For brands hoping to master social media, creating a content calendar is crucial in building a strategic presence. Social platforms may be dynamic, but a certain amount of planning and organization will help your presence immensely. With a content calendar, you can plan posts ahead of time, simplify the approval process, and impose some much-needed structure on your social media campaign.

1. Start early and stay ahead

One of the best aspects of an effective content calendar is that it abates the need to post something right now! Taking some time to flesh out a month’s worth of content can greatly reduce the stress that accompanies social media’s fast-paced environment. Start planning your content calendar at least a month before you intend to begin your social media campaign. Once your campaign begins, make sure you continue to stay 1-2 weeks ahead, so when the big launch day comes and your mind is scattered, your content won’t be. You’ll have set copy to publish to your fans. The key is to remain agile with your content, but also organized and prepared.

2. Decide on a general post schedule

Think about how many times per day you want to post your social media updates. Some brands have very vocal fans and are able to post multiple times per day, while other brands whose fans are less participatory may prefer to limit their posts to a few times per week. The best way to determine how many times to post per day is to A-B test. See what kinds of posts get the most engagement and when they’re posted. In addition, plan to post at a consistent time of day. Studies have shown the best time to post on Facebook and Twitter is around 9 AM PST, but keep in mind your Page may have a different optimum posting time, so figure out what’s best for you and keep your schedule as coherent as possible.

3. Plan around marketing objectives

Make sure your content calendar takes your future marketing campaigns into consideration. If you already have content planned for those campaigns, tie it into your social media campaign—these are easy additions to your content calendar. Plus, it’s a two-way street—your social media initiatives will benefit from the cross-promotion, and your marketing initiatives will benefit from the extended awareness. For example, when Old Spice launched its real-time social media campaign on YouTube as an extension of its “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign, their body wash sales increased 107 percent in less than one month.

4. Finalize a simple approval process

You can’t expect every status update or piece of content to be perfect, but you can set up safety nets to avoid a disaster. Creating a complete, but simple process for approving content can prevent status update debacles and the headaches that follow. Hosting the calendar in the cloud, or through a Social Media management tool (like the Context Optional Social Media Suite), makes it easy for everyone involved to make sure the best content is making its way onto your social media channels.

5. Adjust your strategy as needed

Review the type of engagement your content is receiving. What does it tell you? Do open-ended questions generate more engagement than marketing statements? Do photos drive more Likes but fewer comments? Take your analysis, compare it to your social media goals, and make adjustments as necessary. Social media can be a lucrative addition to your business, so the stakes are high. For example, Burger King invested less than $50,000 on their Whopper Sacrifice Facebook Application, which returned greater than $400,000 in press/media value. If your social goals are not being met, simply adjust your strategy.

The world of social media is fast-paced and can be stressful, but there are always strategies you can use to get – and stay – ahead. A content calendar is one of the simplest ways to organize these highly complicated campaigns into more easily implemented strategies. After all, social media never sleeps – but you need to.