The 9 most helpful tools to plan and brainstorm your content marketing campaign (part 1)
Content marketing is, depending on how you look at it: A) exciting, incremental, and rewarding with the kind of response you can get from a captive audience, or B) straight-up drudgery. We at Alto Social are in the business of shifting the work over to the A) side of the spectrum, so we’ve organized a list of the best (in our experience) tools to help you through each step of the content pipeline.
Speaking of, there are generally 6 major steps to the pipeline, and that’s how we’ve organized our list: planning, brainstorming, writing, design, sharing, and analytics. We’ll focus on the first two today. Some of these tools flow pretty well into each other, and we make our recommendations for how to integrate them together in our descriptions below.
To start us off, we want to emphasize that a tool is only what you make of it, and as such, sometimes the best tool is more of a technique. Standing for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based,” SMART is something we often do unconsciously, and therefore a great help to those of us who want to formalize an effective process for setting goals. For many new marketers starting out, content marketing is a nebulous realm, inviting (usually inadvertently) nebulous goals. The way to cut through the haze is with intelligent (pun intended!) objectives that clearly outline what you’re trying to do–there’s a big difference between “let’s increase our marketing revenue” and “let’s bump marketing revenue by 20% in the next 2 months by optimizing our publishing schedule.”
With clear goals set, it’s time to put together a calendar that reflects them. To be honest, there are a ton of calendar platforms out there, and you could use just about any of them for content marketing. However, specialized tools still win out for their intended purposes, and CoSchedule earns its spot on this list for its ability to keep even packed calendars clean and easy to organize. You can manipulate entire weeks’ worth of content scheduling with an intuitive drag-and-drop interface, and team communication features are built right in.
Trello is an example of a tool that wasn’t specifically made for content marketing, but due to its flexibility and power can still serve all your content planning needs. Where I recommend CoSchedule for teams with lots of content to push out, I’ll give the edge to Trello for teams that find themselves collaborating on individual pieces. Due to its card interface, it can be a little difficult to figure out exactly how to integrate it with the Trello calendar, but I find that this can actually organize one’s thoughts. Try setting up cards to match the phases of your workflow:
- Currently writing
- Graphics and Editing
Each team member can see these cards, so everyone is kept on the same page.
4. Excel/Google Sheets
By Excel, I really mean Google Sheets. With its live editing/collaboration, Google Sheets is extremely versatile and–best of all–free without fear of running into any features locked behind a premium tier. As mentioned above, versatility does not always lend itself optimally to your needs, but (also mentioned above) good technique can wrangle it into something very workable.
1. Alto Social
I’m going to be biased, but we’ve got a great feature here for a use case that a lot of our competitors haven’t picked up on yet. What happens when you’ve run into a writer’s block and don’t know quite what to say? We give you a couple options:
- Pick a subject to follow and observe what’s trending
- Look through your favorite sites and see what they’re writing about
- Find a compelling piece of content from someone else and offer your own commentary to fill in a slot on a slow day
And all of these options are located in our Discover feature with the ability to share whatever headline you find directly to your audience with one click.
BuzzSumo has an extremely useful feature which lets you if and how much a given topic is trending. Once you’ve gotten your mojo back from looking at your Alto Social Discover feed, try throwing your new ideas at BuzzSumo to see what will give you the best response. Things change, of course, so any given topic can trend higher than another from day to day, and you can continually monitor your ideas to strike when the iron’s hot.
Klout has existed in many forms over the years, including as, it was once described, “your social media frenemy.” Nowadays it’s got a new purpose in life, which is to point you to the kind of content that best jives with your audience and (the part that we find most useful) the big influencers in your space. Brainstorming for content is much easier when you can see who the big wigs are and what they’re saying. This is the feature we like the most:
Depending on who Quora thinks you are, it’s either the place you go for the answers to questions like “would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck?” or a treasure trove for gauging what inquiring minds want to know. Quora lets you follow topics of your choosing, which are so vast as to seem unlimited in their scope, and once you’ve gotten your topics picked out, it’ll send you questions from other users it thinks you can answer. Beyond the initial configuration, you almost don’t even have to look and you’ll get ideas sent to you.
5. HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator
For industries with audiences who don’t necessarily always need on-the-dot, timely pieces, HubSpot has a great tool for throwing out headlines that can turn into good pieces. You just need 3 nouns to put in and its secret sauce backend will show you some fresh headlines, like above!
Although it’s a great tool, it is a little bit limited in the sense that most audiences do want something new. You may have to refresh the generator a few times to get something you can work with.
That’s it for this edition! We’ll come back in a few days with parts 2, 3, and 4, covering the rest of the content marketing pipeline. We hope you’ve found this useful–happy publishing! [Read part 2 here!]
In the meanwhile, come try out Alto Social’s features. We support every step of the pipeline. We have a free tier for small scale marketers getting off the ground, as well as lots of exciting features for paid tiers.