Free tools for creating and managing social media content

If you’re doing social media on a budget, there are lots of free tools to help make the process easier. The list below will help to get you started; it’s by no means exhaustive. I don’t endorse any of the products (or get paid for mentioning them!); there will be many other tools out there. It’s a case of finding what works for you.

Many of the social media tools below are subscription-based, but all have a ‘light’ version that is available for free. Under each category, many of the products have similar functionality, with slightly different features and benefits, so it’s worth testing a few to see which one feels most comfortable.

Creating graphics

You don’t need to be a graphic designer to create basic, smart social media graphics. These online programmes give you hundreds of templates to choose from, which can be customised with your own wording, font, colours and images.

Canva All around design tool. Has layout templates for social media posts, A4 documents, invitations, presentations, and more.

Stencil Similar to Canva, with lots of different templates, let you create up to 10 images for free a month.

Piktochart Great for creating infographics.

Adobe Spark Also has basic video editing software.

Free stock photos

These websites curate photos from hundreds of amateur photographers around the world, which are then free for anyone to download and use. Some encourage you to credit the originator or to give a small donation, but it’s optional.




Photo manipulation

If you’re looking for a free, ‘light’ version of photoshop to manipulate images, here are a few to get you started. All of these three have interfaces and tools that look similar to Photoshop.

GIMP Standard interface is somewhat different from Photoshop, but there is a version that looks similar. Requires software download to your computer.

Pixlr Web-based tool. Only available for Windows. Requires software download to your computer.

Social media monitoring

These online tools let you organise your social media accounts and schedule posts so that they go out automatically at the time you choose. Some also have basic analytic tools in their free version.

Tweetdeck The original social media dashboard, now owned by Twitter. Good for Twitter but doesn’t work across other social media platforms.

Hootsuite A dashboard that lets you manage multiple social media accounts including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+.

Buffer Automatically send tweets throughout the day – no need to schedule individual tweets.

Stacker Lets you publish and reply across multiple social media accounts at one time.

URL Shortener

When you’re short of space in a social media post, or any other communication for that matter, these tools let you create a short web link (or URL) that automatically directs readers to the correct page on your website. Both let you customise your web link to something more memorable, though with Bitly you need to create a free account to do so.



Step-by-step guide to developing a social media strategy

This step-by-step guide to developing a social media strategy is aimed specifically at schools and colleges, but it applies equally to all organisations trying to raise their profile with social media.

As an inexpensive and effective means of communication and profile raising, social media is hard to beat. But it also takes commitment and consistency.

Developing your strategy

Social media should not be an end in itself. It is a tool, in the same way press releases, advertising or open evenings are tools to achieve a particular aim. Having a strategy will help everyone to be clear about what you want to achieve with your social media activity and how you make it happen. This step-by-step process takes you through developing and implementing a social media strategy.

1) Be clear about image you want to present. Is it a story of academic success, or of your school’s place at the heart of the community? This will most likely align to your vision and values. While in practice, social media posts will feature a range of activities and accomplishments, the overall thread should present a narrative that supports the story you want to tell.

2) Decide who your most important audiences are. Is it current parents, prospective parents, prospective staff, the local community? Different audiences will be interested in different kinds of content, so being clear about who you want to speak to will make it easier when deciding what content to post.

3) Agree how much resource you can afford to devote to social media management. This will help to decide where to put your energies. The minimum to do it well is about 30 to 60 minutes a day, although this can easily increase if you are creating content like case studies or videos. The key is to be realistic about the time and resource available and what can be achieved within this. 

4) Decide which social media platform(s) is most appropriate to achieve your aims. It may be tempting to say all of them, but social media channels need to be actively monitored and regularly updated. It’s better to be realistic and do one well, rather than three poorly.

Most schools start with Twitter and Facebook as these are great channels for showcasing achievements and activities happening on a day to day basis. Instagram is for visual content such as photos, and some schools have set up their own You Tube channels for video content.

Implementing the strategy effectively

Once you have agreed the story you want to tell, the audience you want to speak to and the channels that are most appropriate to use, you’re ready to look at the practicalities of implementation.

Decide who will be responsible for social media activity on a day to day basis. This individual(s) should have good writing skills, understand what you are trying to achieve, have a broad knowledge of what is going on across the school, be proactive about seeking out relevant content, and have the authority to respond to comments where appropriate. Some schools utilise the skills of an external education communications specialist; some have one or two members of staff with social media as part of their job description. Whoever it is, they should be prepared to spend some time each day monitoring activity and posting relevant content.

Create a planning schedule. Different audiences may be more important at different times and this can be built into the planning cycle. For instance, you may want to focus on prospective teaching staff in the spring term just before and during your main recruitment period. Start with a high level yearly planning schedule, then break this down into terms and weeks. On a more detailed level, it’s useful to work a term ahead.

Schedule posts on a weekly basis. Consistency is key to success; regular posts will keep your audience engaged. Tools like Hootsuite and Tweet Deck let you write posts in advance and schedule when they go live, days ahead. Facebook also has a scheduling tool. However, make sure there is flexibility to capture and post activities and updates daily, in real time.

Be prepared to act if people comment or get in touch. Social media is a two-way communication channel and responding to comments is the way to build a sense of community. It is inevitable that not all comments will be positive. In some instances the best strategy is to ignore it. However, if the person has a legitimate concern, it’s a good idea post a neutral response to show that you are listening, and then take the discussion off line as quickly as possible. Direct (private) message the person and offer to follow by email or phone.

Have an engagement plan. There’s no point spending time on social media if your key audiences don’t know it’s there. Put links to your social media accounts in your school’s email signature. Take every opportunity to remind parents to follow you. Put links in your staff recruitment advertising and any printed material or presentations you take to open evenings.

Evaluate impact. There are hard metrics you can use for evaluation, such as the increase in followers, the number of reposts, shares, likes, or comments. Reviewing posts every half-term will let you assess whether the majority support the story you want to tell about your school and are relevant to your key audiences. It can also be useful to track which posts have the highest engagement levels.

Social media tips

Here are some additional tips to make the most of your social media activity.

Include pictures or videos whenever possible. Research shows that posts with images are much more likely to be noticed and shared.

Use the 80/20 rule. For every one post about the uniform policy or upcoming parents evening, include four posts that tell a story and bring the school community to life.

Link the content on your website and social media sites. The majority of content should reside on your website, typically in the news section; then use social media to bring people to your site, where they can see everything on offer. You can have your Twitter and Facebook posts appear on your website, but also provide direct links to your social media accounts.

Encourage staff to submit ideas for posts. There will be lots of interesting activities and stories all around the school, so enlist the help of staff to make sure you capture these. However you’ll probably need to remind them regularly that you want their contributions.

Have fun with it. Consider having one class take over your social media channel for a day. Have competitions. Ask for comments and feedback. Encourage people to engage positively. It will make your school community seem vibrant, caring and welcoming.


We’ll be at Small Business Derby at Derby Town Hall on December 2nd between 10am – 5pm for talks, workshops, exclusive discounts, networking and more! SmithGadzik helps organisations achieve better results through highly effective communications and marketing. @smallbizderby #derby