My guide to the best free social media tools for small businesses
We’re always told that social media is pay-to-play. Brands can’t get noticed, especially new or local ones, without a healthy budget.
One scroll down your social media timeline of choice is a prime showcase that feeds are over-saturated with ads, irrelevant rubbish, news of what your cousin’s friend’s sister had for brunch 3 weeks ago, memes, and – what feels increasingly rare – a gem of a post.
With all this nonsense to contend with, it’s no wonder businesses that actually have something to say are too afraid to allocate any budget to amplify their message.
But social media should be your friend. And there are things you can do to keep costs to a minimum outside of your ad spend.
While I don’t advocate scrimping on paid advertising budget – find the right person to manage your paid advertising for you and you won’t regret it – there are a selection of FREE tools and resources to make you more productive, more inspired, and, ultimately, more knowledgeable about social media.
Here’s how to get started on your social media journey:
- See the ads your competitors are running
- Start curating your brand’s Instagram feed
- Use the best free stock imagery sites
- Listen to the best digital marketing podcasts
See the ads your competitors are running
First step: always take a look at the organic social channels your competitors are running. This will help you establish which channels you should set up in the first place and what types of content you should be considering on your social media channels.
However, you can take this one step further by seeing the ads your competitor is running! Following on from all the privacy updates of 2018, we’ve seen Facebook, LinkedIn and co. ramp up their efforts to be transparent with their audience. And, as a little bit of competitor analysis never hurt anyone, this increase in transparency can only be a good thing.
How to find your competitors’ Facebook ads
On Facebook, you can now access the Ad Library, a nifty feature that shows users a “comprehensive, searchable collection of all ads currently running”.
For advertisers, this is ad-spirational gold dust. If your competitor is running ads, you’ll see them here. If you’re curious to see what publishers from other industries are running (which I highly recommend), you can see them here.
But don’t just check them out and copy what you see. For one thing, if your competitor is using similar targeting tactics to you, your key audience will likely be served with similar ads and end up clicking on neither.
That’s why I recommend taking a look at what the major players are doing. How they are innovating the ad space on Facebook and Instagram. How they are making ads feel like worthwhile, engaging content. How an ad doesn’t feel like an ad at all.
Here a few brands’ Ad Libraries I have bookmarked for reference:
- Just Eat UK – targeting the millennial with pop culture references and tap to reveals
- SEMRush – love their eye-catching graphics, use of emojis, and their ad strategy of taking users to their extensive blog content rather than just SELL SELL SELL!
- Starbucks UK – just look at the delicious drinks (and nice use of UCG in video content)
- Cult Beauty – the ad copy nails it – simple, short-form, relatable
How to find your competitors’ LinkedIn ads
LinkedIn has followed suit by providing users with a way of seeing ads run by a company from the past 6 months on their business page.
In the Ads tab, you can see all Sponsored Content that advertisers are currently running, or have recently run.
Here’s an example from the LinkedIn company page itself:
As LinkedIn advertising still feels a long way behind Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, any method of inspiration is much appreciated!
How to curate your brand’s Instagram feed
A well-curated Instagram feed goes a long way. From a balance of User Generated Content (UGC) versus branded posts to a considered development of a grid colour scheme, an Instagram profile – and its master – has to work extra hard.
The challenge – and beauty – of Instagram compared to the likes of Facebook and Twitter is that every piece of content needs to be considered in isolation as well as in relation to the rest of the grid.
It’s the social channel that makes all content creators realise the important of purposeful content. Not just content for content’s sake. Not just noise.
That’s why it needs to be treated separately to the rest of your social channels. And it’s why Instagram Stories was invented (probably) – a place for you to chuck the behind the scenes shots, the bloopers, the I-must-post-this-RIGHT-NOW unfiltered content.
What helps here is a tool that can help you curate your feed. A visual aid that allows you to plan the look and feel for your profile.
I have tried 2 free tools that are invaluable for all small businesses looking to get started on Instagram:
Both also have paid versions with lots of bonus features, but their free versions are excellent starting points, allowing you to visually plan and even schedule your posts in advance.
BONUS: I love Later’s newsletter and their content calendar resources – both FREE. Sign up for top tips and prompts.
The best free stock imagery sites
Stock imagery has its place in the world, especially when it comes to blog content and filling up those Instagram grids. The fun part is finding something that suits your brand.
Shutterstock and iStock are of course fantastic at finding stock images in their subscription packages, but for the more ‘unfiltered’ and ‘raw’ shots – that also happen to be FREE and royalty-free – I love the following sites:
[I could look at stock coffee shots all day…]
Listen to the best digital marketing podcasts
Get your Spotify, iTunes, or Stitcher queue list ready, because there is a TON of top digital marketing advice and guides out there, created by proven experts in their fields.
Podcasts make for a brilliant change to reading how to’s on the internet too and can be consumed on-the-go – perfect for commuters, gym sessions or, my personal favourite, when making banana bread on a Sunday afternoon.
Bonus: other free social media tools
Some known, some less so, here is a rundown of my frequently used FREE tools that can save you time, money and effort on your social media content creation journey:
- Canva – create infographics, social graphics and covers with ease, templates included
- Remove BG – uses AI to pretty accurately remove a background from any image in seconds – impressive!
Hire professional social media support
Whether or not you decide to keep running your business’s social media efforts in house or begin looking to outsource your marketing, I strongly recommend all business owners get to grips with the basics of social media marketing.
Having an awareness of the processes involved in sourcing and creating content – and knowing what your competitors are up to – will put you in a strong position when taking your marketing to the next step.
If you’ve conquered the basics, but want to take your social media game to the next level, get in touch for a chat and find out how I can help you. I can take the pressure of running your social media efforts off your hands and can help you introduce paid social media to your marketing strategy, so you can concentrate on other areas of your business.