When I can find the time to do so, I love to plan ahead.

I’ll write out tomorrow’s to-do list. I’ll add ideas to our content calendar. And I’ll schedule the next day’s social media updates—or even the next week’s, if I’m feeling ambitious. Maybe some day I’ll get to the point of scheduling a month or even a year ahead!

Scheduling part of your social media content in advance is well worth it.

And I’ll be happy to share with you some strategies, tips, and tools that can help you get organized and get ahead with your social media sharing.

social media content calendar

5 benefits to mapping out your social media content

Social media content feels quite in-the-moment and real-time when you consider the short lifecycle of updates and the rapid way that information moves across Twitter, Facebook, and others.

A solid social media schedule leaves room for real-time updates.

Planning content on social media still allows for flexibility to the schedule and provides opportunities to slip in real-time engagement.

The Sprout Social blog has a good reminder on the balance here.

For every quick-witted, real-time tweet, there are hundreds more tweets that take hours of planning and a lot of creative power to make, especially when a single tweet can help drive an entire strategy.

The Marketo blog also has some keen insights here as well. They mention five benefits for creating a social media content calendar and planning social content ahead of time.

  1. It helps you maintain a consistent cadence.
  2. You can map time-sensitive content ahead of time.
  3. You’ll take your social marketing out of a silo.
  4. It serves as a system of record.
  5. It enforces the “411 Rule.”

Why plan your social media content-

Here’s a bit more on each of these benefits.

Consistent cadence. There’s a lot to be said for consistency on social media. In terms of publishing frequency, consistency can help your audience learn when to expect new content from you, and keeping a consistent schedule makes sure you maximize engagement without hitting any lulls or stretches without updates.

Time-sensitive content. Events, holidays, product launches, contests—many of these time-sensitive events can be planned ahead of time and placed on a calendar.

No more silo. When social media happens in real-time, it gets created and published in moments. Planning ahead allows others to become involved in the process, involving a whole team rather than a narrow silo of one or two social media managers.

System of record. Keeping a calendar gives you something to refer to later. You can track back on the updates you posted, and you can review your posting cadence and rhythm from one period to the next.

The 411 Rule. This rule refers to a ratio of sharing on social media—4 educational and entertaining posts for every 1 “soft promotion” and every 1 “hard promotion.” I’ll get into some additional ratios next.

The elements of a successful social media content plan

1. The best content rules and ratios for sharing on social media

One of the foundations of a social media content plan is figuring out the ideal ratio for the content that you’ll share. For any given slice of updates—say, your past 10 Facebook posts—what is the balance of content shared from your blog and from the blogs of others? How many product pitches do you make?

Here are some popular ratios that have been tried and tested on social. Feel free to test these and discover a ratio that is right for you, even if it doesn’t follow exactly with these. For instance, with our Buffer shares, we’ve flipped many of these ratiosour social media updates are 90 percent our own content and 10 percent from others.

4-1-1

Popularized by Andrew Davis of Tippingpoint Labs and Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute, the 4-1-1 looks like this in practice:

  • 4 pieces of relevant, original content from others
  • 1 retweet for every 1 self-serving update

Marketo, mentioned above, uses a variation of the 411 method on its social channels. Here’s a sample of a Monday-Tuesday schedule of theirs for Facebook.

marketo facebook schedule

5-3-2

Introduced by TA McCann from Gist.com, here’s how the 5-3-2 rule breaks down:

  • 5 should be content from others
  • 3 should be content from you
  • 2 should be personal status updates

555+

Via Shai Coggins of Vervely

  • 5 updates about you and your content
  • 5 updates about others
  • 5 responses/replies
  • + miscellaneous posts that add value like #FollowFriday or user-generated content

Golden Ratio – 30/60/10

Via Rallyverse:

  • 30 percent owned
  • 60 percent curated
  • 10 percent promotional

The Golden Ratio social media

Rule of Thirds

Via a Hootsuite blog post by Sam Milbrath:

  • 1/3 of your updates are about you and your content
  • 1/3 of your updates are for sharing content from others and surfacing ideas
  • 1/3 of your updates are based on personal interactions that build your brand

Bonus method: Thinking about the types of updates you post

The above ratios deal with the content itself. But what about the post type? Buffer’s founder Joel came up with a neat balance of the types of updates that he shares to Twitter—links, quotes, retweets, images, and plain text updates.

His system works like this:

  1. Start with the basic five types of updates we all post: Links, images, quotes, reshares, plain-text updates
  2. Choose a “staple” update, a single type that will make up the majority of your shares
  3. Create a 4:1 ratio of sharing: for every four “staple” updates, publish one different type for variety

sharing ratio

 

The ideal frequency to post to social media

Once you have the general framework for the content you’ll plan, the next step is to figure out the ideal frequency for your posts. Your schedule figures to be unique based on your specific audience. That being said, there’s been some neat research on frequency that might give you a place to start.

We collected a number of studies on the best frequency for the top social media sites. Here’s what we found:

  • Post to Twitter at least 5x a day. If you can swing up to 20 posts, you might be even better off.
  • Post to Facebook up to 2x a day.
  • Post to LinkedIn 1x per day.

A helpful post by Constant Contact added the following suggestions for Pinterest and Google+

  • Post to Google+ up to 2x per day.
  • Post to Pinterest up to 2x per day.

And an ideal Instagram schedule, according to Forbes, looks like this:

  • Post to Instagram 1.5x per day

The CoSchedule blog put together a graphic of how their social media frequency might look. They’ve scheduled specific windows of times for some of their updates to publish to their social channels, and they supplement these specific posting times with a handful of Buffer posts that get added to the queue.

Plan ahead for events and launches

What events do you have planned for the coming year?

Which launches might you be aiming for? (You’re likely to add a few to this list, too, as the year goes on.)

What type of tentpole content did well for you last year that you might want to reproduce at a similar time this year?

Anything that you think might be penciled in for a future date in the coming year, this info can go on your social media calendar. Doing so lets you develop the content and strategy for these big moments ahead of time and to get others involved in the process, too.

Here’re just a few calendar events to consider:

  • New product releases
  • Conferences
  • Annual events & meetups
  • Holidays
  • Major cultural events – the Super Bowl, the Oscars, etc.
  • Recurring content – end-of-year lists, mid-year lists, seasonal strategies, etc.

Decide how much you’ll curate

Another element of the calendar could be your curation. If you like to share the best content from others, you’re likely to want to add some space in your calendar for queueing content from others.

Generally speaking, curation happens in the moment. You share content from other blogs and websites that has been posted recently. In these cases, you can leave some schedule slots open to fill in with curated content the day of.

There are some cases and instances where it works to share great stuff from a blog’s archives or new-to-you content that you just came across. In fact, this might help break up the short lifecycle of social media content and help us all revisit the content that’s worth a second read.

7 tools for organizing and implementing a social media calendar

With a good plan in place, the next step is organizing and implementing. Here’s where you get to have fun with some useful online tools.

  1. Buffer – Simple-to-use, great for scheduling social media posts in advance
  2. Google spreadsheets – Powerful and scalable way to organize and track content
  3. Google calendar – Daily, weekly, and monthly views of a content plan (with color-coded organization options)
  4. Basecamp – Project management tool that can be repurposed for social media
  5. Trello – Add content to boards and cards, and drag-and-drop to reorder and organize
  6. Wunderlist – To-do list app
  7. Todoist – To-do list app

Social media content plans—daily, weekly, monthly, yearly

A daily social media content plan

Work one day ahead.

  • What events and launches are planned for tomorrow?
  • How much content do you need to plan and schedule?
  • How does your sharing ratio fit with a day’s worth of content?

With a daily social media content plan, you can schedule the bulk of your content the day before, placing promotional posts of your existing content and adding curated content that appeared that day.

If you share six times to Twitter, you can schedule the six posts for tomorrow. If you use the 4-1-1 method for sharing, you make four of your six updates be content from others with a single post each for soft promotion (a blogpost of yours) and hard promotion (a CTA for your product).

A weekly social media content plan

Work one week ahead.

  • What events and launches are planned for this week?
  • Which new blogposts are scheduled to publish?
  • How much new content do you need to find ahead of time?
  • Which images could you create in advance?

Choose a day of the week to plan everything out for the following seven days. We shared some fun tips on how to accomplish the scheduling element of this—including some useful tools like bulk uploading to Buffer.

Planning a week ahead, you can fill in many of the slots in your schedule that will hold posts from your archives—the reshared content that you’ve posted before. New content and curated content can join the schedule as the week progresses.

A monthly social media content plan

Look one month ahead.

  • What events and launches are planned for this month?
  • What are your goals and plans for content this month?
  • Which content can you schedule in advance, and what will you need to reserve space for?
  • What experiments might you be running?

One month ahead, you may still be able to fill some of your slots with content from your archives. Beyond that, you’ll likely be charting your strategy instead of hand-writing individual updates.

Your monthly calendar can include your sharing ratio and content types. You can plan your social media experiments and tests. You can look ahead to launches and holidays and plan accordingly.

A yearly social media content plan

Look a full year ahead.

  • What events and launches are planned for the year?
  • What sharing ratio will you start out with?
  • What will be your daily frequency to start?
  • Which tentpole content do you hope to publish?

 

Jot down the major events happening over the next 12 months, integrate the social media plan with a blog editorial calendar, and settle on a sharing ratio that feels best to you. You can always come back throughout the year and change and tweak anything you’d like—when planning a year in advance, it’s hard to tell exactly what will be happening three or six or 12 months from now.

Over to you

What methods have you used for planning your social media content in advance? 

I hope you can take away some useful tips and strategies here. We’re currently experimenting with some week-ahead planning for our social media content, and we’re learning tons along the way! If you’ve got any tips to share or questions to ask, feel free to leave a comment here!

Image sources: Iconfinder, Blurgrounds, Startup Stock Photos, CoSchedule

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Written by Kevan Lee

Content crafter at Buffer. You can find me online, tweeting about my writing process, or at home, second-guessing football coaches. Live simply, give generously, beat cancer.

  • Scott Caldwell

    Great tips. I’m going to start using Google Sheets in 2015 over Excel for content planning. Live editing and being able to update on the go (and for free) is a big bonus for me. I’ve created a wee template folks can use here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1dCHjfTDm7T909KxK1VI-MxIiPRbq2AIpaCcmSGz2594/edit?usp=sharing

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Scott! Thanks for the comment! Sounds like a great strategy to give Google Sheets a go. 🙂 It’s been a favorite of ours here at Buffer!

      And thanks for sharing the template! Awesome stuff!

    • cheryl moody

      Great planning calendar Scott. Thanks for sharing!

      • Scott Caldwell

        Thanks Cheryl. Glad to be of help 🙂

    • Matt Ryan

      Hey Scott. I’d hardly describe this template as “wee”. It’s amazing! Thanks for sharing it. I have my work cut out for me over the next couple of weeks as I begin to populate this tool.

      • Scott Caldwell

        Thanks for the feedback, Matt. Always fun when starting out with content curation 🙂

    • http://www.sherreymeyer.com/ Sherrey Meyer

      Scott, great layout for a social media planning calendar. Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Billy Schlotter

      Great work Scott! Here is a sheet I’ve been working on for the past year. I have it automatically setup GA tracking and then with 2 simple setting tweaks you can create the bitly right there. It has been really handy when scheduling out. I just duplicate the tab for different weeks

      http://goo.gl/7hf7c7

      • Scott Caldwell

        Thanks, Billy. This is superb!

      • marandria

        Hi Billy! I just came across this post and saw your plan sheet- looks awesome. Wanted to get some more info on the headings and what tools you use to find those- (m.andriassian@gmail.com)

  • http://www.internetlocallistings.com/ Internet Local Listings

    We use the Golden Ration in ours, and it seems to work pretty well. We’re considering upping our Facebook shares to two times a day–we have a peak engagement time, but it might be interesting to try something a little different and just see how it goes. We’re hoping to start another blog and get some other published content out there–which could make for a full calendar! Happy holidays, Kevan, and as always, great post 🙂

  • Mark – Shotkit

    Great post! I’m surprised by ‘5 times a day’ for Twitter, though! Sounds excessive to me…

  • https://www.socinova.com/ Socinova

    Just had to comment on this. This post is really perfect! Thanks for sharing..

  • Jitendra

    Hi Kevan,
    Really great strategy here you share about social media.

  • Justyna Laskowska

    Hi 🙂 Thank you for sharing this post. You’d mentioned some tools (software) for implementing social media calendar. I use http://kanbantool.com for planning and scheduling social media actions. I treat each card as a new post. I can add attachments to my cards (articles for inspiration, images) form Google Drive or Box, schedule tasks in a Calendar and use Zapier to receive and manage notifications from Buffer.

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  • http://buzzalot.com/ Buzzalot

    Love the different posting ratios! Also, in terms of calendar
    planning, we find importing calendars to our Google calendar a good way to go: https://support.google.com/calendar/answer/37118?hl=en. In addition, we recommend subscribing
    to Days of the Year Calendar (https://www.daysoftheyear.com/)
    because it always gives you great content ideas! Thanks for the excellent post!

  • http://www.techlazy.com/ sonam gupta

    Hi,

    This is very interesting post at how To schedule social media content. I loved your ways how you share everything step by step. I will share this post with my followers, hope they will love it.

    Thanks to share this post:)

    Regards,

    Sonam Gupta

  • http://www.gxjansen.com/ Guido Jansen

    Would be cool if this is something that Buffer can support. So you’d have several buffers or categories (like curated, owned, promotional) for each social media account.

    Just a thought 🙂

    • http://courtneyseiter.com/ Courtney Seiter

      Great thought, Guido! I think that would be awesome!

  • http://antaraman.com/ Antara Man

    Great post. Recently I read about the 9/1 rule which a redditor suggested for hacking Reddit. I think people underestimate Reddit and it is worth of investing time there.

    • http://courtneyseiter.com/ Courtney Seiter

      Interesting, Antara! It might be fun to dig into Reddit for a future Buffer blog post! I know I find a lot of value from many Reddit communities. 🙂

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  • Kaare Hansen

    Great article!

  • DG

    hello, can you please help me in identifying the difference between soft promotion and hard promotion mentioned above? what do they mean?! Thank you

  • DG

    hello, can you please help me in identifying the difference between soft promotion and hard promotion mentioned above? what do they mean?! Thank you

  • Corey Sheikh

    Thank you Scott. I have been using Asana project management tool to set up the schedule. I do find it harder to track in the sense of goin back in time to see what is working .. other than of course going into the platform and use the analytic tools.

    Whats your opinion on Hubspot?

  • ReggieOtis

    smartsheet for a small fee, multi-user, auto reminders, preset reporting

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  • MarySchaefer

    I’m sorry if I missed it. I’m not questioning the value of planning and having a strategy. My question is – to what end? Just using this as an example, will the golden ratio get me more followers, more engagement, more RT’s, fewer unfollows, etc.? Thx.

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  • TidyHQ

    Great tips Buffer! Using this to guide our Trello planning!