How To Build A Conversation Calendar For Social Media

conversation calendarContributed by Content & Community Specialist Heather Rast.

As social media becomes more integrated with PR services, the need for mapping activity to strategic objectives, efficient tactical workflow, controls to ensure on-brand messages will continue to grow.

In a recent #SoloPR Twitter chat, we talked a bit about approaches and tools used by some community members.  While a few participants voiced their experiences, a lack of comment by many (plus a few questions by others) suggest there’s room on the table to lay some pieces out.

Birthed from the editorial calendar, the conversation (or social media) calendar can be instrumental for both the planning and tactical aspects of social media planning. Like many techniques, there’s no hard and fast “right way” to develop one. But there are several components many consider to be essential. I’ll list them here to get your brain going, then share more detail below.

  1. Objectives
  2. Vision
  3. Voice, Style, Tone
  4. Tools
  5. Channels
  6. Planning Content
  7. Logistics
  8. Closing The Loop

Objectives

If the scope of your client consulting arrangement includes social media, it’s critical to understand how that activity supports broader business objectives. Without knowing whether your piece of the pie is expected to serve as a preemptive move in the event of a crisis, or as a means to nurture open communication with brand advocates, you can’t be effective at your job.

Vision

It may sound hokey, but I think it’s important to establish an operating vision for the social and community-building work consultants do. Without a common agreement on vision between you and your client, it may be difficult for them to understand your recommendations for content. Be careful not to assume.

Voice, Style, Tone

Although the messages you’ll develop will be online and not a printed element you can hold, the import of how the brand is perceived is just as important. Ask for your client’s brand bible or style guide early in your planning. Learn accepted language, terms, tone (how it’s said), voice (what’s said), and style. A bank, for instance, may lean toward a conservative tone and voice, and avoid statements that might be construed as commitments or guarantees. A children’s clothing retailer might prefer to cover topics ranging from child rearing to choosing day care facilities, and might want to do so in a friendly, approachable tone.

Tools

Some of our community members reported liking Sprout Social for setting up work flow and identifying audience prospects. Others prefer Hootsuite’s feature set, and some folks like CoTweet.  All three (and there are others) offer free versions to try out while you determine which best suits your needs. The learning curve with each can take several days to truly grasp all features, so be sure to give yourself some time in order to make an informed decision. Plus, getting comfortable with a tool means you’re more apt to actually use it once you pull the trigger with your assignment.

Channels

When digging through your client’s brand bible to gather intel for voice, tone, and style, you’ll likely come across customer profiles or personas (if not, be sure to ask for them), or any demographic/psychographic research that may have been conducted. These things can help you determine which channels – from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest and on – might be where your client’s ideal customers hang out.

Planning Content

Your client may be able to list some industry or trade publications which serve as information resources for them. Through some research, you should be able to identify competition and allied interests, and ferret out blogs, media companies, research, and other useful sources of content. Whether it’s appropriate to link to this content, re-broadcast tweets and other messages, or use the information as a springboard for new original writing, consider developing a broad mix of content types and sources. Google Reader can be used to collect and share RSS feeds from target sites, and Diigo or Delicious can be used to tag and catalog good finds for reference later.

Logistics

Who is the account owner? Do both the client and the consultant know the log-on credentials? Are the volume of messages so high as to warrant shifts or teams for updates and responses? What’s the ideal rate of frequency for sharing links versus carrying on spontaneous conversation? Logistics concerning the accounts to the firing of messages needs to be considered. It’s likely the process may need some fine-tuning so don’t expect to get it perfect right out of the gate.

As for the work product of all of these steps, I’ve seen conversation calendars in the form of Excel documents and Google docs. When combined with a tool like HootSuite, even shared Google Calendars can serve as a means to keep client and consultant stakeholders apprised of planned content. Another tool I’ve tried to capture dates and tasks is Tom’s Calendar which uses a Gantt-style approach to mapping out information.

Closing The Loop

Concentrate too much on the messages and activity that originates with you, it may be easy to overlook – or underestimate the attention needed – the return loop. Who is responsible for following up on incoming messages? Is there an escalation policy? What about routinely evaluating analytics to determine performance for ideal time of day, popular content, etc?

Planning and managing social media as part of a company’s overall communications efforts requires a lot of research, thinking, writing, analysis, and coordination. A conversation calendar can be a useful tool for you and your client when care is taken to cover the groundwork recommended above.

What would you add to a social media conversation calendar? Kellye has a couple of examples in one of her PR/social media presentations posted on SlideShare (see slides 15-16).  Other good reads include posts from: Arik Hanson, Ian Smith, Debbie Williams, and Joan Damico (be sure to check out her sample spreadsheet).
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  • Super helpful post.  Timely for some things I am working on.  Thanks.

  • Glad you found it useful, Jane — it’s something PR pros are being tasked with more and more. Stay tuned for more on conversation calendars here on the Solo PR Pro blog!

  • Great info.. will be sharing, stealing as needed. 😉

  • Thanks for the mention, Heather. As more companies build out their social media and content marketing programs, the conversation calendar is helping them manage more effectively. Adding personas to the content types is helpful in better targeting content.

  • Michael Patterson

    I know i’m late to this post but it was a great read! Completely agree with the need to have a consistent voice. That’s why I really like the campaigns from @oreo. They seem so consistent.