The stats don't lie: social media posts with compelling visuals boast significantly higher engagement. On Facebook, it more than doubles (opens in new tab), while tweets with images receive 150 per cent more retweets (opens in new tab) on average than those without.
All of which means a killer social media campaign (opens in new tab) needs its visuals to be spot-on. A lot rests on how to find the best images for social (opens in new tab), but for speed and efficiency, a dedicated design tool for creating these kinds of graphics can really come in handy.
Fortunately, there are a few of these tools around. Many are free or cheap to license, and often come with a selection of pre-set crops for different platforms, as well as templates to make the design process quicker and easier, especially for non-designers in the marketing team.
So read on for 10 dedicated tools for creating engaging social media graphics, without the need to fire up Photoshop...
01. Canva (opens in new tab)
With over 10 million users worldwide, Canva (opens in new tab) is the go-to tool for creating social graphics without the hassle. Thousands of templates and visual assets are at your fingertips for free, as well as dozens of fonts – this extends to hundreds of thousands if you subscribe for $9.95 per user per month.
Canva's simple drag-and-drop interface is accessible for relative beginners, but with an eye for design you can create some pro-quality assets with minimal effort. Of course, the popularity of the tool means you might need to work a little harder to customise the most popular templates to stop them looking like templates.
Preset sizes for various platforms are built in – including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest – and you can also work with custom dimensions for blog posts and other uses.
If you pitch them right, and they have enough substance to them, infographics (opens in new tab) are some of the most shareable media around – particularly on platforms such as Pinterest. But they can be notoriously expensive to commission from scratch, especially if you're producing them regularly.
While a bespoke approach can be beautiful if you have the time and budget, an infographic creation tool such as Piktochart can take the hassle and cost out of the process. Starting with a basic template, you can input your own data and images to totally customise the outcome.
Like Canva, there's a free entry-level version to get you started. The range of templates is extended in the Lite version ($15 per month), but if you're using the tool very regularly then the Pro version could be worth exploring, at $29 per month.
03. iStock Editor (opens in new tab)
Finding the best images for social campaigns (opens in new tab) is half the battle, and free templates can only get you so far on that front. There are plenty of premium assets to choose from on iStock by Getty Images, and with the iStock Editor, you can turn them into compelling social graphics in a flash.
The tool includes pre-set crop dimensions for different social platforms, so you can test your image of choice in situ before making a decision. You can even add filters and text right from iStock Editor, without ever starting Photoshop.
Across all social platforms, one of the most popular types of branded image is a striking graphic, overlaid with stylish text. That simple format is at heart of Snappa, a very simple, single-purpose app that enables you to create polished, shareable images as quickly as possible.
Like other apps of its kind, Snappa comes with a decent library of templates and various pre-set crop sizes, but the main emphasis is on getting the background image spot-on – whether you choose one of their free (and royalty free) options, or prefer to upload your own. Once your image is in place, the effects panel comes into play – you can darken, brighten or colour it to best suit the text you plan to overlay.
Your text can also be easily edited with a range of options – font, size, alignment, spacing, opacity and a drop-shadow effect if the fancy takes you. There's a grid to help with alignment, and you can share directly from the app. With the free version, however, you're limited to five per month, and you also can't save your designs, so if you plan to use it a lot you'll need to upgrade: $10 per month for an annual plan, or $15 per month on a rolling basis.
05. Word Swag
If you prefer to edit and post your social media graphics on the move, Word Swag is a great option. Using this simple but effective app, you can add stylish text to your images direct from your phone, ready to post to your channel of choice.
Choose from hundreds of thousands of free stock images from within the app, or upload your own if you prefer. Then either add your text, or choose a preset style from the Word Swag library. It costs $4.99 for iOS, and $3.99 for Android.
Like Piktochart, Infogram is designed to make the infographic creation process more straightforward. It comes with over 35 different types of charts and maps to present your data in a format that's ideal for sharing on social media.
The free version gives you an entry-level selection of themes and layouts to choose from, which could be sufficient for occasional use – but if you have a constant stream of data to visualise, the paid version expands the selection and, crucially, also enables you to add your logo to the infographic.
The Pro version will set you back $19 per month, or for really advanced users the Business version costs $67 per month. There's also a third tier – the Enterprise version – although you'll need to contact the team for a quote.
From the makers of popular social media scheduling tool Buffer, Pablo is a minimalist image editor that integrates seamlessly with its sister application. Choose a free, royalty free image – or upload your own – and the straightforward dashboard gives you options to resize it for Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, add filters to adjust contrast, and finally overlay text or logos.
You can add up to three text boxes to each image – these are labelled 'header', 'body' and 'caption' but in practice you can adjust them to your specific needs. Pablo also has a handy Chrome extension, so it's never more than a click away while you're browsing your favourite stock image library for inspiration. Best of all, it's free – you don't even need a Buffer subscription to use it.
Like Word Swag, Over enables you to create simple but effective graphics on your mobile – from social graphics to invites, wallpapers and more. The only catch? It's only available on iOS, which will no doubt frustrate Android users. Upload an image, and you can add a variety of shapes and graphics with a few taps, and swipe to adjust colours, fonts and spacing.
It's beautifully designed, intuitive to use, and the results look and feel slick and professional. A free version is available, but for more advanced functionality you can upgrade to Over Pro for $9.99 per month, or $59.99 per year.
- How to create a killer social media campaign (opens in new tab)
- 6 ways to find the best images for your social campaign (opens in new tab)
- The designer's guide to using images more effectively (opens in new tab)