Creating your social media content calendar: a planning process

Social media content calendar you've gotta have a plan (courtesy Beth Kanter Cambodia4Kids on Flickr CC)

You’ve gotta have a plan (courtesy Beth Kanter Cambodia4Kids on Flickr Creative Commons)

Latest update to this post – January 9, 2023

Do you know what you are posting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter next Wednesday?

The dirty secret is that a lot of folks have no idea, because they do not have any sort of social media content calendar. They figure it out on Wednesday morning, if they remember to post at all. Then they wonder why social media doesn’t do much for them.

One of our most popular social media workshops lately is called, “Social Media Planning: Build a Content Calendar for Next Week.”

We step people through a process that, if followed, results in a lot less stress for destination marketers, and much more effective social media posts that support their marketing goals.

(If you can’t swing bringing us in for a workshop right now, here is our content planning on-demand webinar.)

A social media content plan should support your goals. Know what you are going to post, and when. Know why you are posting it.

Here is that process….

Our Social Media Content Calendar Planning Process

You need to do some groundwork before jumping into next week’s calendar.

Here we go:

1) Know exactly what you are all about

We start by having workshop participants ask themselves some very basic questions, using a simple one-page digital destination marketing strategy worksheet.

For many, this is the first opportunity that they’ve had to think through an “elevator speech” that explains what they do and why their organization matters.

Fill in the blanks of this sentence that we borrowed from Joe Pulizzi with Content Marketing Institute and Andy Crestodina with Orbit Media Studios

“[Our organization/business/destination] is the place where [our audience] gets [what information/product/service] that offers [what benefit].”

You can’t plan for next Wednesday if you aren’t completely locked in to what you are all about, and can explain why people should care about what you do.

2) Know your visitors & where they are on social media

You want to plan posts for next Wednesday on the social media platform(s) where most of your visitors, guests, and customers spend their time.

If you don’t know where they are on social, for example, you’ll be posting on TikTok while they’re over on Facebook. You’ve just wasted time and effort (stress!) and no one sees/cares about your posts (ineffective!)

Based on solid knowledge about your visitors, use basic demographic information to start figuring out where they are on social media. We recommend the Pew Internet Research Social Media Fact Sheet (data is U.S. only – if you have a good source for international data, let us know in the comments.)

Then, do a little more specific research. Set up a survey and ask your email list about their social channels. Poll your Facebook Page, your LinkedIn Page, and your Twitter followers. Ask at in-person events.

Be absolutely clear about where you need to focus your social media efforts.

At this point, some of our workshop attendees start to feel a little overwhelmed. They’re realizing that social media isn’t just fun and games. It takes planning and work.

So, we cut to the chase with our current general advice about where they probably need to be on social, with this slide:

Social media content calendar building blocks screenshot Tourism Currents 2018 advice which social platforms to be on

Screenshot of our one-slide advice about which social media to be on, and how to succeed there

TL;DR means “too long, didn’t read.” It’s shorthand for “what’s the summary/quick answer?”

Remember, things change. Yahoo and AOL used to be a big deal. Don’t get too comfortable with the most popular platforms.

Make sure your website comes first, because you own it, unlike any social account.

3) Develop content topics that are tied to what you are all about, & are tied to your marketing goals

By now, you’ve answered two of the key questions that should drive your strategy for social media: who is your market, and where are they on social?

The next step is to take a hard look at both the “what we’re all about” elevator speech sentence that you filled in above, and at the marketing goals that you’ve set for your organization or business for the next few years.

As a tourism example, you may decide that one of your CVB, DMO, or Tourist Board goals for the next two years is to grow your cycling (bicycle) visitor niche. (We recommend this Path Less Pedaled post about bicycle tourism if you want to learn more about that idea.)

Anyway, that means that some of your social media posts need to be created with cyclists in mind, to support your marketing goal of getting their attention and convincing them to visit.

Back to those basic questions . . . where are cyclists on social media? What sort of content do cyclist travelers find appealing?

Do you see how much clarity this brings to your planning process?

You’re not posting “random whatever” on social; you are focused on specific content for a specific type of visitor. Tip: the narrower the niche, the wider the opportunity.

For ease of planning, you may decide to make every Wednesday “cyclist outreach day” for your social posts.

In addition to your niche-focused topic(s) you’ll also be thinking about topics tied to your more general destination marketing goals, which for most places is a variation on showing visitors where and how to “eat, stay, play” in your town.

You should finish this section with a list of five to seven general topics that you will make content to support, and two or three niche topics. If you have more or less, it’s okay, just have a coherent list that supports your goals.

4) Create different types of content for different goals

Now, this part is more “marketing geek,” but hang with us . . .

Each item of content you create should have a purpose. You’re creating posts on social media because you want people to DO SOMETHING after seeing them, right?

Here’s the thing, though: people are not always ready to hit the Big Red “Buy” Button. They are at different stages of the customer journey in travel. If all of your content is focused on pitching some sort of sale, it will really turn off the people who aren’t interested in that yet.

We see four different stages of such a visitor, guest, or customer journey – awareness/engagement, lead generation, sales, and nurturing current customers or visitors.

Mix up your content types to appeal to people at different points in the customer journey.

Here is a tourism partner example.

We had a pecan retailer attend one of our workshops in a small town. For her partner business, different types of content might look like this:

**  Awareness/engagement – build relationships with prospective customers. Make sure that people know you exist, and like what they see when they find you. How about a “sneak peek” at how her company cares for their pecan trees? Try a cute short video, early in the growing season, of baby nuts on one of the trees. Awwwww!

**  Lead generation – encourage some sort of conversion that can lead to sales. “Want to be the first to know when we have pecan sales, plus get our secret family recipes using pecans? Sign up for our monthly email newsletter.”  Include a mouth-watering photo of one of the pecan dishes. Make it clear what people will get and how often.

**  Sales – direct announcement of a sale. “Our 5 pound bags of unshelled Wichita and Desirable [types of pecans] nuts are on sale right now. We ship everywhere. You can freeze them till you need them. Click the button to buy.” Tailor the post’s button to say “Buy Now.”

**  Nurturing – don’t neglect current customers and the people who already love you. Maybe when a visitor to the pecan store posts a nice photo on Instagram, ask to share it with your followers, and also send them a private message with a coupon code for their next purchase.

Pecan illustration Yearbook of the US Dept of Agriculture 1912 courtesy Flickr Commons

Pecan illustration in the 1912 Yearbook of the U.S. Dept of Agriculture (courtesy U.S. Dept of Agriculture Library on Flickr Commons)

Make sense?

You might end up with a mix of, say, 50% awareness/engagement posts, 20% lead generation, 20% sales, and 10% nurturing.

5) Plan on a variety of media formats on your social media content calendar

Finally, mix up your content formats. Try text posts, photos, video, live video, infographics, a tip sheet download, audio files, webinars, etc., depending on the purpose of the content (see Step 4 above.)

An informational download like a case study or tip sheet doesn’t make much sense for general engagement, but it does make sense for lead generation.

Make sure the content format fits your goal for that content.

—->> Build yourself a “basket of content ideas” – a list of social post ideas tied to each of your marketing goals, including a variety of media formats, tweaked to fit different parts of the visitor or customer buying journey, that you can pull from and plug into your calendar. Here is our post about how to come up with content ideas to fill up your “basket,” including a helpful matrix resource to get you started.

Again, if it all seems too overwhelming, pick only one new format to try. How could you use, say, live video for compelling content on each step of a visitor/customer journey?

Now You’re Ready to Plan Next Week

We spend the rest of the workshop helping people work on their draft social media content calendar for the following week. It is so much easier to do when you already have your list of topics, content format ideas, and have thought about your goals and visitor/customer journey.

We give everyone in the workshop an Excel spreadsheet weekly template, but we also have them draw it out on paper and start filling in the blanks with post ideas….

Handwritten social media content calendar planning template for one week (photo by Sheila Scarborough for Tourism Currents)

Handwritten social media content calendar planning template for one week (photo by Sheila Scarborough for Tourism Currents)


Pen and paper are FINE. They always boot up, and you can spill coffee on them, too.

Yes, we say it is OK to use the same content on more than one channel, but effective content repurposing means that you craft each post to fit the platform. Do not blast the exact same post at the exact same time across every platform. You’re not “saving time” – you’re being ineffective. Take 15 seconds to make a better tweet, or Facebook Page post, or LinkedIn Page post that fits that platform, and mix up your days and posting times so you’re reaching different audiences.

Social media platforms are powerful; as we often say, they are the most significant communications tools since the printing press. They can do a lot for your destination, attraction, hotel, or partner business, but only if you take them seriously and do some planning for how you’ll use them.

How would you change or improve our planning process? Let us know down in the comments!

Need a speaker for a conference, workshop, or webinar? Get in touch, and let’s talk.


(Want to learn on your own/self-paced, but also checking in with us regularly for coaching and consulting? That’s our online Full Course with Full Support – learn how to use social media and digital destination marketing to bring more visitors to town! Lessons are kept updated, and you will never lose access. Ask questions and get feedback any time, in any course module. Includes the option to join our private Facebook Group, “Our Town Matters.”)


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