16 Free Tools for Digital and Social Media Marketing.

Are you looking for ways to improve and practice digital and social media marketing? Below is a list of valuable free online tools you can use now to test and learn various digital and social media strategies and tactics.

1. Google Trends (trends.google.com/trends). You can use Google Trends to identify topic ideas for blogs, websites, social media posts or other online digital content. Brainstorm ideas and then use Google Trends to compare topic options and to optimize content subjects. Look for data such as interest over time, interest by region, related topics, and related queries by category and type of search (Image, Video, News, Shopping).

2. Hemingway App (hemingwayapp.com). Clear, concise, and easy to read copy is essential to effective online writing for websites, email, social media posts and content marketing. Copy and paste your writing into this tool to identify areas for improvement including sentence readability, complicated phrases and words, over use of adverbs and adjectives, and passive voice. This can be great in a draft stage, but be careful not to lose your voice by over simplifying. You don’t have to follow all the recommendations.

3. SEO Analyzer (neilpatel.com/seo-analyzer). Search Engine Optimization is important to draw search traffic to your online content. This tool analyzes an existing website and up to two competitors. It provides scores and recommendations in key areas such as keywords, key phrases (long tail), alt tags, heading tags, meta descriptions, speed, back links, and indexed pages.

4. Google Competitor Research (www.google.com). Search marketing is important to digital strategy. Get insight into keywords and ad copy with competitor research in Google search. First, try different keyword phrases to determine which are used when people are looking to buy (commercial intent) or to learn about a topic (informational intent). Next, get alternative keyword ideas by scrolling to the bottom to see “Searches related to …” Then, view the ad formats, copy and landing pages competitors are using. For more see Gary Victory’s post on the Kissmetrics Blog.

5. Answer The Public (answerthepublic.com). The challenge of Content Marketing and Public Relations is to know what to create. Answer the Public provides auto suggest results based on Google and Bing data. Enter a keyword and get questions people are asking based on the Five Ws of journalism and more (who, what, where, when, why, how, are, can, will). It also provides lists of related prepositions, comparisons and topics. There is a graphical interface and you can download results in a CSV file.

6. Zurmo (demo.zurmo.com/demos/stable/app/index.php/zurmo/default/login). Customer Relationship Management holds other digital efforts together. Have you wondered what it is like to work within an online CRM system if you don’t have one? Zurmo provides a live demo of their open source CRM application with social integration. Filled with test data, you can find an active customer email list, create a task for a follow up, create an opportunity, schedule a meeting, search a leads list, find opportunities, and add a note to colleagues.

7. Banner Sketch (bannersketch.eu). Display advertising can be an important way to increase sales, improve brand awareness and raise share of voice. Banner Sketch is a free web banner ad generator. Select your size and shape, choose colors and background, enter text and frame, add a border and color, and create the banner. The tool supports both moving (gif) and stationary banners with templates and allows you to upload your own photos.

8. Viral Video Chart (adage.com/section/the-viral-video-chart/674). Viral Advertising Videos can be a successful part of a digital and social media strategy. But how do you know what will go viral? While there are no guarantees you can see what has worked in the past and what is working right now. Ad Age’s Viral Video Chart tracks the weekly top viral videos by total social media views provided by Visible Measures.

9. Headline Analyzer (coschedule.com/headline-analyzer). Headlines drive traffic, shares, search results and opens. Use CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to improve headlines for websites, blogs, social media posts and email subject lines. After a free sign up, analysis includes word balance of common, uncommon, emotional and power words. It also analyzes length, keywords and sentiment with suggested improvements and provides Google search and email subject line previews.

10. Likealyzer (likealyzer.com/). Do you want some insights into what works for brands on Facebook? Metlwater has created Likealyzer to analyze Facebook brand performance by front page, about, activity, response and engagement. Scores are provided for each category along with specific recommendations and similar pages for brand competitor comparison. Valuable summaries include posts per day, average post length, pages liked, number of events and number of native videos. Also see response rate, response time, people talking about this, total page likes and engagement rate.

11. Followerwonk (moz.com/followerwonk). Followerwonk is a Twitter tool created by Moz to find, analyze and optimize for social growth. With influencer marketing becoming the fastest growing part of digital and social media this tool can help identify top influencers by bios/profiles. You can also analyze influencer followers and analyze the users they follow. Logging in with your Twitter account provides insights into brand current followers, and provides tracking of new and lost followers.

12. Mobile-Friendly Test (search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly). Are you looking for a simple way to test if your web page is mobile-friendly? Try Google’s mobile-friendly test site. This tool provides a nice preview of what your website looks like on a mobile device. It also provides details on any issues found with suggestions for improvement.

13. SimilarWeb (similarweb.com). SimilarWeb provides a report on any website with estimates on total visits over time by mobile and desktop, average visit duration, pages per visit, bounce rate, and traffic by country. It also provides traffic by source from direct, referrals, search (organic and paid), social, email and display ad. Within each of these categories you get a look at each source by percentage such as websites for referrals and social media channels for social. SimilarWeb also provides audience interests, visited websites and competitor/similar websites.

14. Website Grader (website.grader.com). Website Grader is a tool created by HubSpot to analyze websites for inbound marketing across the categories of performance, SEO, mobile and security. Enter your website and email address and you are sent a customized report for factors such as page size, page requests, and page speed. It also looks at browser caching, page redirects, compression, and render blocking. SEO is analyzed by page titles, meta description, headlines, and site map.

15. Psycho-Demographic Profile (applymagicsauce.com). Personalization is an important strategy in digital and social media. This tool gathers information from your Facebook and Twitter accounts to give you a look at the digital footprints you are leaving and what marketers can predict about you from that data. Get ideas about how to target digital and social media content. But also consider the ethical ramifications of accessing and using this behavioral targeting information.

16. Native Ad Quiz (marketplace.org/2013/12/03/tech/quiz-story-ad). Native Ads have become an important part of digital advertising, content marketing and social media strategy. Test your knowledge in this quiz to determine the difference between journalism stories and advertising stories. Then determine best practices for creating native ads and ensure you follow FTC requirements for native advertising.

These are just some of the free online tools I have found to be helpful. For a more complete and updated list of over 300 free and paid tools and resources see postcontrolmarketing.com/links.

For the latest changes in social media strategy consider Asking These Questions To Ensure You Have The Right Social Media Strategy and its a good idea to Perform A Social Media Audit at least once a year.

Social Media Not Meeting Expectations? Perform A Social Media Audit.

Companies have been active in social media for years. Today 97% of Fortune 500 companies are on LinkedIn, 84% are on Facebook and 86% are on Twitter. But those efforts were likely created in a piecemeal fashion. Different brand accounts were added for different reasons at different times. Objectives or options may have changed. Or you may be so focused on current social accounts you are missing out on opportunities elsewhere. How do you know you are posting the right content in the right places to drive the right consumer actions? Perform a social media audit.

Social Media Audit TemplateWhat Is A Social Media Audit?

A social media audit is simply a systematic examination of social media data. It is a snapshot of all social media activity in and around a brand evaluated for strategic insights. Why? Different organizational objectives and target markets may require different social media messages and platforms. Existing brand accounts may be wrong for current business objectives and new social media platforms may be ideal, but were never considered. Perhaps brand social media was started by marketing or public relations, but now customer service requests are overwhelming the system and increased integration is needed.

First Start By Listening.

Use social media tools to gather data about brand social media channels and content. Discover what consumers are saying about the brand, product, service, and key personnel in any social platform. Listen to what is being said by and about brand competitors. You may be monitoring social media daily, but simply responding to what comes your way.

Analyze the bigger picture. Qualify and quantify social media action looking for patterns and opportunity. Listen with an outside perspective to the social talk about your brand, employees, customers and competitors. Look on both official corporate social media accounts and unofficial or personal accounts.

If you don’t have a social media monitoring software or if you are a startup or student just getting started simply go to each social media platform and search the brand name to find the conversations. Look on official brand accounts to see what the brand is doing and look at the conversation happening on those official brand accounts.

Start with the social channels you know the brand has brand pages (they are probably listed on the brand website). Then search other popular social media channels the brand does not have official accounts to find additional consumer brand content. Do the same for one main competitor to find their social channels, brand content and consumer brand conversations. This Social Media Channel Template provides a list of top social platforms by category for ideas on where to look for official brand accounts and consumer brand conversations.

An audit need not capture every mention, but should gather a complete picture. Find conversation on all social platforms. Be sure to consider social networks, blogs and forums, microblogs, media sharing platforms, geosocial, ratings and reviews, social bookmarking, social knowledge, plus podcasts. This Social Media Channel Category Guide provides a quick guide to the top social media platforms in each category by kind and key characteristics.

Next Organize Social Talk Data.

When collecting social talk data it should be organized for meaningful analysis. This can be done by following a social media audit template such as the one I created from the concept of the Five Ws that journalists use to write news stories. Gather social talk into three categories of company, consumer, and competitor (down first row) then record observations by where, what, when, and why (across columns).

Collect and Analyze Social Media Audit Data by:

  • Who—company, consumers, competitors
  • Where—social media channel (YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) and environment (describe the look and feel)
  • What—type of content (articles, photos, videos, links, questions, etc.) and sentiment (positive, negative, neutral)
  • When—frequency of activity (number of posts, comments, views, shares, etc. per day, week, or month)
  • Why—purpose (brand awareness, promotion, drive traffic, customer complaint, praise, etc.)

The number of rows under “Who” will vary based on the number of brand and competitor social accounts and the number of social media platforms where consumer brand talk is found. Larger organizations may need to divide the “Company” category further into departments, offices, or employees. Capture what each location or executive is communicating.

If the brand has an official social media account (such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) you place it under “Company” with its own row for insights. This is where you describe what the company is doing on those platforms. Under “Consumer” you should list all the social platforms where consumers are participating in discussion about the brand. If they are engaging on an official company social media account list it here and provide those insights in a row (such as Facebook and Pinterest). Also search the brand name and see what people are saying off the official account be sure to include that discussion as well.

If a brand has an account on a social platform and there is no consumer engagement (such as Twitter) then list it under “Company,” but don’t list it under “Consumer.” This may be a platform the brand may want to close. Search main platforms where the brand doesn’t have an account (such as Instagram). Are consumers talking about the brand? List that platform in a row under “Consumer” and describe what is being said. There may be a brand community but no official brand account and they may want to add this platform. For “Competitor” you don’t need to go as in depth to capture insights. Simply list each official brand account on a row and describe what the brand is doing and their customers are doing on those channels.

Then Determine What The Data Is Saying.

Does the data point to opportunities? Are there trouble spots? Do brand social media platforms present a consistent look, voice and unified message? Are customers complaining about similar product or service issues? Is the brand consistently posting quality content and consistently responding to customers? Are there social platforms where customers are talking about the brand, yet there isn’t an official brand presence? Is the social media channel a problem or an opportunity for a defensive or offensive social media strategy.

Determining the “Why” for each social action is important. If you can’t think of a strategic purpose then reevaluate the effort. Is maintaining a brand account on specific social media platforms worth the organization’s time? Once a purpose is determined, identify the social media metrics to measure performance. Ask questions such as, “Why does the organization have a Pinterest page and how is success being measured?” “Because everyone is there” and “to increase followers” is not enough. If you know the business purpose and metrics ask, “How has the platform performed? With roughly 10% of marketing budgets spent on social media it is more important than ever to connect social action to higher-level business objectives and justify expense.

Finally Evaluate Brand Engagement.

Are your consumer’s engaging with your brand? How are views, likes, comments and shares? Have they gone up or down over time? Advertising Hall of Famer Howard Gossage said, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them.” In social media reach is gained when consumers find content interesting enough to share. Quality content is important. Whether educational or entertaining it must be considered valuable. Only social media that is viewed and shared reaches an audience that can then take action to meet business objectives.

Today you can also interrupt people’s social feeds with paid social media or native advertising. Paid social media can buy reach to a targeted audience, but that does not replace the need to create interesting content. Social media advertising merely buys exposure. Content must convey value to drive consumer action, further distribution, and ultimate ROI.

Is It Time For A Social Media Audit?

If you haven’t evaluated your brand’s social media presence in a while it may be time for a social media audit. Use this template to see how consumers are experiencing your brand in social media. You may uncover some problem areas, promising opportunities, social channels you should be in and ones you should leave behind.

A social media audit can help you:

  • Realize the need for increased integration with other departments.
  • Find gaps in brand promise and product/service performance.
  • Uncover inconsistencies across brand social accounts.
  • Reveal blind spots in current social action with content, schedule and response.
  • Discover consumer ideas for product/service improvements.
  • Optimize brand content to drive engagement.
  • Find unexpected consumer generated content on other platforms.
  • Discover valuable brand or industry influencers.
  • Optimize time devoted to most effective social media platforms.
  • Learn from successful competitor social strategies.
  • Uncover a need for metrics to connect social action to business objectives.

Whether launching a new social media effort or evaluating current social activity, a social media audit can deliver valuable insights to create or optimize any social media strategy. For the latest changes in social media strategy consider Asking These Questions To Ensure You Have The Right Social Media Strategy.

A Guide To Social Media and UGC Policies for Employees, Influencers and Fans.

Are you leveraging the influence of your employees and fans in social media? Brand evangelists whether employees, influencers or fans have enormous potential to greatly impact perception and demand of products and services through user generated content (UGC). Research reports consumers trust other people more than advertising and this gap may be growing with younger generations.

A Salesforce survey found the most trusted sources of product information was online reviewers (31 percent) and friends, family and colleagues (23 percent) ahead of the band itself (20 percent). With Millennials trust in online reviewers was 40 percent, followed by friends, family and colleagues at 25 percent and trust in the brand itself only 19 percent. Yet, before launching into a widespread brand evangelism or UGC campaign there are important considerations to follow.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) publishes Social Media Discloser Guidelines that explain brands have responsibilities to ensure influencers, partners and employees properly disclose relationships and ensure statements about their and competitor products and services are truthful and accurate. They suggest explicit social media policies and ensure partners have their own policy aligned with brand standards.

Yet WOMMA indicates it is not enough to have a policy and publish it. You should train and educate influencers, and employees on those policies and actively monitor brand campaigns to ensure standards are followed. Also consult government websites (like the FTC) for current views on social media disclosures and claims.

Social Media Policies

Social media policies set standards for employees and partners for the way they post content in social media as part of their job or as a private person. The Forbes Human Resources Council suggests social media policies should be comprehensive including guidelines across many categories, best practices and training tips. Yet, Jylian Russell of Hootsuite says actual social media policies can vary greatly from a comprehensive legal document to condensed straightforward guidelines.

Examples include the two page Adidas guidelines to 14 page New York City Schools guidelines. Intel’s social media guidelines take a balanced approach with a short summary of 3 rules of engagement expressed in a simple graphic as (1) Disclose your relationship to Intel, (2) Protect Intel, and (3) Use common sense when posting. The policy then expands to explain the three rules with details, examples and links to additional, resources.

A good policy will consider standards for official brand accounts and standards for employees on their own accounts. Jylian Russell suggests a social media policy include rules and regulations for behavior and conduct including brand guidelines, etiquette, engagement and confidentiality. Roles and responsibilities should be specified and legal risks should be addressed such as crediting sources, confidentiality and disclosure. Security risks can also include information about secure passwords, attacks, or scams and accountability.

The Forbes Human Resources Council says a social media policy should include several categories. First educate about social media including specific platforms terms of use, conditions and limitations. Then explain blurred personal and professional lives and how personal social media actions have professional implications. Remind them to think carefully before posting about controversial issues and follow conventions as a brand representative. Set standards for respecting professional boundaries of co-workers including guidelines for internal workplace issues and conflicts. Identify how to clarify their opinions as their own and ensure they don’t disclose confidential or proprietary information.

User Generated Content Policies

Another important consideration is user generated content (UGC). Many fans often share content to the brand hashtag or handle and you may run contests, events and promotions to ask for this content. Practice good policies when it comes to sharing, repurposing, and eliciting UGC. One important practice is attribution or giving original authors credit for their content. The fan-based marketing company Tradable Bits says the way to attribute user generated content varies per platform, but a general standard is to include the original network’s official log, author’s username, profile picture and a live link to the original content. Alex York on the Sprout Social blog suggests in social media adding the words “credit,” “photo,” “cc” or “by.”

In addition, Tradable Bits suggests that brands should explicitly and transparently request permission for the rights to use fan photos and post content. This can be as simple as replying to posts asking that they grant rights with a response. To go with this ensure you have a publicly published rights granted, or user generated content policy that spells out the details of how the brand will use UGC so fans know exactly what rights they are granting. The website TermsFeed suggests included clauses addressing the categories of intellectual property, liability, privacy and acceptable use. Macy’s User Generated Content Policy is published on their website and covers brand social media channels and hashtags.

Are you leveraging employees, vendors, partners, influencers and fans to their full potential in social media? Before diving in consider legal requirements and having strong social media and user generated content policies in place.

Please note that what is presented here is simply general guidelines and does not imply legal advice. You should consult your lawyer or company’s general counsel before any action or policy.

For the latest changes in social media strategy consider Asking These Questions To Ensure You Have The Right Social Media Strategy and its a good idea to Perform A Social Media Audit at least once a year.