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 social media 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 met with the ContentCal Dashboard. From here you can create a brand new blank calendar just asking to be populated. But before you get started you need to connect your social networks. ContentCal enables you to post to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google My Business and Instagram.
If you’re an agency or a brand with multiple sub-brands, then you have the option to create several different calendars and keep all of your content together, yet united under one ContentCal account.
New posts can be added in seconds by either hovering over the Calendar or pressing the ‘Add new post’ button. 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 ‘Pinboard’ (more on this later). Posts can also be added to the calendar as Drafts. 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 a little under four minutes.
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.
Once your campaign has been created, it will appear in a ribbon along the top of your calendar across the selected timespan.
The brand new Content Hub is the ultimate home for all of your content. It’s split into a couple of different areas so you can easily access your posts and drafts: currently Library and Previous Posts.
Library is where you’ll create and store your content. You can use this area to create template posts, begin drafting content away from the Calendar, or you can use this area to create an image library.
Previous Posts is an area where all of your published content lives. Anything that has been published from your ContentCal Calendar will appear in this area. That means that if you want to reuse something you’ve posted before, all it takes is a click of a button.
Coming soon: Discover, a place for content from RSS feeds, search, and much more.
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 Pinboard, 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 Pinboard and the collaboration can begin.
A new offering to the ContentCal roster, Contributions is a great place for ideas to be born. And not just with your marketing team, either.
This new feature, released in late 2020, allows you to invite your team to contribute content ideas via custom-made forms. All of your responses will then appear in your Content Hub Library, ready for you to get creating some great content off the back of this.
Anyone in your team can submit an idea, meaning you can collaborate with people in your company that you perhaps usually wouldn’t on a daily basis. After all, the best content is created together.
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 several different user permissions that can be assigned to them. These user permissions will dictate what your team (or clients) are able to do within the Calendar.
- View + Comment: These users cannot create posts or approve posts. They can only view the posts, and leave comments.
- Creator: These users can create posts within the Calendar. They can send their own posts for approval, but cannot approve a post.
- Approver: These users can approve posts but cannot add new posts to the Calendar. This role is ideal for a Manager or Client.
- Moderator: This user is best reserved for your internal team, only. A Moderator will be able to approve posts and create posts.
If you need to create an approval flow with multiple steps, ContentCal can enable your account with Advanced Approvals. This will allow a series of Approvers to approve the content, one after another.
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 Moderator level. Moderators will be excluded from a multi-step approval workflow, so they can approve at any time.
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 five drinks into a Saturday night out.
2019 /2020 Updates
If you’re spending good money on a social media tool, you want to know its developers are constantly working hard to improve it. Social media is constantly evolving and you’ll want the reassurance of knowing that your suite of tools is evolving with it.
Happily, ContentCal has introduced a raft of new features so its customers know they’ll be benefiting from the latest developments in the industry.
Here’s a snapshot of what’s been added:
- ContentCal Articles – Create long-form content including blogs, newsletters and press releases
- Contributions – Get ideas from your team using custom-made forms
- Native Linkedin mentioning
- Custom video thumbnails/titles
- ContentCal Academy – an all-new learning space for digital marketers
- Web Clipper – Save inspiration you find while browsing the web
- Snippets – save frequently used hashtag groups or captions in one space
- A new-and-improved version of ContentCal Analytics
Every social media planning tool needs an analytics suite, and thankfully ContentCal has an impressive offering.
You’ve got full control over the level of insight you want to display. Filters at the top of the Analytics tab enable you to select which social network you want to view results for, and between which date ranges.
There’s also an overview section which provides you with a snapshot of how your content is performing on a broad level. You can view your ‘best times to post’, while your top performing content will also be highlighted clearly showing you the type of posts that perform best for you.
And if you want to re-publish that top content, you can – quickly and easily.
Previously only a place to keep on top of your social media posts, ContentCal has taken the leap into planning and creating your long-form content including newsletters, blogs, and press releases to name a few.
ContentCal Articles follows the same approvals process as your usual calendar, and has built-in rich text functionalities, meaning you can create your longer pieces exactly the same way that you would with your usual word processor.
Thanks to ContentCal’s integration with Zapier, you can now automate workflows between ContentCal and thousands of other apps.
Some of our favourite uses of Zapier with ContentCal include…
- Slack + ContentCal – Any items starred in Slack can be automatically sent to the ContentCal Pinboard, ready to transform into social media content.
- ContentCal + Buffer – Buffer is another scheduling tool that also allows direct publishing to Instagram. Use ContentCal to plan your social media content and Buffer to publish the posts.
- ContentCal + Pocket – Any items saved in Pocket can be automatically be added to your ContentCal Pinboard, ready to be added to the content schedule.
You can also use ContentCal’s Zapier integration to publish from ContentCal to Pinterest, Facebook Groups, WordPress, Youtube and so many more.
This year, ContentCal has introduced a brand new learning space for digital marketers. With courses led by industry experts, the ContentCal Academy is a free resource, and covers all areas of marketing from generating leads, through to coming up with a killer strategy.
Coming soon: Certification
Social Media Monitoring: ContentCal Respond
Currently in Beta phase, ContentCal’s social media monitoring tool, Respond, allows you to reply to social media messages from within ContentCal. Currently, you can reply to Tweets and DMs, Facebook messages like and retweet tweets, view profiles from within ContentCal, and view an inbox of all social media messages.
You’ll also be able to assign conversations to team members and add internal notes – a particularly useful tool if you have a number of people working on customer service.
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.
If you’re an SME keen to become a more permanent customer, then you’ll be pleased to hear that ContentCal have refined their pricing to make it more accessible to small businesses.
As an overall package it’s well worth a trial run if you’re sitting on the fence. When it was released we were impressed by its potential, but it’s now starting to deliver on that potential in bucket-loads and is a genuine alternative to the big-hitters in the field.
But don’t just take our word for it. ContentCal 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. They also won Best Social Media Tool Of The Year 2018 at Social Day’s Social Media Marketing Awards and were recognised as one of the fastest-growing software products in the space in 2019
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.