Coordinating all the content on a blog like Curbly is no small feat. We have four full-time employees, plus a cast of incredible freelance contributors from all over the country (and the world!). We want our content to be relevant, focused, and thoughtful - so how do we do it? Today I want to share all the behind-the-scenes stuff that happens here at Curbly, every month, in order to get more than 30 blog posts pitched, written, edited, and published. Read on for the grisly details!
Ok, spoiler alert: it's not all that grisly. Here's what we're up against:
What are the problems we need to solve?
- Writers have lots of great ideas; it's hard to narrow it down.
- Writers often pitch the same (or similar) ideas; we don't need two people working on the same post independently.
- E-mail is really hard to sort though. Ideas pitched over e-mail come tucked away inside paragraphs of other stuff, or get lost in the back-and-forth.
- Other project planning tools aren't really built for bloggers. We tried several, and we always felt like we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. They're either too general (a project management tool for everyone!) or too specific to a different use-case (software development isn't planned the same way as editorial content).
- A team of mostly-remote contributors needs some editorial direction, or the site loses coherence, but also needs some independence.
- Every post is different and requires a different budget. Budgeting for this without a good, structured system is almost impossible.
How Curbly PM Solves Our Problems
Back in 2010, I built a web application that allowed writers to submit their blog post pitches quickly and easily, in a standard format. No more messing around with dozens of e-mails outlining blog post ideas.
We call it Curbly PM (for Project Manager), although it desperately needs a better name (suggestions?).
Click here to get access
By the 10th of each month, all the writers have submitted their pitches on Curbly PM for the next month. Each pitch contains the working post title, a description of the post (with image references or links, if applicable), and in the case of freelancers, the proposed payment rate. The pitches need to be approved by our editors before they make it onto the editorial calendar.
Each month, the entire Curbly 'staff' (me, Chris, Alicia and M.E.) do an editorial brainstorming and planning call. We talk about the topics we want to see on the blog for the next month, trends we're seeing, and so on. We look into our analytics to find areas readers are interested in, or asking questions about. We also look for old blog posts that are still getting traffic and may need to be updated or revisited.
After the full team planning call, we add all our ideas into Curbly PM as pitches.
Scheduling & Budget
The next day, Chris and I spend about two hours going through all the pitches, approving or declining them, adjusting the titles, keywords, or topics, and scheduling them on the calendar. We also review or adjust the proposed compensation rates for each post, depending on our available budget, our vision for the post, and other factors.
If two hours sounds like a lot, imagine doing this over e-mail, or on paper! With Curbly PM, we can drag and drop the pitches onto the calendar, easily modify them or leave feedback for the writers, and get a great top-level view of all the content we have planned for the next month. Best of all, we can slice and dice the calendar by writer and topic, so it's easy to see who's working on what. And of course, from the business side of things, it's great to be able to see exactly how much money we have budgeted for content (and by writer) for the whole month.
Once all the pitches are scheduled, Curbly PM sends the writers e-mail notifications about the stories assigned to them. Writers can also subscribe to an iCal feed showing their assignments directly on whatever calendar software they prefer to use.
At that point, everyone gets to work writing their blog posts. If a writer has a question while they're working, or the post starts going in a different direction, they can comment directly within the blog calendar to let me or Chris know about it.
Comments can include @mentions of other users, so if I want Alicia to take leave some feedback on a post M.E. is working on, I can just let her know in the comments ("Hey @alicia, can you weigh in here?"), and she'll get notified.
The great thing about having all our content planned out in a structured app (rather than in millions of e-mails), is that we can look back at any month, going back for seven years, and see what we were working on. Here's what April, 2014 looked like:
What could be better?
There's still plenty of room for improvement. The system sort of stops there at the planning step. There's no ongoing reporting (like: how did each post perform?). There's also no great way of planning ongoing maintenance for posts (which is a big deal, since our posts are almost all evergreen, and really should be updated continuously).
And it also doesn't (yet) address another major scheduling and planning issue that has become more and more important over the last few years: social media. These days, we really should be planning a social media promotion campaign for every single blog post we write. Like: post to Facebook the day of publishing, then post again two weeks later, and then again two months later, etc. There are some tools out there that handle this use case already, so I'm not sure it's worth building into our system.
Curbly PM has worked really well for us, allowing us to collaborate with people in lots of different places, and to get a handle on our editorial process in a thoughtful, structured way. We've decided it might be a good fit for some other bloggers out there, so we're opening it up. If you're a blogger looking to improve your editorial planning system, click here to try it out.
Let me know in the comments!
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