If you’re a blogger, use Instagram a lot or work in social media everyone expects you to totally know your stuff when it comes to the latest apps, services and online tools that have been created to make your life easier, increase engagement to the content you create and make your stuff look awesome. But it’s often really hard to keep up with all the new apps and announcements or even keep tabs on new features added to the services you already use.
We’ve collected together some of our favourite tools for those working online, which are bound to help you out whether you’re a blogger raking in a small fortune or just need a better way to monitor Twitter for your office job.
8) Nail your visual brand with Canva
A firm favourite among the wellness and life coaching blogging community, Canva allows you to create platform-specific graphics that look great and yet require barely any design know-how.
Created for those who don’t have access to Photoshop or a more professional suite of design tools, Canva allows you to pick which platform you want to make visuals for, whether it’s a wide Facebook cover photo, square Instagram image or promotional blog graphic. There are now even new sections for creating ads of different sizes, Etsy banners, YouTube thumbnails and ebook covers. From there you can pick a pre-made template and customise it to your heart’s content with new images, colours, fonts, backgrounds and shapes.
You’re left with professional-looking visuals that take a fraction of the time to create compared to the likes of Photoshop and most of the assets you can use are free — you can pay a small premium to use some of Canva’s images and backgrounds, or just upload your own.
One tip for using Canva is to customise the hell out of the pre-made templates. Sure, they look great, but we’ve spotted a few in our Instagram feeds recently that all look a bit same-y. Add your brand colours, your logo, experiment with fonts and play around with backgrounds to really make your visuals your own and not a carbon copy of everyone else’s.
7) Find inspiration on Feedly
There are loads of different apps and online web tools that are like Feedly, but we like it because it’s simple to use, you can view content in loads of different styles and it reminds us a lot of the late Google Reader (RIP).
Feedly is an RSS reader that allows you to collect content from all your favourite blogs, online newspapers and any other web-based publications in one place. Once you’ve built up all your favourite creators, you can decide how you consume the content: magazine style, like a blog, or just in a long list. You can also divide up your content into lists, so I have some about Science + Tech for work, then others about Creativity + Self Development to read on a night.
It’s great for keeping up with the news from all of your favourite places without relying on Twitter to weed through the rants and find the good stuff. It’s also great for getting the news first — you can see what’s just been published — which is handy if you’re a blogger who likes to write up short, news-worthy posts rather than longer features.
6) Stock up on your free stock photos with Unsplash
There are countless sites dedicated to providing you with awesome, totally free images nowadays, but one of our favourites is Unsplash, because it’s got everything from simple stock images of offices and notebooks through to show-stopping photos of landscapes.
It’s ideal for finding a quick image to throw into a blog post, picking a huge graphic for backgrounds of flyers and eBook covers or choosing a dramatic image for your next header or web design project.
It’s also really minimal — scrolling through the beautiful images is like therapy for your retinas — and has a decent search tool to help you find exactly what it is you’re looking for.
If you’re into the imagery on Unsplash we highly recommend you subscribe to the Unsplash newsletter on the main page, as you’re sent ten awesome new photos every ten days. A little slice of visual goodness delivered straight to your inbox.
5) Streamline your life with IFTTT
We can’t sing the praises of IFTTT enough. It’s basically an app that allows you to automate stuff. You say if this thing happens, I want this thing to happen. There are so many cool practical applications, like once the sun sets get your Philips Hue bulb to come on or once it gets to 7am fire up my Belkin Wemo Switch to get my coffee machine working. You get the idea.
But what we’re interested in today is the way you can use it to make your life online better. Some of our favourite recipes include saving starred Gmails to Evernote, sending Pinterest likes directly to a WordPress blog, sharing pins from a specific board on Pinterest to your Tumblr blog, keeping your profile pictures in sync across Twitter and Facebook and pretty much ANYTHING ELSE YOU CAN IMAGINE.
4) Perfect your colour scheme and branding with Adobe Colour CC
Ever start designing your own blog or website to find yourself spinning in circles over hex colour codes? Is it FFFFFF or 000000? ARGH. Well, fear not. We’ve got an easy solution for you.
Formerly known as Adobe Kuler, Adobe Color CC is a (warning: highly addictive) smart online tool that allows you to pick colour schemes that actually look great together. You set the colour rule, whether you’re after analogous, monochromatic, complementary or just custom shades and then spin the colour wheel around to find the colours that match. You’re then served up the right RGB values or hex codes, depending on what kind of project you’re working on.
It’s great because it takes the guesswork out of design if you’re an amateur and can’t instinctively see which shades go with which others, but it also reduces it all down to just the colours. It’s easy to focus when all you have is a bright wheel against a dark background.
3) Edit images, banner ads and anything else on the fly with Pixlr
A firm favourite of ours for some time, Pixlr is a web app that we can only describe as a dumbed-down Photoshop. (Sorry Pixlr, we love you really.) It’s ideal for quick editing jobs on the go, whether you want to crop an image, tweak the dimensions of a graphic for your blog or create an Instagram quote tile on the fly.
It doesn’t provide you with pre-made templates like Canva does, it’s mainly useful for editing or creating stuff from scratch if you’ve got an eye for design and don’t need Canva to get you started. And, of course, it’s also great for making yourself look better in photos (hi Spot Tool, we love you).
2) Drive traffic to your content with Pinterest
We know, we know. You’ve heard of Pinterest. In fact, maybe you’re even totally over it already, right? But before you skip this section, we want to write about just how valuable Pinterest is when it comes to both driving traffic to your website, blog or company you’re working for and building a strong visual picture as an exercise in branding.
According to stats released earlier this year, Pinterest was the second biggest social media referral platform behind Facebook in 2014 and that number continues to rise. This means if you’re keen to shout about the stuff you’re creating, you really need to get it on Pinterest. Of course there are some bloggers and brands that might not be right for Pinterest’s seemingly niche audience of wanderlusters and bridezillas. But the audience is (according to Pinterest anyway) changing dramatically everyday, meaning that if you’re creating something there’s bound to be someone somewhere on Pinterest who’ll see it and pin it.
And it’s not just referrals that makes Pinterest a worthwhile activity. It’s also a great way to build a brand and really create a feel for what your company or you as an individual has to offer. You only have to peek at blogger Gala Darling’s Pinterest account to see it’s a beautiful, glittering dreamland and extension of her larger than life, neon pink persona. Or take a look at the Free People account, an ode to hipster living full of exotic images, beautiful girls with mermaid hair and lots of hippie, folksy clothing — some of which it’s hoping to use Pinterest to flog to fans.
1) Create videos to explain concepts, ideas and services with Powtoon
Now, before we get into the nitty gritty of Powtoon, we want to make it clear that we always think videos of you or your brand or the company you’re working for will work way better than an animated video.
But, there are times when that just won’t work. Like maybe you want to explain an idea, create a story of your company alongside actual videos of yourself, or just don’t have the time or resources to make a decent video yourself. Well, enter Powtoon.
It’s a website that allows you to create short animation videos for any purpose, but is primarily aimed at small businesses. It’s a little like Canva in that you can choose templates for your videos and then make them your own, by adding in images, different animations, bits of text and loads more.
Main Image © iStock/svetikd