like HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator. I recommend starting with at least ten ideas for article titles (30+ is better). The rationale behind this advice is to ensure the topic you’re writing about has longevity i.e. that you won’t just write one or two posts and then stop. If you’ve only got a couple of articles/posts in you, it might be better to publish them on someone else’s blog (as, say, a guest contributor).
- Create a content calendar. Once you have your list of topics, it’s time to start scheduling them.
Creating a content plan before you start writing can save you a lot of time and energy. Mainly because you won’t have to keep stopping to think about what you should write next. Instead, you can just look at your plan and know exactly what to do.
A content plan can also help you figure out how often you need to write new content. If you want to keep your readers engaged, you need to make sure that you’re creating new and interesting content on a regular basis.
How often should you create content?
Wondering how often should you produce content?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the amount of content you need to produce will vary depending on your audience and your goals. However, a good rule of thumb is to create at least 1-2 pieces of content per week. That way, you’ll be able to keep your readers engaged.
However, creating content and releasing that content to your audience can happen on very different schedules.
If you’re anything like me, you’re likely to run out of steam (or have the time you’ve scheduled in your diary for content creation be pushed aside for other [teaching] tasks).
A fix to this problem is to batch your content creation, and then slowly release it to your audience.
What is batch content creation?
‘Batching’ content refers to creating multiple pieces of content at once, instead of one at a time. This can be helpful for two reasons: first, it helps you keep your content creation momentum going; and second, it allows you to spread out your content creation over a longer period of time, which can be helpful if you have a busy schedule.
For example, let’s say you want to create two blog posts per week. You could sit down and write both posts in one day. Or you could take one day a month to create all the content for the following month.
Alternatively, it’s perfectly fine to write in smaller sessions.
It’s like writing for journal publication: some of us like to ‘binge’ write and others like to ‘snack’.
Create a schedule for your content creation that suits your writing habits.
Tools to use when creating a content plan
A content plan doesn’t need to be fancy.
You can start by using a paper diary.
A step up from this would be to set up a digital calendar in Outlook (or equivalent).
Another step up is to use content planning tools such as Notion, or Trello.
One of my favourite content creators has made a video about creating digital content calendars. Her approach is from the perspective of being a paid content creator and might be a little excessive for promoting an academic research project… but I find the bones of what she’s sharing to be very useful. A link to her video is linked below.
That’s a wrap
To wrap up, creating a content plan doesn’t have to be a complicated process. In fact, it can be as simple as putting together a list of topics you want to cover and then mapping out when you’ll publish them. This will help keep you on track and ensure that your blog/website is regularly updated with fresh, relevant content.
If you’ve found this blog post useful, please share it with your academic friends.