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Facebook content calendars: The 4 vital pieces

Facebook content calendars: The 4 vital pieces Doug Schumacher

Brands and Facebook are in a relationship. And it's easy to see why. With charts like the one below, it's clear that the best platform by which to obtain mass reach in the social media space is Facebook.

Top social media networks by unique visitor (data from comScore)

The big question then is this: What should you be doing on Facebook?

The short answer is: creating engaging content.

Sure, growing your fan count is the most popular metric right now, and the rise of "F-commerce" will have brands applying some type of sales-per-post type data point as a major metric. But I'll hedge that the only real long-term sustainable Facebook page goal for most brands is engagement. Focus on fan count at the expense of engagement, and you'll soon see fans heading for the exit or, worse, to a page of a competitor that's offering them real ongoing value. Focus too much on selling, and you'll find out quickly just how well the social media crowd loves a hard sell. Ultimately, all roads lead back to an ongoing need for engaging content.

Your Facebook page content can come from various sources, including existing brand content, aggregated material, produced assets, or generated by consumers. And one point to establish right up front is that determining the real source of a brand's content -- the brand's areas of expertise -- is an entire process unto its own. And it's one that likely involves everything from the brand's positioning within the marketplace to a complete content audit.

But whatever form the brand's content comes in, it still needs a structure for how all the pieces fit together. That's typically outlined in the content calendar, which attempts to answer and clarify questions like:

  • How much content should we be publishing?

  • What subjects within our areas of expertise should we focus on?

  • What type of content should we be producing?

  • When should we be posting our content, both in terms of day of week and time of day?

So what are the answers to those questions? A good way to approach it is by analyzing what's currently being done, what's working, what isn't, and why. Then you can apply those insights to your content assets, both existing and future, to determine how best to post them to your wall.

Like traditional strategic development, you should consider those questions as they pertain to three different entities:

  • Your brand

  • Your competitive landscape

  • Your target audience

Understanding what's currently working in each of those areas will help you better project what content will most likely engage your audience going forward.

So let's see how to answer those questions.

How much content should you be posting? This is one of the first questions many brands ask. Depending on the industry and type of content you publish, there can be a limit to the amount of content people want from you.

Analyze your competitor's behavior
A good place to start is by looking at what's happening across your industry. How much posting is coming from the brands you either compete with or admire, and how effectively is their content engaging their fans? Knowing that will give you a good benchmark for what consumer interests and expectations will be when someone "likes" your page.

The below chart shows an example of content posting volume for brands in the quick-serve restaurant industry. You can see overall posting volumes as well as how much each brand posts. Select brands most in line with your brand, or brands who's Facebook activity you aspire to, for a sense of what your posting volume should be.

Daily posting volume for fast-food brands (data by Zuum)

Like a lot of Facebook data, average posting volumes vary by brand and by industry. In the quick-serve restaurant category, for instance, few brands are currently posting more than one time per day. In categories where there's a more emotional attachment to the products, like fashion, it's common to see brands posting two and three times per day. And from there, industries like entertainment and news will typically post anywhere from five to 10 times per day. It really comes down to how much information you can share that's of interest to your audience.

Look for a relationship between posting volume and engagement rate
Additionally, as brands move to become content marketers rather than just advertisers, they'll strive to accomplish what good content publishers do -- to develop a relationship with their audience in which people actually anticipate and look forward to their content.

Music bands are an interesting study in this. There are few industries where the term fan could be more accurately applied. Looking at the posting activities in the chart below, you can see that posting a lot of content is not a problem, as long as you make it engaging. The Black Eyed Peas will post up to nine times a day at times. That might seem like a lot to take on for most brands, but if the brand has a good following and is generating engagement with those posts, then that activity can generate a lot of value in impressions.

In the below chart, for the bands plotted, there's a positive correlation between posting volume and engagement rate, indicating fan interest in higher posting volumes. As posting volume for the various bands goes up, there's actually an increase in engagement. This can indicate a very tight relationship between the fans and the band or organization doing the posting, as fans seem to actively seek out more content.

Quantity of posting as it relates to quality, defined by engagement rate ("likes" plus comments divided by the number of brand fans; data by Zuum)

Brands wanting to get deep into content publishing might want to monitor and analyze brands outside their competitive set, or even publications dedicated to the same subjects, to see examples of content posting volumes, schedules, and content from a brand from which fans actively seek out content.

Another consideration on the subject of how much to post is the way a given subject, product, or event is supported through Facebook wall posts. Those promotions have to work within the overall content calendar.

Typically, you'll want to establish the event well in advance of the actual day. If it's an online event, you won't need nearly as much lead time. But you will want to build the excitement as the event day nears.

Below is the posting schedule for the Gymkhana Four video release by DC Shoes. This is part of a very successful video series, featuring the company's own co-founder Ken Block, who also happens to be a professional rally driver.

Note how the company lays the foundation for the launch date well in advance, then builds as the date (orange box) nears, increasing its coverage the few days leading up to the video release.

Posting schedule for DC Shoes' online release of its Gymkhana Four video (data by Zuum)

A follow-up post several days after the event gives the brand a good opportunity to share its success with its fans.

What topics or subjects should you address? The topics you post on will, of course, depend significantly on what topics your brand has authority on and what subjects you can cost-effectively generate content on.

You'll want to group your brand's value proposition and areas of expertise into subject categories and spread them across your content calendar in a way that keeps your content feeling fresh, even though you'll be revisiting certain themes again and again.

In giving priority to certain content subjects or themes, you'll want to know which of your themes are driving the most engagement, and perhaps weight the number of posts on those topics accordingly. Thus, a review of what topics you've been posting on and the engagement rate of each can produce valuable information.

Which topics generate the highest engagement rate?
Below, you can see the top terms that Oreo has used in posts for a three-month period this summer.

Conversation topics used by Oreo (data by Zuum)

Now, in the next chart, note the average number of engagements each time any of those terms are used in a post.


Engagements per mention for different terms (data by Zuum)

Notice the engaging power of "milk." As a topic, it's pulling an average of 125 percent higher engagement than "dunk," and nearly 500 percent more than "creme." That's certainly something to keep in mind when you're carving out next quarter's Facebook campaign ideas.

The point is this: The subjects you post about are a big factor for the engagement you'll generate. You want to be posting topics that your fans find engaging.

How do different brands promote the same subject?
Given that brands in the same industry will inevitably cover similar topics, you might want to look at how your competitors are addressing those subjects -- especially when it's part of a major marketing effort.

A good example is the fashion industry and how companies cover a topic like fall fashions.

In the below chart, the top bar shows you shows how often each of the fashion retailers posted about their fall fashions during the months of July and August. It's interesting to note that Victoria's Secret didn't post at all on the subject. (Apparently, lingerie never goes out of style.)

Fashion retailer posts about the fall season, months July and August (data by Zuum)

The topics listed below "fall" are the most common terms used in posts about fall fashions. In this case, you can see the specific items that brands are addressing when they talk about fall fashions. Things like "jeans," "denim," and "skinny." By further looking at the engagement rates each of these terms is generating for each brand, you can see how they're handling a seasonal promo, what items they're promoting, and how well their fans are responding to each of those items.

Depending on your own brand's product offering and how similar or different it is to your competitors', you might want to follow their posting schedule, or offer an alternate product as a counter-move.

Keep in mind that while these top-line charts can be very helpful, you'll still want to drill down and look at the specific posts behind the topics. There are many nuances to how a subject is handled, including special offers, media type, tone of voice, time of post, etc. We'll look at some of those other factors later in this article.

Not all content assets are created equal. If you're in the fashion industry, let's face it: People want to see pictures of the goods, not a description of them.

Of course, not all industries are the same. So observing what media types are posted the most frequently in your industry, as well as the engagement rate each is generating, will give you an idea of where to apply your content production budget.

There are several ways to view a media type breakout.

First is by simply seeing how the amount of richer content you're developing compares to other brands, as demonstrated in the below chart. If it's considerably lower, then you likely have a good case for seeking an increase in budget.

Media type usage by sports shoe brands (data by Zuum). It's rare to see brands posting primarily photos and videos, but this is a visually driven category, so it makes sense. Understanding the media type breakout for any industry is a key benchmark.

If you're posting a competitive amount of rich content, then look at engagement rates, as shown below. If strong, you could have a good presentation screen for why your budget is justified.

Media type engagement rates for sports shoe brands (data by Zuum)

In general, richer content like photos and videos require more in terms of time and budget than writing a status update. So you'll want to take into account your overall budget and how that's distributed across various media types and the subjects you're covering.

How to get contest ideas around consumer-generated content
You can also use media type data to determine what type of fan-generated media campaign to run.

As an example, the chart below shows which shoe-brand fans are posting the most photos. The extremely high volume of photos posted by Converse fans gives good evidence to the self-expressive nature of many people who wear those shoes.

A competing brand wanting to increase its own consumer-generated photos might analyze just what types of photos Converse fans are posting, and compare that to the photos its own fans are posting, to get a better sense of what type of contest to run.

Media types posted by fans in the sneaker category (data by Zuum)

When should you be posting? Perhaps the most under-rated aspect of the content calendar is when to post. It might seem trivial in comparison to heftier subjects like what topics to address and what media type to post, but timing is certainly a big factor in any marketing program.

Like many data points, the day of week trending can change significantly by industry.

As an example, compare the fan day-of-week posting activities for the automotive industry, compared to the music industry.

Fan posting by day of week for the automotive industry (data by Zuum)

Fan posting by day of week for bands in the entertainment industry (data by Zuum)

The automotive fans are active and ready for the week on Monday. The band fans seem to be in some sort of recovery mode the first few days of the week. (I'm curious what could have caused that.)

Alternately, if you're a snack food brand, a safe assumption might be that people are posting to your wall when they feel they need a snack, or while they're actually enjoying your product. After all, that's why your brand is on their mind.

A look at what times your fans post to your wall could reveal when they're thinking about a snack, or when they're most likely to purchase. That could be a key metric with which to align your posting activity, especially if it involves a special offer.

Fan posts by hour of day for select snack brands (data by Zuum)

A thorough understanding of the aforementioned fundamentals will provide a good foundation for how your own content calendar breaks out.

Free content calendar templates -- sometimes called an editorial calendar -- are all over the web. I like to use two different views -- one annually, and one weekly.

The annual view (image below) is a good starting point for capturing the big picture and making sure you have a well-rounded content plan for the year.

From there, you can break it down into a weekly view, noting the specific time of day for each post.

Start by going through your own content inventory and filling out the calendar, based on what you know about details such as how much to post each day, what days to concentrate posting on, and the hours of the day the fans across your industry are most active and responsive.

Keep in mind that what you observe today might not be the same in three months. Social media evolves rapidly and reflects changing tides in technology platforms, competitor activity, fan preferences, and cultural and economic influences. The content you publish should always be evolving as well.

The brand with the best insights about what's engaging and what isn't has a distinct advantage. So to keep your brand on top, stay on top of content engagement trends.

Doug Schumacher is the founder and creative director of new media marketing consultancy Basement and co-founder of Facebook content strategy tool Zuum.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Doug Schumacher is the co-founder of social media content strategy tool Zuum. Zuum reveals a number of key insights into what type of social media content will generate maximum impact for a given industry. His interactive career began in 1996...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Doug Schumacher

2011, September 15

Hi, Chris. Thanks for your feedback. You make a good point -- one I agree with. Fan growth should be something brands strive for. And engagement should lead to an increase in fans organically. I like your point about the causal relationship between engagement and fan growth. Thanks for reading and sharing! doug

Commenter: Chris Gillett

2011, September 15

Good synopsis of what content on Facebook should be focussed on Doug. When you say 'Focus on fan count at the expense of engagement' I don't think these need to be mutually exclusive - fan count should rise as a result of regular and interesting engagement. Engagement should be seen as the cause of the rise in number of fans and not vice-versa. Good article though and one I will be sharing! Chris - @3seven9

Commenter: Doug Schumacher

2011, September 14

Welcome, Spencer. Thanks for reading.

Commenter: Spencer Broome

2011, September 14

Lot of information here. Thanks.