For anyone in marketing, I do not need to explain the value of content and content marketing. For anyone unfamiliar, content marketing in simple terms is essentially the practice of putting out content, be it blogs or social media posts, that helps to drive potential clients to your business by offering them snippets of value.
For most content marketers, they use tools to help them keep track of the various pieces of content they need to manage so they can stay on schedule and on brand. (Any marketing person will have a lot to say about consistency in your brand but that’s not for this post).
In my consulting role, I’ve seen marketers use anything from spreadsheets to Airtable. You can easily download free Excel or G Sheets template for content planning or start with the default Airtable Social Media planning template. If you do not know where to start, the templates will provide you a good reference point.
After playing with some of these tools and their features, I wanted to see if I can accomplish similar results with Microsoft Lists to manage my own content while not investing too much into apps I may not need. After all, I’m not a full-fledged marketing person; I just need to be able to manage my content without things falling off the wayside (which often happens with this stuff).
Licensing - Free!(most likely)
Microsoft Lists (or SharePoint Lists) is included in every Microsoft 365 plan including Business Basic. So if you have an existing O365 license, chances are you already have Lists. It comes with its own web app and mobile app but it is technically part of SharePoint Online. Just a point of note here, because I frequently work from my phone, whether or not there’s a great mobile functionality will usually make or break a product for me.
So, to start, create a List from modern SharePoint or use the List app from Microsoft 365. At the outset, Microsoft Lists can function a lot like an Excel spreadsheet. You have columns and rows and you input data into the cells. What gets really interesting is that List is also a lot like an Airtable table, you can have field types, multimedia fields, and create different views from the List items.
You can quickly create a list from any of the available templates, from an existing Excel spreadsheet, or use another list you already have as a template by choosing “From existing list”.
Since I was already using Excel to plan my content, I chose “From Excel”.
If you don’t want to start from scratch, you can choose the Content schedule template. This template has columns that gives you an idea of the fields you should track if you’ve never done any sort of content marketing before. List allows you to format the columns in many different ways so you can easily see where things are. As you can see, some of my fields are “Author”, “Content Status”, “Post Link” and the image associated.
You can also filter and create different “views” from this list. For example, you can show the content assigned to a particular person. These views can be saved so they can easily be utilized later.
If your list has a date field, you can also create a Calendar View from a date field in your list, such as the Scheduled Publishing Date. As you can see, I am very consistent with my content (not).
Beyond the multimedia fields, I found the integration with Microsoft’s Power Automate the most useful for my content planning. On a basic level, by using Power Automate, I can receive Teams or Email alerts when a post is ready to go live (if it wasn’t able to be scheduled ahead of time).
Getting fancy though, my favourite automation via Power Automate is blog drafts. What this automation does is:
Whenever a “Blog” content type is created on my content planner:
Power Automate will go grab my blog Word draft template from SharePoint;
Create a new file from that template and save it to my blog draft folder in SharePoint;
Grab the assigned author from O365;
Create a task in Planner in the appropriate plan and assign it to the author, and…
Send a Teams notification to the author that there is a Planner task assigned to them, and advise them the draft is ready to edit.
From these automated steps, some neat things happen in the “Update file properties” line: the blog draft that gets created has fields automatically populated from the list, so the assigned author doesn’t need to refer back to the content planner to know what he/she needs to write about.
Because Lists is part of SharePoint and the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, integration is very easy. As we saw above, Power Automate can extend the functionality of Lists. You can also add Lists into your Teams channel as a tab so the marketing folks don’t need to even leave the collaboration tool.
For example, I use Buffer to schedule my posts. So I have my content planner list beside the buffer window all within Teams.
Spreadsheet vs Database
As you can see from the default List templates, there are a lot of potential use cases for Lists, and it is a much better tool to use if you tend to track things on spreadsheets. Of course, a list is not a true database. So if you need to work with tables that easily reference and link to each other, Lists may not be the best solution for you.
I hope this post gave you some ideas on how to use Lists, and how you can use Power Automate to really extend the functionality of Office 365. If you do need a relational database, you can also try out Airtable with their free tier.