Do you need help getting started?
You don't have to be a professional designer or photographer to create interesting images and video.
In this article I'll share tools and tips for adding visual content to your marketing mix.
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#1: Use Easy Desktop Tools
Never before have we had such an amazing range of DIY design tools at our disposal. In fact, just two years ago, we were restricted to two choices: learning sophisticated programs like Photoshop or Illustrator or hiring a designer.
I'm not advocating doing away with your designer. There's no question a designer is integral to establishing great branding. I'm saying there's a lot you can do yourself when you have the right tools.
For the sake of keeping things simple, I recommend you begin with the following two tools on your desktop: Canva and PicMonkey.
Canva is a DIY design tool that's so easy to use anyone can jump in and create engaging images in minutes. Canva provides a smorgasbord of pre-designed templates. (Although you can design amazing custom images too, it's the templates I want to highlight.)
You can choose from templates that work with Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, blogs and more. Canva is always producing more templates and designs. In fact, just as I was writing this post, a new Twitter post template appeared overnight.
In addition to myriad templates, Canva offers features like filters, fonts, texts, styles and the ability to upload your own images. You'll be creating custom images in no time.
The other desktop option I suggest is PicMonkey. It's a photo-editing tool, but it can be so much more than that. PicMonkey features a number of icons, graphics, filters and designs perfect for creating social media images.
One of the handiest features is that you can use any font installed on your computer within the program—your fonts show up in the font selector with all of the PicMonkey fonts. Now that is cool.
PicMonkey has a fun side to it too, providing many quirky and fun holiday templates, complete with holiday-themed icons, images and fonts. This makes it easy for any marketer to plan celebrations and events and quickly create related visual content.
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Both Canva and PicMonkey provide super-helpful tutorials and great blogs to get you started. Both platforms are growing their functionality all the time, so the winner is the marketer needing to create original visual content on a daily basis—that's you!
#2: Design Branded Templates
A useful tactic for creating visual content easily and efficiently is to create a series of branded templates you can use for just about any purpose at any time (e.g., promoting an event, celebration or product launch).
This is where you may need your designer—ask him or her to create a simple background template your team can use to overlay text, like the one above from Y Travel Blog.
Make sure the designer includes important elements like your logo, company colors and URL.
When the background template is designed, all you need to do is add your customized content (see above) and you have an attractive image you can share far and wide.
#3: Batch Campaign Images
If you want to be really productive with visual content creation, you need to batch your images, just as you might batch your blog articles, video production or podcast recordings.
Think in terms of creating a series of images for single themes (e.g., one template for tips and another template for quotes). You can even batch templates for campaigns like promoting a product launch or an upcoming event.
Canva's dashboard is ideal for batching images because it allows you to easily copy the format from a previous image to create the new one, swapping out images or text as you go.
Where possible, embed your new visual content on your website or blog, and then share it out to social sites from there. The images above were embedded in a blog post so they could be shared to Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.
#4: Build an Image Library
This is such a simple tip, but so many brands overlook it when working with designers.
Any time you have an image designed or a photograph taken, ask your designer or photographer to give you two files: one as regular .jpg file and the second as a .png file with a transparent background. A .png file allows you to overlay an icon or image on any background.
Here is just a small sample of some of the images I've had designed that represent my core messages around visual social media and visual content.
Once you have a small library of images, you can start to get really creative with your visual content using the tools mentioned in this article.
#5: Install Mobile Apps
I use many smartphone apps to enhance my mobile images. The apps are so easy to use that you can produce a quote or tip image in just a minute while waiting for your latte.
The four must-have mobile apps I recommend are Word Swag, Videohance, Over and Little Moments. Unfortunately, not all of these apps are available for every operating system.
Word Swag is like having a graphic designer in your pocket. With their exclusive Typomatic Engine technology, you can quickly generate custom text layouts with the tap of a finger.
Videohance is the delicious new offering from the team at Word Swag. Videohance does to video what Word Swag does to text—it makes it beautiful. All you need is the phone in your pocket. I'll let the video do the talking. Here is how it works:
Over is great for adding text and artwork to photos and has been a longtime favorite of mine. Over has a big following on Instagram, where they share beautiful designs. You can get some solid ideas for your own images by perusing their stream. Over is available on iPhone, Google Play and Android.
The Little Moments app is the brainchild of Australian blogger Chantelle Ellem (aka Fat Mum Slim). The app came to life as an extension of Chantelle's popular Photo-A-Day Challenge that has seen over 20 million photos shared around the world.
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The app comes with a number of great features including custom filters (designed by real photographers on Instagram), fonts, colors, quotes and icons. If you want to play along with the Photo-A-Day Challenge, the app also includes daily prompts.
Even though Little Moments is relatively new, over 60,000 posts have already been shared from the #littlemomentsapp hashtag on Instagram.
#6: Shoot Instagram Videos
There's no need to invest time and money in a long YouTube video or costly production shoot. Smart businesses are realizing they can tell their story, share their message, showcase their team or take us behind the scenes with 15 seconds of Instagram video.
In this first example Chef Jamie Oliver shows a quick salad dressing recipe and appears to have used a smartphone for filming and editing.
If you're going to showcase a product, do it in a way that's native to the platform. Intel shows that even B2B can be quirky and fun with this clever take on what's really inside a tablet powered by Intel.
It may be a challenge to come up with an idea that can be conveyed in 15 seconds, but it's worth the effort. There is still so much untapped potential in this kind of marketing.
Need some help coming up with ideas for an Instagram video? You could film a single-question interview/short response with a fan, customer or client (tap into emotions about their experience with your brand) or introduce a new team member.
You can also give viewers a quick tour of your company; make a teaser about an upcoming event; or film a tip, tactic or procedure that showcases your expert knowledge and helps your audience.
#7: Find and Use Team Member Strengths
There are many types of visual content and it's easy to be overwhelmed by all of the options. Don't try to go it alone—involve your whole team (even if there are no designers in the mix).
Start by looking at each of your team members' skills. For instance, is someone particularly handy with an iPhone and already active on Instagram taking pictures and short video? Do you have a SlideShare master in your midst—someone who presents regularly and can create SlideShare decks?
Look for budding photographers who could document their day or the day of team members. Or interview somebody who isn't visually inclined but has a lot of know-how (then turn those interviews into visual assets of some kind).
Involve your entire team (even if it's just two of you), leverage their strengths and give them a role they enjoy!
#8: Post One Image Per Day
If you're overwhelmed by the idea of creating visual content, relax and start slowly. There's no rule that says you have to post images multiple times a day, every day.
Consistency is the key to any social media tactic, so start by posting one original image on one platform at the same time every day.
If you batch your images and/or use templates (as mentioned before), it's easier to get into the habit. Increase the number and type of posts after you become more comfortable.
Big things can come from posting one image per day. Sean Blocksidge was staring down the barrel of losing his business, Margaret River Discovery Co., when he started using Instagram to share one beautiful photo from the Margaret River region every day.
The result? People discovered his unique adventure tours, rave reviews started coming in and his business ended up being named Trip Advisor's No.1 Tour in Australia from 2010 to 2013! That's the power of consistency with visual content.
Using a tool like the Facebook Scheduler, HootSuite, Post Planner or Buffer can also help schedule your posts, leaving you with more time to engage with your fans.
#9: Curate Visual Content
A complete visual content strategy has two sides to it: content creation and content curation. When it comes to content curation, I recommend establishing a few key things: consistency, preferred content sites and scheduling.
I strongly suggest being consistent in your sharing. Share visual content from other websites, blogs, Facebook pages and social sites. I like to create a ‘hit list' of my favorite businesses, brands or blogs that I know serve up stellar visual content day in, day out.
When you've found the content you want to curate, use a scheduling tool to plan when and where to share that content (as well as your own original content).
One of my favorite can't-live-without tools for curating visual content is Post Planner. I especially love the Viral Photo Tool. I can enter the Facebook page I want to share from and choose images based on their recency, popularity or virality.
Post Planner takes the guesswork out of curating content from other pages. Now you can share the images most likely to be reshared based on their previous performance.
Curating visual content doesn't have to be time-consuming or costly as long as you're consistent and use the right tools.
#10: Capitalize on Social Network Features
Facebook Open Graph and Twitter cards help your images shine when your content is shared. Instead of random images showing up, your custom featured images are the stars of the show.
You can use Open Graph to tell Facebook which image you want pulled in as the default when someone shares your article. No more random, ugly images being posted to Facebook! Now all of your images show perfectly on Facebook—with a nice wide size—no matter who shares the post from your site.
Twitter cards are similar to a Facebook link post, in that they pull in additional information from a post, including images, and add it to the tweet. Here is an example of a tweet with Twitter cards enabled (showing the full summary):
Depending on which Twitter card you choose, you can feature a small image, large image, product or app information, photo gallery, video and audio players or lead generation forms.
By doing a little setup beforehand (I use the Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin), you can reap the benefits of optimized visual content that looks great when others share your posts.
#11: Encourage Fans to Contribute
There is no more efficient or effective way to share your story than to have your fans do it for you. In a previous article I offered some great tips about how to encourage fans to create and share visual content.
One effortless way to get your fans to contribute pictures to your Facebook page is to involve them in a conversation. Pure Michigan does this exceptionally well, which is why they have one of the highest engagement rates of any tourism Facebook page in the world.
Pure Michigan constantly encourages their Facebook fans to share images of Michigan related to different topics. At this point, fans barely have to be asked to share images—they just comment with them automatically!
In this post the Pure Michigan team asked fans to share their best lighthouse photos. If you scroll through the comments on the post, you'll see that the stream is filled with hundreds of fans' own photos of lighthouses in Michigan.
However, it's interesting to note that Pure Michigan doesn't always ask fans to share photos. Instead, they simply ask a question such as “Have you seen a rainbow like this in Michigan?” or “Which Michigan lighthouse is your favorite?”
Those questions tap into the emotions of residents and Michigan fans who proudly talk about the state and what it means to them—in pictures! That's the power of having real conversations with fans and making it easy for them to share content about you.
Chad Wiebesick, head of social media for the State of Michigan, explains that their team “focuses not on getting more fans and followers but on creating engaging content that inspires people to share.”
The Pure Michigan team can then use the user-generated content in creative ways on their own page, other social sites or their website. From where I sit, that's a pretty efficient way to generate visual content!
So What Are You Waiting for?
With this cache of creative tools, tips and tactics, you too can be well-equipped to fill your social platforms with original visual content—and look good doing it.
What do you think? Are there any tools here that you can't wait to try? Do you have a tool or tactic you can add to the mix? We would love to hear your thoughts.
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