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How do you write a great blog? As usual, I’ve learned, it all starts with the audience.

Along with writing blog posts for the CoSchedule blog, I am in charge of writing all of the help guides for CoSchedule. I often forget, when users (our audience) ask questions about the CoSchedule app, that they are not as familiar with how to use CoSchedule as I am.

The questions that are asked surprise me. “That’s covered in the help section,” I think, and then I remember that while the help guides are a step-by-step process of where to click to make a specific action happen, they lack something important.

They tell you how to make CoSchedule work, but not necessarily how to make CoSchedule work for you.

CoSchedule was built to be flexible, because we all have different workflows. Some of us are solo bloggers, others have teams. Some use WordPress plugins that create custom post statuses to keep a piece of content moving through the publishing process. Some work in the same building, some are spread out across the globe. Some have a handful of social media accounts, some have an endless list.

Flexibility is necessary in order to meet all of these kinds of situations. And flexibility, with its beautiful open-ended possibilities, can be confusing. So I decided I would write a post to tell you all of the secrets of how we use CoSchedule here at…CoSchedule.

In The Beginning…

First, you should understand where CoSchedule came from.

If you read the first blog posts on this blog, you’ll get a bit of an understanding of why we built CoSchedule. We needed this kind of tool ourselves. Prior to getting started on CoSchedule, I’d written a post on my personal blog that stemmed from the frustration I felt at trying to deal with all of the social networks and blogging.

social media flow chart

I think that diagram says it all, even if it is a bit outdated and some integrations have finally changed.

There was a general sense of feeling like I was on the Tilt-A-Whirl at the carnival when it came time to get blog posts published and then shared out on all of the social networks. There were so many things to do and remember for the simple act of publishing a blog post.

Did I forget a network? Do I have the correct WordPress shortlink for my as-yet-unpublished post? Is the post scheduled to go before I scheduled all of the other social messages to go? Have I repeated some of the messages over time? Did I get the dates right? What if I need to change the date of the post? Did I find all of the messages and change their times, too?

Yuck.

There were lots of tools available, and they did the job, but nothing about it was pleasurable. Take this same song and dance, and mix in several blogs and team members. What did that end up looking like, you ask? Well, take a look at the flow chart:

team blog flow chart

We used paper editorial calendars with sticky notes to do the work described in the flow chart.

editorial calendar

The paper calendars were nice, but it was still a rudimentary process and we needed something better. It was from all of that paper and exasperation that CoSchedule was born.

Planning Comes First

The first thing we do is decide how frequently we’d publish on the blog. This has fluctuated over the past months based on different goals and objectives. Right now, we generally publish on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Tuesday is the day our Content Marketing Update goes out, in which we have room to feature three blog posts.

In other words, our blog posting schedule dovetails nicely with the goals and objectives we have with our other content marketing (in this case, the email). We don’t make too detailed a plan, mind you. We have a goal, and move in that direction.

Content Meetings + Freeform Ideas

Ideas for our blog posts come in two ways: 1) they stem from content planning meetings where we target trends, keywords, or topics that we feel are becoming necessary to write about, and 2) from ideas and topics that come to mind from our outside reading, discussion, or the random ether of the mind.

In content planning meetings, we discuss more than just the blog posts for the upcoming two weeks, but also things such as our email or other content marketing. From these meetings I will come up with several blog post ideas and add them to the CoSchedule calendar, assigning them to either myself or Garrett.

Both Garrett and I have full admin access to CoSchedule, so when we get an idea that we’d like to write about, we put it on the calendar as a draft blog post according to our Monday/Wednesday/Thursday schedule. If one of us comes up with a post idea we think would be perfect for the other, we add it to the calendar, assign them as author, and then leave a comment.

post ideas

Sometimes we get ideas that we think a team member would enjoy writing.

We like to keep our calendar full of posts at least two weeks in advance. As time progresses, some ideas get scrapped, some get moved, and some morph into something else.

We also have some post ideas in the draft bin as a sort of “fail safe” if, some crazy week, we find ourselves in need of a post idea immediately. In that case, I just pull them out onto the calendar, set the author, and create a task.

Planning My Own Blog Posts

When I create a blog post idea on the calendar, and assign it to myself, no one else is following the post in the CoSchedule system.

I often use the comments section of the post to store notes, links, ideas, and images that I will use to build the post. Remember, I’m working at least a few weeks in advance. This means I know what I’ll be writing about and with that in mind, I often find resources while surfing the web and I think “hey, that would be a great reference for my upcoming post!”

The comments section becomes a great storehouse for material for specific posts without clogging up my WordPress install. It’s handy having a place to dump those links and notes so that they are with the post I need and not in a note floating around in a random app somewhere. I’m more likely to see and use this research if it’s right where I’m working on the post.

If others join the conversation and I don’t want them to see my notes, I can easily delete those notes that I don’t need any longer now that I’ve written the draft of the post.

Using A Workflow That Works

What I love about how CoSchedule handles team workflow is that it is intuitive and malleable for however you need to use it for your team. It is a task-based workflow meaning it is based on the idea that team members have specific tasks to do and a date on which to do them. Once you’ve done your required task, you check it off the list and the team can see you’re done.

This works well, because we have a very simplified workflow here for our blog posts, though I know that some teams have complex blog publishing workflows and prefer to use custom post statuses.

What is the difference between a task-based workflow and a custom status workflow?

Custom Post Status Workflow

With custom post statuses, the post publishing process is broken down into stages of development. They might use a status such as pitch, draft, review, proof, photography, etc. Before the next stage can be started, the previous one must be completed. It is a logical way of approaching content.

custom post statusCustom post statuses travel along with the post, manually being set to the next status in the workflow as each team member completes their level. Someone at the top has to monitor it to be sure it clears one level before it moves on to the next state. It is a good system for complex posts with many team members contributing, as it makes sure no step is skipped and things are done in the necessary order.

Task-Based Workflow

A task-based workflow is a bit different from a custom post status workflow. Tasks are all laid out for everyone to see, based on a date or time they have to be done, and team members can converse about them as they progress.

task workflow

Everyone sees who needs to do what, everyone has a due date and can see if required tasks got done. They can hold conversations about the tasks as they progress. Our team is small, and so we don’t have the need to delineate and separate the workflow as much as a larger team might.

It’s really a small thing, but still a different way of approaching managing a post from idea to published. One flows from the top in a linear fashion, while the other is more organic and relies on your team members getting things done as a group. Both methods work well depending upon your team and how you are all used to working.

Task-Based Workflow In Action

Here at CoSchedule, we use simple assigned tasks. For this actual blog post, I drew a sketched diagram of a graphic I needed Garrett to create, uploaded into the associated CoSchedule entry for this post, and let him know.

assigning tasks

Garrett created the graphics, uploaded the finished images, finished his tasks, and then he left his own comment.

comment and tasks

We make heavy use of our comments section, and some of the tasks we commonly use are”Write post” or “Review post” or “Create graphic.” One of the handy things about how CoSchedule uses tasks, besides the fact that you can create any task you want, is that I can also manage who is following the post, adding and removing as needed.

following postThis makes sure that the right people get email notifications, and that if they are no longer involved, I don’t fill up their inbox with task and comment notifications.

email notifications

As I mentioned, it’s an organic approach to getting things done, much the way you’d work with people offline. Discussion, setting due dates, sharing of files needed to get the job done, hanging up the phone when no longer needed in the conference call–CoSchedule’s task-based system mimics this in a completely flexible way.

I do want to point out that this is how we use CoSchedule’s team and tasks, but the system is flexible and can be adapted.

Perhaps your team is larger and you’re going to make heavier use of permissions and restrictions. Or maybe you’ll have an editor who keeps an eagle eye on the tasks and assigns them out only when the proper task has been completed, removing people from following the post when their job is done and mimicking a custom post status workflow.

Whichever methods you choose, it’s important to find a team workflow that works.

Prepping The Social Media Content

OK. So we’ve done the planning, the idea building, the writing, the team participation–what’s left?

At CoSchedule, I’m the one who makes sure things are published to all of our social media accounts. This includes several Facebook and Google+ accounts, many many Twitter accounts, a Tumblr account, LinkedIn…really, we make use of the full spectrum of social media.

When it comes to sharing content, we have a solid plan about how we promote our blog content on social media, and we’ve talked about it many times on this blog.

I don’t create the social media until after the post is complete, though I know some teams do this differently.

The reason I wait is that the messages I create for Facebook and (especially) Google+ are generally longer and include snippets or lists from the post. Sometimes blog posts have a way of changing direction in the process of writing, and I like to make sure that the social message accurately reflects the final post.

Network Strengths Determine Post Types

Each social network has its strengths in how it displays and handles social media messages, and I keep these in mind. This affects how I use CoSchedule’s multi-scheduler, and which of the three social message post types I use.

social message types

I start with Google+ because those messages I think of as mini-blog posts, a detailed summation of the post.

google plus messages

Writing that summation helps jog my mind to summarize for the next social messages, some of which are much shorter. I find it an easier transition to go from proofing a full blog post, to summarizing it for Google+, and then to summarizing it even more for the other networks. I schedule two messages to Google+: one immediately upon publishing, and one many months into the future.

Next, I move on to the LinkedIn pages and profiles. The LinkedIn network doesn’t showcase image posts great, so I do all of the LinkedIn messages together as a Link Post.

Up next is Facebook pages and profiles. Sometimes I include these with Google+, as both networks handle Image and Link Posts well, but if I have a message that I want to use Google+ markdown with, I do Facebook on its own. I schedule two messages to Facebook: one immediately upon publishing, and one many months into the future.

Next is Pinterest and Tumblr. These networks work best with the Link Post type, which appears with a large image as if it were an Image Post, but links that large image back to the blog post.

Last is Twitter. We have many, many Twitter accounts that include our own personal accounts along with CoSchedule’s account. Because Twitter is a network that you ought to publish the same post to multiple times (though we generally word each post differently), it takes a bit more focus making sure you get it right. With CoSchedule’s multi-scheduler I set the messages to all the Twitter accounts as follows:

  • The first message is always set for same day, same time, using the title prefaced by “New Post”. Then I go back in and edit the times on the individual messages so they are spaced out through the day, changing a few to be Image Posts. Many people follow several accounts and I don’t want to spam their feed.
  • The next message is set for five days later, and is phrased differently. Then I go back and adjust the days so a few are four days, a few are six days later, and so forth. The times are adjusted as well, and those who hadn’t been sent as an Image Post are set to do so. Again, I don’t just want to blast the internet all at once.
  • The next message is set for ten days later, and asks a question if possible. I again go back and change the spread of the days and times for all of the accounts.
  • The next message is set for 15-20 days later, and uses the original title. Adjustments are made to time and days again.
  • Final messages are set for a few months in the future for some accounts. I send these as an Image Post. Not every twitter account gets them.

Depending upon the topic of the blog post, I may do additional tweets to some of the accounts far into the future. News announcements are shared less, as they are old news quickly.

I also am careful to only send a few times to personal accounts, and not repeat an image post to a personal account more than once. In tweets, I also try to use the Twitter handle of the author who wrote the post, as well as include the Twitter handle of any blog or source that was mentioned in it.

Once I have all of the message scheduled, I set my blog post to publish when I want it to, and that’s it! All of the content is set in motion and good to go.

So there you have it. We use CoSchedule from the very beginning, starting with planning, organizing ideas, and on all the way through publishing on all of the content channels we maintain.

I’d love to hear from other CoSchedule users how they’ve adapted the system to work for their blog, and share any tips they’ve come up with. Even if you don’t use CoSchedule, I’d still love to hear about your blogging and social media process.