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Top 5 Free Tools to Improve Your Social Media Game

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Social media marketing is a must-have, must-do if you want to promote your business or talent in today's competitive market.

It's no surprise then that individuals and brands alike constantly look for new ways to secure people's attention. The more creative you are, the better.

But while the creativity is all from you, the free five tools below will help you be more efficient and consistent with your social media game.

 

1. Hootsuite

It'd be nice to constantly be present on social media and be able to update your accounts around the clock. But it's not so easy to make time or to juggle different accounts at once. 

Enter Hootsuite. It's a free social media management tool that lets you manage your social media accounts and schedule your updates in advance. You can even post one message simultaneously across several platforms. Be a social media maven with half the time and energy.

In the above GIF, I'm scheduling a promotion of one of the articles by writing the message and including a photo. The message will be posted simultaneously on Twitter and Facebook, so I don't have to go to each individual platform and repeat myself. Very efficient!

Other notable features:

  • AutoScheduling (Just queue up as many messages as you like and Hootsuite will post them up at the best times)
  • Multiple streams of your social media accounts in the dashboard for easier monitoring
  • Analytics for the breakdown of your social media performance
 

2. Canva

Not everybody has the time or money to learn complicated design softwares. But everybody needs good-looking graphics!

That's why Canva should be your new bestfriend. It's a free design tool that makes designing as easy as drag-and-drop. You can design everything from Facebook covers to posters to wedding invitations or enter your own dimensions.

Unsure about where to start? No problem. Canva has plenty of modern and professional-looking pre-made templates that you can customize for your own needs. 

Here I'm customizing one of the quote templates by changing the colour and font. I then saved the design in PNG to post it on Instagram (or anywhere, really). Now that you can create your own graphics, your brand (and you) will instantly look so much more trustworthy and reliable.

Other notable features:

  • Extensive library of design elements - fonts, icons, shapes and more
  • Various dimensions optimized for social media platforms
  • Ability to save in multiple file formats
 

3. Latergramme

If you take photos using a camera or design graphics using your computer, it can be a hassle to transfer photos into your phone just to update Instagram.

Say hello to Latergramme! It's a free Instagram management tool that lets you manage your content right from your computer. OK, it's not a pure scheduling tool because you still need your phone, but all the heavy lifting is done! 

Here I uploaded a photo, typed the caption and scheduled it to be posted at 10 p.m. today. When 10 p.m. comes, I'll get a notification from the Latergramme app on my phone and will just need to tap on the 'Confirm & post now' option to post. 

Other notable features:

  • 'Search & repost' function that makes reposting tagged photos a breeze
  • Bulk message uploader
  • A media library where you can upload all the photos you're going to be using later
 

4. Grammarly

Do you sometimes have a Tweet or Facebook update that's about to be posted but you have that nagging feeling that your sentences aren't quite right? Do you check with a friend or just hit post (and regret later)?

Regret no more. Grammarly is a free online editor that checks for more than just typos. It considers your style, punctuation, contextual spellings and a host of other factors to let you write with confidence.

I wrote "Facebooq is awesomeee" and the typos were then highlighted in red. The best part is the suggestion cards that appear in the right-hand corner, which you can choose to accept or ignore. Makes the whole process much more educational!

Other notable features:

  • Ability to upload Word documents right into the editor
  • Ability to save and store your writings in the editor itself (like Google Drive)
  • Chrome extension that checks as you write anywhere on Chrome
 

5. LICEcap

There are times where I need something that has more oomph than a normal graphic or photo, but is less hassle than a video. A GIF is perfect for these occasions because it's eye-catching and usually just a few seconds long.

It may have a less than savoury name, but LICEcap has been my best discovery so far. All the GIFs you saw in the above points are made using this free software. It works much like a screen capture tool (or the Sniping Tool on Windows), except that you can record activities on your screen.

I made this mini GIF presentation by inserting the photos on Microsoft Powerpoint, running the LICEcap software and going through the slides. You can do the same for a quick presentation on your products, explaining how to use your website and more. It's insanely useful.

Other notable feature:

  • Ability to adjust the recording size (small part or the whole screen)
 

Who doesn't want to be more efficient? When you're more purposeful with your time, your social media game will be much more cohesive and streamlined. The result is a professional-looking account that people won't think twice to follow. 

Which one of the tools is your favourite?

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4 Easy Steps to Promote Your Product Using Cross Promotion

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Every brand on Instagram or other social media has their own audience. A group of people who follow them, are interested in what they offer and are likely to buy from them. Your brand has its own audience, too.

How can you increase this audience? How can you get more people who are interested in your products and will possibly buy them?

The answer is by cross-promoting with another brand. 

 

Cross-promotion with another brand

Cross-promotion is one of the most natural methods of marketing a product. You basically promote another brand's product in your platforms, while that brand does the same for your product in their platforms. 

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You and your brand-partner create a mutually-beneficial marketing campaign that will help you:

  1. Reach each other's market. Their audience will get to know your brand and product, and vice versa. Both sides get to increase their audience. 
  2. Introduce some variety into your feed. You can post photos that aren't just about your products.
  3. Show how your product is used/can be used. You get to demonstrate just how great your product fits into the customers' lives.
  4. Build good relationships with other brands. Who knows, maybe you can collaborate again on an exciting project in the future?

The best way to cross-promote is by exchanging the actual products. Brand A gets Brand B's product and vice versa. This makes the cross-promotion more engaging and natural, instead of just reposting a photo. 

And because you get something in return, it's friendlier to your budget. Think of it like a business barter!

Now let's look at the 4 easy steps you can take to cross-promote your product.

 

Step 1: Brainstorm on other products and services that are related to your product.

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The first step is to find a product (or service) to be cross-promoted with yours. Brainstorm as many as you can and make sure that they go well together. This means that:

  1. The product is not competing with yours. That's just trouble, pal.
  2. The product is not indirectly competing with yours. Cakes and cookies may go well together, but those cookies might steal the spotlight. 
  3. The product's uses complement yours. If they can be photographed together, all the better!

It's better to get something that complements your product rather than something completely random, because it won't make the cross-promotion seem 'forced' or 'unnatural'. For this example, Brand A is going with ceramic plates. 

 

Step 2: Identify the brand that you'd like to cross-promote with.

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The next step is to find a brand that you'd like to partner with. Let's say that there are quite a few brands selling ceramic plates. Which one should Brand A choose?

Brand A should choose to partner with a brand that has similar branding or values. This common ground will make the partnership look 'right' and help Brand A attract customers that will be more likely to enjoy its cakes. 

Before you settle on a brand-partner, ask these questions:

  1. How does the brand describe itself? Do some of the words match how I describe my brand?
  2. Would I be happy to be associated with that brand?
  3. Does the brand have the type of customers that I want to attract?
 

Step 3: Contact the brand with your cross-promotion idea.

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The third step is to reach out to the brand with your cross-promotion idea. It's always advisable to email them first to gauge their interest.

In the email, you should mention that you're interested in cross-promoting with them by exchanging products. Other things you can include are:

  1. Why cross-promoting is a great idea. (Hey, you can link them to this article!)
  2. Why you chose their brand to partner with.
  3. Their exact product that you're interested in.
  4. Your product that will complement theirs. (Attach a nice photo!)
  5. Your contact information and social media profiles.

Tip: If you want to make sure that they don't overlook your email, drop a quick comment at one of their social media profiles saying you've emailed them. 

 

Step 4: Set clear expectations for both sides.

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Once they've agreed to your idea and the exchange has been carried out, set expectations that will make the cross-promotion a win-win situation. Both sides must come out happy!

By being crystal-clear about what you expect, you prevent miscommunication and ensure the cross-promotion gets carried out perfectly. Some of the details you'll want to be clear about are: 

  1. The social media platforms involved. Instagram, Twitter and/or Facebook?
  2. The frequency of promotion. How many posts in the span of 1 month?
  3. The features to be highlighted. What to mention in the captions? Any specific words?
  4. The social media profiles to be used. Give all the usernames so that there'll be no mix-ups.

Tip: If you're extra-cautious, set expectations before exchanging the products.

 

Now that the preliminaries have been taken care of, cross-promote away! Be creative and generous with how you promote the other product. After all, they're doing the same for you too. If the cross-promotion works well, it can open doors to further collaborations down the road. Maybe you and the other brand can work together to create a totally unique and beautiful product. My favourite collaboration of Malaysian brands so far is Nelissa Hilman x A Soap Affair, where they teamed up to create the Feet For A Queen soap

Which brand would you like to work with?

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5 Critical Elements You Can Study From Your Competitor's Instagram

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Here's something we've heard all too often:

Ignore your competitors!

Don't be a busybody and copy others. Want to be a copycat ke?

Don't be such a jerk lah. Why do you want to follow other people?

And you know what? I'm hereby declaring that this is the wrong way of looking at it.

 

Learning is not plagiarizing

Learning from your competitors doesn't mean that you're cramping their style and copying every single thing they do. You're actually going to copy the principles and adapt them to your own brand.

A huge part of branding is about differentiating your brand from others. To do that, you have to know what they're doing. If you don't know what they're doing, what's stopping you from becoming just another cookie-cutter brand? 

In fact, you can't afford to not study your competitors. A thorough research will very likely reveal a gap in the market - an angle or potential that hasn't been capitalised on before.

So it's important to know what they're doing right, what they're doing wrong, and what they haven't done. If you want to save time, money, and energy in moving your business forward, then learning from your competitors should be part of your strategy.

 

Who are your competitors?

Your competitors can be divided into two categories:

  • Direct competitors: People or businesses who provide similar products/services, uphold similar qualities and charge similar prices.
  • Indirect competitors: People or businesses who provide alternative products/services. They could uphold similar or different qualities, and charge similar or different prices.

It makes sense to study your direct competitors, but why indirect ones? Indirect competitors are still in the same industry, so they could still be targeting markets that you are also targeting. For example, a vegan restaurant might be an indirect competitor of a normal restaurant. The vegan dishes are an alternative to normal, non-vegan dishes.

Make a list of your competitors (direct and indirect). Aim for at least 3-5 of each category, but the more the merrier! The best way to study them is through their social media profiles. Social media is casual and customer-centric, so it's advisable to study them there to know exactly how they appeal to customers.

For this article, I'm focusing only on Instagram, but you can apply it to other platforms too. You should compile their Instagram accounts, as well as their other platforms like websites and Facebook. That will make it easier for you to monitor them regularly.

Now, what to study?

 

1. Photography style and quality

Photography has always been an integral part of marketing. If I had to rate the critical elements, this would be at the top of the list. (Well, it already is)

People remember images easily, especially if they have managed to make an impact. Social media is all about images.

There are many photography styles that your competitors could be using. They are (but not limited to):

  • Muted (or vintage)
  • High contrast
  • Black and white
  • Monochromatic

Try scrolling through their profile and see the style that they consistently use. A consistent style is soothing to the eyes and makes a brand look streamlined.

You will want to copy this "consistent style" principle, but you don't have to copy the style itself. Is there a different style you can use to best showcase your brand personality and products? If the photos of other brands all look similar and then along came you with your unique style, it'd make a great impression.

Another important aspect is photography quality. The best competitors have beautiful photos, no doubt about it. They have good lighting, good angles and most importantly, they exude professionalism.

Nothing screams unprofessional than taking photos of your products on your flowery bedsheets in a dark room. A good camera is important, yes, but the intention you put into getting a nice photo will show the most. Pick the best lighting (natural, morning light) and background. 

There are tons of websites that can teach you how to DIY your own photoshoot, so never say you're not capable! It's easier than you think.

 

2. Captions and hashtags

Brands must have a well-defined voice. It needs to show a personality, preferably one that people like and can relate to. 

The best way to use this "voice" is through the captions. You will face your fiercest competition from brands that have great captions. Their voice isn't stiff and annoying. Customers will actually respond to these brands based on their captions. 

How long are your competitors' captions? Is the length dependent on the subject matter? We've found that there is no reason why you shouldn't write long captions if they're relevant. It's important to clearly explain anything that needs explaining. Otherwise, you run the risk of communicating the wrong message. 

If your competitors indulge in lazy grammar or emotional rants, it's a principle you shouldn't copy. Some customers might like or are indifferent to that approach, but becoming a household brand requires a different one. Always strive to present a professional face because it's classier, more sustainable, and will open more doors for collaboration.

Note the hashtags that your competitors are using as well. How many do they include per post? Don't hijack theirs. Instead, try to come up with your own and make them easy to remember. And never cheapen your own brand by using a hashtag like #sayajualmurah!

 

3. Subject matter of photos

What is the subject matter of your competitors' photos? This is the easiest way to study your them and gain insight into what makes them successful (or not successful). It's usually a combination of these things:

  • Products/services only
  • Products/services and other items related to the "theme"
  • Brand items like packaging and business cards
  • Other unrelated items
  • The business owner
  • Brand employees
  • Customers and products
  • Customer testimonials
  • Influencers or sponsored parties
  • Places
  • Other

Each of the subject matter has its own pros and cons, so it's critical to analyze your competitors' combos. Are those working for them? You can follow their combos or create your own. It certainly depends on the brand goals and personality that you want to pursue.

I've found that the most successful and well-known brands have photos that show a certain lifestyle, not just the products alone. Their photos say that "this could be you". People are inspired to buy the products because they want that lifestyle. Think Adidas and Rolex.

 

4. Frequency of posts

This requires a little bit more effort to study, but is still worth it because it could directly affect your sales. Analyze the frequency of your competitors' Instagram posts from at least a month back. What's the average in a day? You can also do this automatically using IFTTT, but it will only track future posts and not previous ones.

One? Two? Three? A number starting with 0. ? I've always advocated for at least one post a day to remain visible in Instagram's fast-moving feed. But because I'm focusing on our Diving Into Branding newsletter for now, I've decided to reduce ours to just a few per week. 

It's up to you. If your competitor's posting multiple times a day, you can take the playing hard-to-get route by posting only once a day. If it makes sense for your brand goals, why not? But don't sacrifice quality for quantity. All your photos have to contribute into making you appear like a great brand.

 

5. Interactions with audience

How you interact and engage existing and potential customers is also part of your branding. If the way you interact is friendly and helpful, then you'll be that kind of brand. And if you're more aloof and mysterious, that's how people will categorize you.

How are your competitors behaving with their own audience? You can spot patterns by looking particularly at the comments and captions. Are they:

  • Responding to comments?
  • Answering questions?
  • Responding to criticism?
  • Mentioning and tagging their customers in their posts?
  • Asking for feedback and suggestions?

Another method is by going through their tagged photos. Do they thank their audience for tagging them, or responding in any other way? A friendly and warm brand would go out of their way to comment on those tagged photos, while those that go for a 'premium' feel would not necessarily do so.

But no matter how what kind of personality you want to project, don't neglect customer service! Your customers are what makes your brand sustainable, so if the customers don't feel appreciated, it'll hurt your sales.

 

Competition is great. It forces you to create a better brand than what we have in the market. When you are focused on staying ahead of your competitors and making customers happy, you will never stagnate. 10, 15 years from now, you will still be here! So don't be intimidated or frustrated by the competition. They will be your best help after all.

Who are your closest competitors?

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