Update: Since we posted this review, ContentCal has won the Best Newcomer award at the 2017 B2B Marketing Expo, which recognises growth, exceptional results, successful point of differentiation in the market and brand strength. Read on for a 20% discount code.
Are you one of those people drowning under a multitude of Post-it notes?
We’ve all been guilty of it at some time or another. A genius idea for your next piece of content suddenly strikes you so you duly scribble it down on a piece of paper only for it to be nowhere to be seen the following day.
The point is, we all like to visualise things. Particularly when it comes to forward planning our social media output.
Buffer once looked into the psychological reasons behind our preference for visually mapping our plans for the future. They specifically looked at content calendars, concluding that they can greatly lower the perceived difficulty of planning tons of content.
That must be why content calendars have become so popular in recent years.
We’re always on the look-out for new entries into the field, and one has caught our eye that is worth a look for brands and agencies looking for a way to optimise their social content workflows.
ContentCal is the brainchild of Alex Packham, former social media manager at online television service Now TV.
Like many in his position back in 2012, Packham was using spreadsheets or Google Docs to create his social content plans. All posts would have to be dug out of the spreadsheet and sent up the chain for approval. It was a fiddly, time-consuming process and he resolved to do something about it.
When he later set up his own social media agency, he discovered that many of his clients were having similar issues with planning their content. One scribbled napkin later and ContentCal was born.
ContentCal’s mission is to raise the bar in content marketing. The creators of CoSchedule, Kapost and DivvyHQ would all say the same, so what makes ContentCal any different from the rest of the field?
Make your own mind up with our guided tour…
Clearly the raison d’etre of any content calendar is to enable its users to plan content – and ContentCal makes that task a breeze.
When you first log in you’re greeted with a blank calendar just asking to be populated. But before you get started you need to connect your social networks. At present ContentCal enables you to post to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, with Instagram on the way.
If you’re an agency or a brand with multiple sub-brands, then you have the option to create several different calendars. You can then connect different networks to each calendar if you so wish. In theory, you could even create a separate calendar for each network just to keep things need and tidy – but most users will want to see all their content in the same calendar.
New posts can be added in seconds. The New Post page is as intuitive as it gets – simply type your post, add an image (or video), select a date and time and you’re ready to save it to your calendar or send it straight out (once you’ve previewed what it looks like, of course).
You also have the option to add comments that others in your team can view, or ignore the date and time field for now and save the post in your ‘Backlog’ (more on this later). Posts can also be added to the calendar as placeholders. These are posts that you know will be going out on a given day but perhaps aren’t quite fully formed just yet.
The post creation process really is ridiculously simple; we timed ourselves and managed to create five posts from scratch in little under four minutes (the ‘Save + Create Another’ button comes in handy here).
When you’ve populated your calendar with all of your forthcoming posts, you can then start planning your campaigns for the year.
You might be hosting a big event that will need promotional posts to drum up registrations. Or perhaps there’s a major product launch in the pipeline? You’ll definitely need to plan content around that if you’re going to maximise impact.
Happily, ContentCal gives you the option to add campaigns to your calendar. This is almost as seamless as creating a new post, though naturally you will probably need to spend a bit more time adding all the relevant text and assets.
Add your creative brief, tone of voice, posting frequency, strategy and objective… anything that will later help your team plan and optimise the kind of social content that will help make the campaign a success.
Team members with access can also add comments to the campaign page. In theory this should remove the necessity to have separate email conversations and multiple spreadsheets and text docs – so long as everyone remembers to use it.
Once your campaign has been created, it will appear in a ribbon along the top of your calendar across the selected timespan.
Not all posts are perfectly formed straight off the bat. Some start life as momentary thoughts that might not develop into anything, or might just turn out to be your best performing post of the year.
You don’t want to clutter up your calendar with these potential nuggets, and you don’t have to. Ideas can be sketched out just like a new post would be, only without a date and time selected. These posts will be added into your Post Backlog, where they can be developed or deleted once the team has had the chance to review them.
Ideas that become fully formed posts can simply be dragged and dropped onto your calendar.
This will be particularly useful for agencies and clients, who aren’t able to gather around the watercooler for impromptu creative brainstorms. With ContentCal, clients and account teams can throw their ideas into the Backlog and the collaboration can begin.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of ContentCal is its approval process functionality.
There is no one-size-fits-all approval hierarchy and the guys at ContentCal acknowledge this by giving you the freedom to create your own bespoke approval chains.
Once all the members of your team have been added to a calendar, there are four different roles that can be assigned to them:
- Content Creator: The team members who create the content – they have no approval privileges and are unable to publish posts.
- Editor: Perhaps a digital marketing manager or account manager, Editors can approve posts. Many in-house approval chains will end here.
- Manager: This could be someone client side, or perhaps a marketing manager.
- Director: The final step in the approval hierarchy. Sensitive or significant posts/campaigns might need top-level approval and this can be built in if required.
As content travels upstream it can come back down again with comments from managers. Posts can be adjusted and can then either go back up the chain or approved at Editor level if indicated by the Manager/Director in their comments. Otherwise a manager can simply click ‘Approve’ and the post will be ready to go.
Different approval chains can be created for each of your calendars. Some clients may require agencies to implement a four-step process, while others might be happy with a more streamlined workflow once trust has been established.
This process ensures that creating social posts becomes a fully collaborative effort with all the relevant individuals involved. It also reduces the possibility of an employee going rogue or accidentally posting to the company account when they’re 10 beers into a Saturday night out.
If you’re looking to take ContentCal for a test run then there’s a free option to get you started. You only get one calendar and you’re limited to how many posts you can schedule, but there’s enough here to help you make your mind up.
We think it’s got great potential – with one or two caveats. Without the option to post to Instagram it’s looking a little short in terms of available networks, but apparently this is in the pipeline so we’ll keep our eyes peeled for that. Google+ would be nice too.
We’d also like to see an analytics feature to enable us to assess the performance of our posts; CoSchedule’s ‘best time’ feature is a favourite of ours and a must for any social calendar. Auto link-shortening would also be a useful addition.
But that said, it’s a great start for such a young product and we think ContentCal will soon be able to provide a stern challenge to the big-hitters already out on the field.
Our Social Times readers can take advantage of an exclusive 20% discount by entering ‘OST’ when ordering ContentCal’s VIP plan.
ContentCal is an Our Social Times sponsor, but the review is the honest, unbiased opinion of the author.