Yesterday, I pulled together some data points into a spreadsheet for a last minute project. An hour ago, I tracked a fall training program in a spreadsheet. So, I am a big supporter and user of shared spreadsheets and documents for purposes that are:
- Ad hoc, non-recurring
- Limited (e.g. less than 6 months) in timeframe
- Collaborative with a few (e.g. under 10) people
- Tactical and focused purely on execution
Campaign planning, though, is not any of those things. So, why do marketers often resort to spreadsheets and docs when planning their digital content? Maybe they don’t know alternative technologies exist. Maybe they don’t have budget for those technology alternatives. Or maybe, and too frequently, they have purchased technology to help them plan and publish content...but it’s so hard to use and/or limited in scope that they just go back to spreadsheets.
What makes digital planning difficult? In a word: content. The biggest limitation in technologies tends to be around content type. You have one tool for planning established social media content, another for “newer” social media content (e.g. Snapchat), one for blogs, one for onsite events, one for emails, another for ads, and the list goes on. The appeal of spreadsheets, other than the obvious accessibility and financial factors, is that there is no limitation in content type. You can plan all content in one place. Just create a new column and you’re up and running.
But, let’s be real. More columns doesn’t solve the real problem. There are serious benefits to technology that solve the problem through capabilities like an omni-channel calendar, role-based permissioning, and more to help you overcome the perils of spreadsheets.
These are my top 10 reasons why spreadsheets just don’t cut it for content planning:
- IT ONLY GETS HARDER, NOT BETTER - There are minimal barriers to entry with a spreadsheet. They are easy to get started but very hard to maintain. But, as the planning continues and expands, it becomes unwieldy.
- IT DUPLICATES WORK - If you plan content in a spreadsheet and then go publish elsewhere (whether natively or in a publishing tool), then you’re duplicating and complicating the work. For social posts alone, you’d have to copy and paste from multiple columns, plus track down the assets.
- YOU NEED SHARED VISIBILITY FOR MORE PEOPLE - Global calendars give other team members, other regions, and other departments visibility into what is being published, so they can coordinate. 50 people don’t typically check spreadsheets regularly, and even if they did, what happens when someone decides to create a new version?
- YOU’RE STUCK WITH UNINSPIRING CAMPAIGN PLANNING - Shared spreadsheets and docs aren’t super visual, so it can be harder to see what campaigns and content are going out on any given day. We execute better and catch more mistakes when we can visualize the plan. And when your CMO wants to see the big picture of the month’s content plans, you probably don’t want to start out with “well, let me show you the 20 columns and 50 rows on this spreadsheet…”
- YOU CAN’T COLLABORATE WITHOUT EMAIL - Discussing content is much easier in a real-time tool instead of mentioning each other in comments. And let’s be honest, we tend to ignore those emails anyway.
- IT CAN’T MANAGE APPROVALS - You can’t easily manage and track the approval process in shared docs or spreadsheets. Just add an “Approved” column, you say? What if you have more than one approver? Or someone else that wasn’t the approver marks yes? Or there are required edits to the content before being approved? When approvals are there to protect you from publishing something embarrassing or off-brand, it’s pretty important to actually manage and track that approval process.
- DATA IS LOST - With shared documents, even though you can engage about a post, unless you keep all the docs around forever, it’s not trackable: it’s easy to inadvertently clear comments out so it’s hard to see when, where, and what people discussed about a particular post or who approved it. And if you’re in a regulated industry, these audit trails are a no-brainer.
- THERE’S NO VERSION CONTROL - Where’s the “single source of truth” calendar? Many times, people create multiple spreadsheets in a single complex workbook for different pages/handles and regions. Organizing and keeping track of these, plus locating the most up to date version, is a headache for everyone.
- IT’S STATIC AND NOT HELPING YOU - Wouldn’t it be nice to have automated reminders around when a post is ready for approval, when it’s approved, and again when it’s ready to be published? Spreadsheets can’t do this, and this gap causes things to fall through the cracks, or worse: you publish something completely irrelevant that you planned 3 months ago.
- IT’S ALL PLAN AND NO ACTION - How do you manage campaign tactics? Beyond an owner name, you need to be clear about who is working on what, the status on it, and the ultimate task deliverable. Otherwise, your plans go nowhere or you spend forever chasing everything down.
Here’s a visual to sum it up. A spreadsheet for content planning across channels and campaigns:
vs. Lithium technology for content planning across channels and campaigns that also solves the top 10 perils above:
Which would you trust and want to use each day?
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