5 free resources to kickstart your social media plan

Womens Money Week blog post graphicBy Paula Wethington

One of the projects I participated in several times as a personal finance blogger was the National Women’s Money Week project.

Through that campaign, writers discuss the  money topic of the day from their perspective or expertise. The goal of the community discussions are to “help women move from financial fragility to financial resiliency.”

The Women’s Money Week 2017 project is from Jan. 1-7.

I’m no longer writing about personal finance. (Monroe on a Budget wrapped up in 2015, you can find a history of the project here). But my current favorite topic of social media is definitely applicable to the Women’s Money Week Jan. 3, 2017, theme of Entrepreneurship / Earning Your Worth / Making Money.

Social media for news reporting, special projects and personal branding is a skill I picked up on by experience and watching what worked for other people. At one point, I had Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram pages all branded to Monroe on a Budget. Facebook was a huge referral source to the site for a long time.

But my actual “day job” is newspaper reporter. Even before the personal finance blog wrapped up, I was applying what I learned to our newsroom’s social media accounts. And I was seeing good results.

I also think digital media is fun.

Following up on this experience, I looked for free and low-cost resources about social media and related topics. While you can now find master’s degree programs in digital or social media studies, that’s a bigger investment than I can make. Even the paid training I’ve taken has been carefully chosen and spread out so not to take a huge hit all at once. If you are an entrepreneur, or making a move into a new career, your goal of low budget training or subscription services certainly coincides with mine.

Therefore, this article focuses on free resources.

If you later decide to seek out paid training or hire a social media management agency to help out, now you’ll have some understanding of the topic.

1. Your public library

One of the first places I looked for information about digital and social media was my local library. About once a month, I’d find a book, or two or three, and settle in for an afternoon of studying in a cozy reading chair with a cup of mocha coffee nearby.

Yes, it is true that best practices change so fast that very specific strategies become outdated within a few months to a year. But it is also true that general topics such as copywriting, design and photography easily cross over from one genre to the next. Don’t overlook marketing and communications fundamentals. They can help you understand why certain social media tactics work – or don’t.

To explain: one of the first library books I read focused on Search Engine Optimization. That discussion explained why unsolicited pitches were arriving in my email, offering guest posts for my blog “with just a link;” or in the alternative, requesting link embeds from my posts to their sites. Something had always seemed odd to me about those emails. Now I had enough  knowledge about SEO strategy to see through the spammy, scammy, sleazy link requests.

Go find your local library and pick out a few books.

2. Hubspot Academy.

Are you interested in a course that explains digital marketing concepts as they are typically applied today? Take the Free Inbound Marketing Course offered by Hubspot Academy. You will learn how blogging, SEO and website setups such as landing pages can encourage potential customers to be interested in your products and services, and hopefully lead to sales.

The current version is a 12-class program with an exam. It took longer for me to work through the course than the hours listed, but you can stop and start as needed. I also picked up on the concepts faster when I took it the second time.

If you want to understand how and why specific content and formatting strategies get results for your business or a competitor, the Inbound course is worth your time.

3. Facebook Blueprint.

Another resource accessible from your desktop is from Facebook itself: Facebook Blueprint.

Earning a Facebook Blueprint Certification badge costs money. The annual, renewable exam and certification is meant for digital advertising professionals. But there are over 50 free webinars and modules in the resource collection for certification students — and you can access those modules for free! The topics include Audience Insights, Boost Your Posts and Direct Response Best Practices.

As explained by Facebook: “Blueprint eLearning is a series of free, self-paced online courses and learning paths teaching the best practices of Facebook marketing — perfect for small businesses, agencies, advertisers, graduates, MBA holders, or anyone wanting to market more effectively on Facebook.”

Poke around the collection and complete a tutorial or two.

4. Canva Design School.

Canva is a popular site for creating social media graphics fast and easy. It’s free if you use your own images or pick from their basic collections. The paid graphic elements are very affordable. You can create your designs via desktop or an iPad.

After you start using Canva, you’ll notice which of your favorite Facebook and Twitter pages use this tool. Some of the preset templates are quite popular!

What if you have no idea how to work in graphic design?

Canva has a collection of free tutorials in its Design School library with topics such as Building a Brand Kit, Marrying Text and Images, and Creative Color Palettes.

If you create just one image that looks good, I think you’ll be hooked.

5. Pinterest.

Did you think Pinterest’s practical usefulness was limited to cookie recipes and wedding theme ideas? Not so fast! The do-it-yourself culture on Pinterest also has extended to entrepreneurship skills and marketing concepts!

Create a board where you can collect pins on this topic – I started with Digital World, but also have some spinoff topics such as Public Relations.

After you create a board, search for keywords such as marketing, social media, or business goals. After Pinterest learns what you are looking for, it will suggest more to you via the news feed. After you pin an image from the web, you’ll see a splash page of another board that image was pinned to and perhaps you want to follow that as well.

Tip: You can create a new topic as a “secret board” while you brainstorm this and flip it to a public board later.

Bonus: Now for a little bit of money.

If you are willing to spend (some) money on a subscription or an online short course, look over the possibilities from these resources:

  • Hootsuite Academy – Hootsuite is a social media management dashboard service; and the related products include a collection of webinars. Whether you can stick with the free services or need to spend money depends on how many accounts you want to connect, the features you want and the courses you want to take.
  • Udemy – Webinars and minicourses in topics ranging from mobile phone photography to marketing fundamentals. There often are specials – sometimes as low as $10 a class. Put the webinars you want on a “wish list” and cue them up as you have the funds.
  • LinkedIn Learning – LinkedIn members who have Job Seeker, Business Plus, and Executive LinkedIn subscriptions can access a collection of webinars and short courses as part of their paid service. Pay close attention to the expiration date of your trial or membership, as you may be locked out of a course before completion.

A tip of the hat to past and present participants and the organizers of Women’s Money Week. Look for hashtag #WMWeek17 on your favorite social media networks. I’ll be tweeting my favorite links of the campaign at @WethingtonPaula

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