All Posts by Sam Peagler

Vacation Rental Social Media Marketing Case Study

In September of 2018, I took over the social media marketing for Cabins of Birch Hollow, a 300-acre resort property in Stanton, Kentucky offering 10 deluxe rustic-style cabin rentals. The co-owner, Kay Harris, built a thriving vacation rental business, but wanted someone else to manage the social media marketing. It was my first time running a business’ entire social media marketing campaign, and I learned a lot in a short amount of time.

In this post I’ll be sharing what I learned, and how you can use it for your own social media marketing.

Timing

It doesn’t matter how good your social media posts are if no one sees them. Before you invest the time & resources into social media marketing, you need to identify when your fans are online: what day of the week and what time? That way you’ll optimize your posts’ Reach.

The first thing I did was review the Cabins of Birch Hollow Facebook page Insights. I looked at the page traffic and when it was getting the most views.

By going to the Facebook page’s Insights>>Posts, I could see traffic was low in the earlier part of the week, then rose in the later part of the week, with peak days being Thursday-Sunday in the evening hours. This told me that by posting on those days I would get Cabin of Birch Hollow’s posts seen by the most number of fans.

It’s also important to know how often to post. You want to remind people of your business and why they should buy from you, but you don’t want to bombard your fans.. They’ll tire of seeing your posts and Hide or Unfollow you. Experiment a ton and see what works best for your page and fans..

Three-to-four times a week works well for Cabins of Birch Hollow, and is a good starting place. From there you can decide to post more frequently or less often based on audience reaction.

Targeting

When marketing your business, knowing your audience is key. Are your posts reaching the people most likely to buy from you? If not, how can you adapt your content & optimize your post timing so they do?

Using Facebook’s Insights, I was able to see the audience demographics for Cabins of Birch Hollow:

I was able to identify the people who viewed Cabins of Birch Hollow were, on average, middle-aged women, almost exclusively from the United States, split between Kentucky and Ohio. That tells me I’m reaching the right people. My posts were tailored to reach people in the Kentucky area with middle to upper class income, and users in the 35-54 age bracket are the most likely to fit that criteria.

Be Specific

One of the first things I learned from running Cabins of Birch Hollow’s social media is that people like it when you tell them exactly what they need to know to make a decision. If you can be detailed while still being concise, you will have great results.

The best example of this is a post I did for the cabin named Snuggle Inn. It’s designed with couples in mind and has some great features, so I created a post that would appeal to couples and detail what the cabin offered. It got over 3K Reach, and more importantly, it got 96 link clicks (you can see this by clicking on the Reach numbers below the post). It resulted in a booking for the next weekend:

Why did it do so well?

Post Elements COBH Facebook Post with Great Results
Targeted

Appealed directly to couples

Detailed

Told the audience exactly what they would be getting while making it sound romantic

Concise

Told people exactly what they wanted to know in as few words as possible (I knew what features were popular as we have a close relationship with our client Kay)

Always Adapting

Your audience’s preferences and social media marketing  constantly change. What worked last year may not work as well this year. Social media marketing requires you you keep up with what works now, not six months ago. Being able to change and adapt to new platform features and audience fluctuation can really set you apart from the competition.

  • Audience responding more to image posts? Give them more of what works: do more image posts.
  • Not getting enough engagement when posting once a week? Try posting more frequently or at different times.
  • Develop special posts around holidays and important events. This is especially important for local businesses. Capitalize on local events such as festivals or local holidays to boost your sales, as shown in the screenshot below:

Summary

I don’t consider myself a data geek, but ultimately I needed to dig into the numbers behind Cabins of Birch Hollow’s social media marketing to understand what would get results for our client.

Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of the classes here at Socialmediaonlineclasses.com to learn how to use Facebook Insights to identify what I needed to know before creating our client’s social media marketing campaign

Taking those initial steps to learn how to use Facebook Insights and applying what I learned to the social media marketing paid off handsomely: Kay successfully outsourced her marketing knowing her cabins are booked every weekend this fall.

The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Marketing for Small Business [INFOGRAPHIC]

<< Click on the infographic to download your own full-size pdf version.

“I feel like I need a Twitter-to-English dictionary!” — M. Roe, Socialmediaonlineclasses.com intern

Does that sound familiar? Think Twitter isn’t for you because you’re not Donald Trump or Justin Bieber?

Think again!

Twitter is Maria Peagler’s (SMOC’s founder) favorite network for connecting with industry influencers, authors, and all kinds of fascinating people.  It compresses “six degrees of separation” into two: you & the person you want to connect with.  You can connect with anyone who’s on Twitter: one click and you’re following people whom you may never meet in person, but would love to learn from or even partner with.

Download the infographic at left and bookmark this blog post: it will serve as your Yoda for understanding Twitter . . .

. . . let’s get started!

Twitter Marketing for Small Business Ultimate Guide

Profile

1. Create a custom background

A custom background for your profile makes you stand out from the crowd.  It can be a photo of you, a photo of your business or product, or a graphic related to your business. Notice our Twitter background provides our 30-second “elevator pitch” to differentiate SMOC from other brands:

My background is eye-catching and informative

In one simple background, I included:

  • Exactly what we offer (with a differentiating feature of 1:1 coaching)
  • Social proof (logos of where my content as been published & awards I’ve earned)
  • Every social network I teach
  • Our website & phone number
  • Images of our classes on every device

Anyone can create a Twitter account; use your time and creativity to create a background for your profile. Putting in that extra effort impresses people when they come to your page.

2. Use headshot for photo

Your Twitter account represents you. A professional, flattering headshot makes your profile more personal and likable.  Need some help taking or editing your headshot? Use these free SMOC resources:

3.  Be detailed in your bio

Tell Twitter users who you are. Share who you are, what you do, and what is important to you and about you. Create a detailed bio to show people why they should pay attention to you and let them get to know you.

4.  Use SEO keywords in your bio

One of the most effective ways to get Twitter followers is to utilize your SEO knowledge. Putting relevant keywords in your bio makes you more likely to appear in searches both on Twitter and on external search engines.

5.  Link to your website/blog

When people visit your bio, you want them to convert them from viewers to customers. Give them the opportunity to do so by including the link to your website or blog in your profile and make it easy for users to see and buy your content.

6.  Don’t use logo/egg for photo

New Twitter accounts all have the Twitter egg as their profile picture. Keeping a bland white egg photo as your profile image makes your profile seem boring and uninteresting, and can make you look like you don’t care about or are uninformed about Twitter. In a similar fashion, having a logo as your profile image is fairly ineffective. Most people won’t recognize your logo and aren’t interested in finding out more about it. A face is more appealing to the majority of people. Use a nice headshot and show people who you are.

7.  Add details in the background

With a custom background, you can include details about yourself or your business. You can create a multi-image collage and include both your image as well as information about your business. You can show your business’ phone number, website information, product images, or various accomplishments you have achieved. Use your background to inform viewers.

8.  Show social proof

Show people who you are and why you matter. Show what other people think of you by including testimonials from clients, awards you earned, and where your content has appeared outside of your own website or blog.

Manage

9. Organize followers in lists

Lists allow you to categorize and keep track of profiles of people, companies, and content sources that are important to you, saving you time and making it easier to repeatedly find content you are interested in. If your lists are public, it shows your followers what you deem important.  Hipsters of the Coast, a card game news site, has lists containing writers, authors, artists, and community members.

Provides content lists. They also link to their Patreon so people can donate.

10. Follow tweets by hashtag

Following a hashtag shows you all the posts using it.. You can conduct market research, find ideas for content, see what people with the same interest as you are doing, and allows you to fully use the information available to you on Twitter.

11. Monitor your brand tweets

Your brand’s image is critical to social media success. Track and monitor what people are saying about your brand, and engage and respond to them in a timely manner. Regular interaction lets people know you are active, involved, and interested in what they are saying.

12.  Create lists for competition

Keeping lists isn’t just for tracking your content sources. Putting competitors in private lists that only you can see allows you to see what your competitors are doing, without following them or showing them to your followers.

13.  Schedule tweets for future

Make your Twitter life easier and more consistent by planning and scheduling your tweets ahead of time. Set aside time each week to create, plan, and schedule your Twitter content for that week. Creating a schedule lets you prioritize the other aspects of your business and keep your tweeting consistent.

14.  Follow Twitter chats

Twitter chats bring together like-minded groups of people to discuss shared interests. Following and participating in chats is a great opportunity to chat with others in your industry, and learn from others experiences and feedback. RGV Library Squad advocates for libraries and librarians in the Rio Grande Valley. They host chats, and they provide the topics of discussion ahead of time so participants can come prepared: 

15.  Monitor buzz around events

If there is an event you’re interested or participating in, it likely has a hashtag. You can search the hashtag and see what people are saying about the event. This can help you stay informed with the latest developments at the event, find things at the event that you want to see, and monitor what is going on.

16. Engage. Don’t just tweet

Interacting with your audience is key. Engaging with them makes them feel more connected to your business, giving you a more relatable image. Simply putting out tweets isn’t enough, it can get stale and doesn’t get people interested and engaged with you.

Integrate

17. Feed tweets to blog & Facebook tab

Using a Twitter tab on your Facebook business page leads Facebook fans to become Twitter followers. People who follow you on multiple platforms are reminded of your brand more often and are more likely to become customers.

18. Add Twitter name to marketing materials

Include your Twitter handle in your marketing materials to tell potential clients you’re on Twitter: it shows you’re social media-savvy and gives them one more opportunity to stay in touch with you. I include my Twitter name and Facebook on all my infographics:

19.  Display Twitter name on invoices, signage.

Bring more people to your profile by adding your Twitter name to invoices and signage. People who receive your invoices are already your customers and already interested in your product, making them more likely to follow you.

20. List Twitter name across social networks

Integrate your social media to give you the highest chance to gain more followers. People who follow you on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social platforms are all potential Twitter followers. Add your Twitter name to all your social accounts to so people can find you.

21.  Include buttons in email marketing

You’ve got mail! Be sure to include a link to your Twitter profile (as Austin Community College did here) to let subscribers know you’re on Twitter and let them see your profile in just one click:

22.  Ask people to follow you in your email signature

Don’t use email marketing? Even if you do, you likely don’t send out marketing emails every day. But how many times a day do you send regular emails using Gmail? Use every email you send to subtly tell people you’re on Twitter by including a link in your email signature, like in mine below:

twitter email signature

23.  Download Twitter app to your phone

Your phone gives you an all the access pass to Twitter. U.S. President Donald Trump is one of the biggest presences on Twitter and he does it all from his phone. READ: Tweet Like Trump: How to Dominate Like Trump. Keeping up with your account anytime and anywhere takes your Twitter presence to the next level, and allows you to interact with people immediately if they tweet at or about you.

Hashtags

24. Use hashtags to designate topic

Using the right hashtags for what you’re tweeting about lets your tweets show up in searches and can help you get more visibility. This tweet is all about a new infographic, and using the #infographic makes it searchable to people who are interested in infographics.

25. Post hashtags for industry events

If you are participating in an industry event or something related to your business, you can use hashtags to talk about it on Twitter. Let people know you’re active in the industry and you’re a figure they should pay attention to.

26.  Invent hashtags for products

Have a new product? Use the product name as a branded hashtag and encourage your audience to use it when they tweet about the product, increasing potential customer’s awareness of the product.

27.  Identify trends with hashtag

If certain hashtags are trending and showing up more in your feed, they may be worth paying attention to. Keeping up with what is popular helps you identify what is important to your audience and identify what you need to pay attention to.

28.  Identify small business hashtags

Use hashtags for your small business that work on both a local and national level. Using the right hashtags such as #SmallBusinessSaturday and #BlackFriday give you the best reach and connects you to the right audience.

29.  Promote contests with a hashtag

Have a contest going on? You can use a specific hashtag to promote it and allow people to enter. Tech brand NVIDIA held a holiday giveaway and used the hashtag #GiftAGamer to promote it:

30.  Recommend colleagues on #FollowFriday

Promote your colleagues and other people in your industry by tagging them on Follow Fridays with the hashtag #FF. It expands your reach and exposes their audience to your brand.

31.  Clearly define event hashtag

The more specific the hashtag you use for events, the easier the event tweets are to find. Technology convention PAX has multiple events every year, and they use very specific hashtags for each one. For their eastern event, they used #PaxEast2018: 

Influencers

32. Follow industry influencers

Listen to industry influencers for the hashtags and topics they tweet about. Consider using those same hashtags and relevant topics to increase your own visibility.

33. Do market research for trends, products

Identify the trends, hashtags, and products influencers discuss. Would that content be relevant to your own audience? If so, tweet about those trends, hashtags and products in a way your audience will appreciate and learn from. Not only will your tweets get more visibility, you’ll also increase your credibility among your followers.

34.  Ask colleagues for feedback and advice

Stay in touch colleagues active in your industry. Share ideas, ask for feedback, and trade advice. Doing so is a win-win and expands your network.

35.  Reach out, make connections

The strongest case for using Twitter is how easily you can connect with the powerful & influential (and get your tweets seen by them if you do it right). Twitter requires only a one-way connection, meaning you don’t have to wait for someone’s approval to follow them.

36. Follow influential tweeters

Make a list of the thought leaders, influencers, authors, and other people you’d like to meet in real life, then connect with them on Twitter. You’ll quickly see what’s trending in your niche and find relevant Twitter chats and other industry-related opportunities.

37.  Participate in Twitter Chats

Twitter chats are a niche-specific conversation conducted by a host who will ask a series of questions, and the people participating in the chat provide answers. Think of it as an online meeting with no limit to the number of attendees.

Chats are a great opportunity to meet industry influencers and other people in your niche.

38. Crowdsource collaborative projects

Twitter’s easy one-way connection and the ability to tag people allow you to develop and initiate collaborative projects on their platform. Once you have an ongoing conversation with Twitter followers, take that relationship one step further by proposing an interview, guest blog post, or other project with them.

You can also crowdsource feedback on a new product or service: ask your followers for their advice and expand your feedback reach by using the appropriate hashtags and tags to get even greater input.

39.  Identify and follow hosts

Find the people who consistently host Twitter chats. These people are likely to be industry leaders offering a wealth of connections and advice. Give them the much sought after-engagement everyone wants and you’ll get their attention & appreciation: 

Lists

40. Organize people into Lists

Twitter Lists allow you to organize people into one group: you can see the members of the List or their tweets, depending on which view you choose:

twitter ultimate guide list tweets

You can view the tweets from all the people on your list

Maria Peagler, found of Socialmediaonlineclasseses.com has Lists for Marketing Professors, Small Business Journalists, and even her own curated Daily News Feed:Ask your followers what they think about your products or what you are doing on social media. Use the information to find what your audience wants and adapt your marketing tactics using that information. You can create a poll to have your followers choose between multiple options:

41. Lists can be public or private

Twitter Lists are by default Public, meaning anyone can see your List name and the people on it, as well as their tweets. You can, however, make the List Private: the List appears only to you on Twitter, no one else.

42.  Spy on your competition

Want to keep tabs on what your competition does on Twitter, but you don’t want to follow them? Add them to a private List: you don’t need to follow the people or accounts you add to a List. This is a fantastic tactic for watching your competitors without them knowing about it.

43. Who’s on influencers’ Lists?

Remember those people you followed in tactic #36? Those influencers likely have Lists of people you need to know about, so take a look at their Lists and who’s on them. You may find people and opportunities you never knew existed.

44.  Create list of evangelists

Create a list of people who are your brand or industry evangelists:  users who retweet and engage your content, or that of your niche. Those evangelists offer a gold mine of potential for potential hiring, partners, or referrals.

I keep a list of my favorite voices on Social Media: 

45.  Create list of detractors

Find the people who publicly criticize your business and put them in a private List. If their criticism is constructive or valid, definitely respond to them, and learn from their feedback.

46. Follow people who are on the same List

Once you see what Lists people have added you to on Twitter, see who else is on that List. You may find industry influencers and thoughtful people you haven’t been exposed to previously. Follow those whose content resonates with you.

47.  Profile displays Lists you’re on

Not only does your Twitter profile display the public Lists you’ve created, it also shows the Lists other people have added YOU to. That’s a great sign of social proof and respect: if people are adding you to Lists, your tweets are getting noticed and appreciated.

Retweets

48. Keep original tweets short

Keep your original tweets under 200 characters. That gives people retweeting your content 80 characters to retweet you and provide context.

49. Retweet resources

Retweet content that is useful to your followers. It shows your followers useful information, and the original creator of the tweet sees you, expanding your network.

50.  Ask for the retweet

Studies show asking for the retweet does, in fact, result in more retweets. Don’t be ashamed to ask people to retweet your content. Keep it simple and use, “Pls retweet!” to encourage followers to share.

51.  Links are retweeted most

Studies show people retweet tweets with links more than any other content type. That’s not surprising: if you’re adding a link to a tweet, it’s often helpful or educational, and others like to share that type of content.

52.  Retweet for networking

Retweeting = engagement, and engagement is the one thing every social media account wants more of. Find people you want to connect with, follow them, and retweet their content. It gets their attention and expands their visibility, giving them valued social proof. It also puts you on their radar.

For example, Lynda Spiegel is a professional résumé writer who gave me great advice, so I want to publicly thank her by retweeting one of her tweets and adding a comment:

53.  Add short comment

While you don’t want to write an essay in a retweet, a short comment providing context as to why you recommend this tweet is helpful to both your followers and the person you’re retweeting.

54.  Thank people for retweets

Retweets are a big deal. They not only expand your audience, but they also act as a seal of approval from the person doing the retweeting. People who retweet you are doing you a service by sharing your content, so make sure to thank them: [INSERT SCREENSHOT OF MY THANK YOU FOR A RT HERE]

55.  Always credit content source

When retweeting, always make sure to credit the original source of the content (even if the original tweeter didn’t).. Retweeting content without credit is unprofessional and harms your reputation. Give people the credit they deserve by including a brief credit, such as, “via @NBCNews.”

56. Thank retweeters in their language

Maria Peagler often gets retweets from European Union tweeters, and when saying thanks, she’ll often use the word “Thank you” in their language [INSERT SCREENSHOT OF ONE OF MY THANK YOUS IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE HERE.”

Don’t know the translation for “Thanks” in their language? Do a quick lookup for it in Google Translate. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way in making a connection across the pond and on Twitter.

Innovate

57. Offer services via Twitter

You can use Twitter to offer prompt service to your customers. Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank, responds by direct message to questions about account balances and credit cards. Their customers are delighted with the quick response and post their positive experience on Twitter. Call it a win-win-win!

How could your brand offer services on Twitter?

58. Share helpful resources

Share helpful resources relevant to your audience (bonus: those tweets are more likely to be retweeted).

Bank of America shared its partnership with Khan Academy to teach people to be better with money:

Notice Bank of America tagged Khan Academy, so they would get a notification of it? They also created the branded hashtag #PowerTo identify helpful programs they make available in their communities.

59.  @Cookbook tweets recipes in 280 characters

Maureen Evans of @Cookbook uses Twitter to share complete recipes in a single tweet — who ever thought you could learn how to cook on Twitter?

Can’t figure out what those recipe abbreviations mean? No worries — Maureen provides the link to a downloadable glossary right in her Twitter profile:

twitter cookbook maureen evans Socialmediaonlineclasses

60.  Add a personal touch with emojis

Twitter allows you to use emojis in your tweets, providing a light-hearted touch . Find emojis that relate to your topic and use them if they’re right for your brand: their colorful and fun nature make your tweets stand out in newsfeed full of text.

IHOP used pancake emojis to promote it’s birthday sale (a lot of pancakes):

61.  Teach a class one tweet at a time

Teachers, librarians, and school counselors love Twitter and use it creatively: some teachers give a pop quiz on Twitter. Students who answer correctly get extra points in the class. See 50 Ways to Use Twitter for Teachers here.

62.  Transcend communication limits #Egypt

When traditional communication methods fail or are unavailable, Twitter provides a platform to keep people connected.  Twitter has proven an essential communication tool during the Arab spring, national weather emergencies, and other significant events that require getting information out to the public but may be hampered by government shutdowns of traditional media outlets, or even slow websites.

The National Hurricane Center used Twitter to provide shelter locations during Hurricane Irma when their website was slowed by huge traffic spikes.

63.  Share infographics meant to be read in-tweet

Share micro-infographics that people can read in their newsfeed without having to leave Twitter. Make it easy for people to read and share your content.

World Health Organization shared easy tips to stay healthy for New Year’s resolutions:

64.  Offer great customer service

Twitter has largely become a replacement for the 1-800 number: why spend time on hold if you can tweet a question and check back in a few minutes to get the reply? No waiting on hold necessary.

Your Action Item

Every small business can brand themselves and expand their influence using Twitter.

Go through this post again and identify which tactics best fit your business. You don’t have to completely change the way you market your brand; instead, simply start using Twitter in your social media posts using the information in the infographic.

Use this infographic as a “to do list” of tactics, and experiment with a few to see which ones generate the most buzz and results for your brand. Don’t forget to let me know which ones worked for you, using the hashtag #tweetsheet.

Share the full-size #tweetsheet infographic on your site

twitter marketing infographic Socialmediaonlineclasses thumbnail

Share this Image On Your Site

How to Take Small Business Images Using Your iPhone or Android Smartphone — Your Ultimate Guide

Where will you get all the images you need for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, your LinkedIn headshot, YouTube thumbnails and your blog?

Just thinking about it can be overwhelming . . . 

. . . and do you really want to resort to bland stock images?

So what’s an entrepreneur to do?

The answer is in your back pocket.

Your smartphone can do it all — head shots, product images and background photos.

Take out your smartphone and give your brand a dynamic look all your own using this ultimate guide.

You’ll learn photographer "secrets," including how to use composition, lighting, contrast, and backgrounds to create outstanding images, all with the built-in camera app on your iPhone or Android.

Get out your smartphone and follow along . . . you can read the guide in full or jump directly to the section you want below:

How to Compose Your Photo

Composing your photo makes it more eye catching and gives it a more professional look. Use the four composition methods below to give your images an Instagram-worthy look:

Use the Rule of Thirds

Position your subject one third of the way into the photo. This makes the image more aesthetically pleasing and draws more focus to your subject. Your smartphone can help you do this: From your camera settings, turn on the grid in your camera, and center your subject around one of the lines. .

Here’s where to turn on your image grid on an iPhone:

iPhone Settings

Here is where to turn on your image grid on a Samsung:

Samsung Settings

The image grid divides your photo into thirds, making it simple to position your subject on a line or intersection.

In this example, the dog’s face is positioned near the bottom intersection of the grid, positioning it at an interesting point as well as giving you plenty of room for a title or quote to overlay on the image:

In the example below, the woman’s eyes are in the top third of the photo,  naturally drawing your attention to her face, and gives the image a balanced feel:

Use Good Lighting

Natural light is the best and easiest way to shoot with your smartphone: avoid using your flash or harsh indoor lighting.

Avoid taking a photo with the sun or other light source shining directly in someone's face or directly on your product. The lighting will be flat and harsh, which is unflattering

When photographing outside, shoot in the early morning or evening, when the light is soft. This provides a nice smooth light with flattering tones. If you do need to shoot when the sun is strong, try to shoot in the shade, or with the sun at an angle to your subject.

When photographing outside, the best times are in the early morning or evening, when the light is soft. This provides a nice smooth light with flattering tones.

If you do need to shoot when the sun is strong, try to shoot in the shade or with the sun at an angle to your subject.

When photographing inside, use the light from a window or directed artificial light (see the article linked in the Product section below).

Direct the Eye with Contrast

An image with the correct amount of contrast grabs your attention and makes your subject stand out. Low-contrast photos look flat and boring.

Take a photo with good contrast by:

  • Making the background a different color than your subject
  • Putting your subject in the light and the background in the shade, as in the photo below:

Choose Your Background

Be mindful of your background, as it flatters and draws more focus to your subject.

  • Make your background visually appealing. Avoid  bright colors, bright highlights, and too many details, all which distract from your subject
  • Make the background out of focus ( the iPhone’s new portrait mode does for you) really brings attention to your subject

In this photo from SMOC Member The Valley Hive, the image has a simple background. The wood compliments the jars of honey, without taking attention away from them:

How to Take a Head Shot

A professional head shot is one of the first photos you’ll need for branding yourself and your business. It also gives your audience a more personal connection to your business if you have images of yourself and your employees.

In the group selfie photo below, Dr. Dennis Fernandez of Huntsvillesurgery.com used his smartphone to capture his entire staff in an informal setting, helping to alleviate much of the anxiety that goes along with surgery. This photo will be his Facebook Timeline cover:

small business images huntsville surgery clinic

Dr. Fernandez and the staff of Hunstvillesurgery.com; photo taken with his smartphone.

Pose Your Subject

Place your subject at an angle to the camera. Straight-on photos can be unflattering, so use angles to your advantage.

Arrange your subject so they're standing or sitting at an angle, then have them turn their head back toward the camera, as shown in the business portrait below:

Shoulders angled and head straight on is a great professional pose

Make a Statement with Angles

Consider what angle you want shoot from:

  • Taking a photo from above makes the subject appear approachable and slightly vulnerable. It is traditionally considered a feminine angle.
  • Taking a photo from above makes the subject seem strong and powerful, and is traditionally thought of as a masculine angle.

Notice the difference in model's appearance in the photos below? She looks powerful in the photo on the left, as the photographer was below her. In the photo at right, she looks more vulnerable as the photographer is above:

Choose Your Background Setting

Make sure your image has a pleasing background:

  • Avoid an unappealing background, as it detracts from the image quality, no matter how great your subject
  • Frame your subject with the background using a simple, pleasant surrounding
  • If you’re outside, foliage or a even a wall can be a great backdrop to your image

In the images below, a trail provides a pleasing, soft background while a skyscraper gives the image a strong, professional feel:

How to Take Professional  Product Photos

When shooting product photography, make it perfectly clear what the subject of the photo is. Product photos be simple and clean; avoid unnecessary details that distract from your product.

Keep it Simple

You want all the focus to be on your product. Don’t clutter up the photo with unnecessary props or background items.

Notice in the image below it's white everywhere but the subject, making it obvious what you're showcasing:

Light It

Ensure you have your product adequately lit. Use window light, natural light, or artificial light. To learn how to make an inexpensive light box for product photos refer to How to Create Your Own Product Photography Studio for Less Than 100 Dollars.

Try Different Angles

Shooting from different angles changes the entire look & feel of your product shots. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works for you. Notice the photo below used the following principles:

  • Rule of Thirds (product is in the bottom-left of the image)
  • Great lighting
  • Clean, contrasting background
  • Angled from the top looking directly at the product

Use a Colorful Paper Background

Set your product on a piece of colorful poster board, or set your product on a white or black paper and set up a colorful piece behind it, and shown below. The blue background provides a nice complement to the red cereal box:

Use a Tripod

You can get a smartphone tripod inexpensively, and it’s a great investment. It allows you to frame your image, then adjust your product and background without worrying about reframing everything.

It also keeps the smartphone camera steady. Here is a tripod on Amazon.

How to Take Background Images

Background photos are the multi-tools of marketing: use them for ads, quotes, blog post headers and Timeline covers. You can repurpose them endlessly, enabling you to have a photo available for every post, even if it isn’t directly related to what you’re posting.

Background Images from a Summer Intern: a Case Study

Our summer intern, Amanda Jensen, was a photographer (and now works in public relations for Honeywell); Maria Peagler, founder of Socialmediaonlineclasses.com, asked her to create a stock photo library for our brand. It allowed her to use her talents for a project she enjoyed, while we got great stock images.

Notice the images Amanda took below were of everyday scenes: a book, a beach, her daily run, a plant, a map and a keyboard.

They all use the rule of thirds, good lighting, and are simple. The map is the busiest image; notice how Amanda didn't include the entire U.S. and all the magnets in it. Instead, she moved the smartphone camera to the right giving the image some breathing room:

We got even more use from these stock images by repurposing them. The three images below start with the original black & white photo of a book's pages formed into a heart:

Maria added a title on a circular background in Canva.com and used it for a blog post cover here:

my favorite business books

Here's the same image with a sepia filter on it, which we can use for an entirely different purpose:

Top 10 Articles from 2014

Want to create a stock photo library with your smartphone images?Watch this brief excerpt of the 30 Days of Social Media from a Single Image webinar: Maria repurposed an SMOC member's cell phone image into 30 days of unique social media images:

Find Background Images in Your Everyday Routine

Background images don’t need to be stand-out photos or pre-planned images. They can be images of everyday items, your surroundings, or just something that catches your eye.

 Your choice of what you like in background images gives your brand a distinct voice:

Keep it Simple

Complex or busy photos with high amounts of detail distract from your message. Your image is meant to complement your subject, not compete with it. All of the images you've seen in this post are uncluttered or composed to be less so.

Always Look for Potential Images

Potential background images are all around you:

  • Foliage on a trail
  • Local architecture
  • An interesting color on a wall
  • Your products

Finding background images is as simple as just paying attention to your surroundings, such as this image of someone using their computer's mouse:

Great background images can come from the most common of situations

Summary

The camera on your smartphone has everything you need to take outstanding images for your small business marketing. Combine that with this ultimate guide on smartphone photography, and you've got a powerful toolkit for your own photo library.

Go out and use your new skills to give your brand a great visual presence: always be on the lookout for potential photos and don't be afraid to be creative!

Recommended Resources

Check out your Social Media Image Resource Center to learn how to use, create, and repurpose images and graphics for your business, all located in one place:

Ultimate Guide to Using Canva to Make Social Media Graphics

Canva.com is the most popular online graphic design tool — with good reason: it's free, and incredibly simple to make great designs without being a photographer or graphic designer.

It does have a learning curve however: it's user interface is unlike anything else you've likely ever used before.

So in this ultimate guide, I'll show you how to use Canva to do the basics like choose a template and add an image & text to it, and then we'll move on to specific designs like a Facebook Timeline Cover, collages, YouTube thumbnails & more.

Bookmark or pin this post: it's a long one, and you'll want to return to it when you're ready to make your next marketing graphics.

Let's get started: use this Table of Contents to jump to the section of this guide you're interested in:

Learn Canva Basics

Choose a Template or Custom Dimension

One of the best features of Canva is the fact that you never need to remember what size image dimensions you need for a particular social network.

What size is your Facebook Timeline cover?

Forget about it.

What size is your LinkedIn post?

You don't need to know. 

Canva takes care of it for you (so you can toss all those infographics telling you what size images you need for every social network).

In Canva, everything starts with a template. That's one its unique features that makes it easy. Templates allow you to have a pre-made design space, already correctly sized for social media posts, Facebook Ads, Youtube Thumbnails, Facebook Covers, and more.

Or if you want to have more freedom, you can just use your own custom dimensions.

Here is how to choose your template:

  • From the Canva Home Page, you'll see a few pre-made options at the top, and any designs you've already created below them. Choose the More option on the right side to view all of the templates Canva has to offer:
  • Once you choose More, you'll be able to see all of Canva's available templates. From here, just choose which one best fits your needs.

Don't see a template you like? From the Home Page you can choose Custom Dimensions and create the exact size that you need.

Choose an Image or Upload Your Own

Canva provides a huge library of free and paid stock images to use in your graphics.

To view these images, do this:

  1. On the main edit page, select Elements on the left sidebar.
  2. Select Free Photos. You'll be able to see and search all of Canva's free stock images.
  3. Once you find an image you want to use, either click on it to place it  in your template, or click and drag it to place it in a precise location.

Don't see what you're looking for? Search for it. Canva allows you to search through it's vast collection with ease:

While Canva has a plethora of readily-available stock images and templates, you may want to use your own: say an image of a new product or a photo from an event.

Here's how to upload your own images into Canva:

  1. On the main edit page, select the Upload Panel on the left side.
  2. Select Upload Image, and choose which image you want to bring into Canva.
  3. Once you have your image that you want to use, you can either click on it to make it appear in your template, or click and drag it to place it precisely where you want it:

Resize and Crop in Canva

Once you have you template and your chosen image, it's time to make your graphic. If you need to change the size of your image in relation to the template, here is how:

  1. In the corners of your image, you'll see dots. Simply select one of these dots and click and drag to resize the image.
  2. To move the image, click in the center and drag it to where you want it to be.

Sometimes you will want to crop your image to better fit your needs. Here is how:

          1. Select your image, then click Crop in the top Toolbar:

          ​​​​2. Click and drag the corners to adjust the cropping.

          3. Click the Checkmark to save your work:

Add Text to Your Images

Adding text overlays to images can be a great way to communicate with your clients.

Here's how to add text to your images:

  1. Choose the Text Panel on the left side.
  2. Select a text size option from the panel, like heading or subheading, then simply drag it over to your image.
  3. To change the text options, use the toolbar at the top to adjust font, color, and size:

Add a Watermark to Your Image

Adding a watermark to your image can be essential for a small business: it promotes your brand, while also protecting your images from being stolen. Using Canva, you can easily add a watermark to give your images their own branding.

In order to add a watermark to your image, you can either use a simple text box in Canva, or use a water mark you have already created., I show you how to create a standalone watermark in PicMonkey here.

Let's get started:

To create a simple watermark in Canva:

  1. Select the text size and font that you want to use for your watermark. 
  2. Position the text box where you want it to sit on your graphic. 
  3. Type your text! It can be your name, your business name, or anything else that you want to use as a watermark. 
  4. Use the Transparency Slider to adjust the opacity of your new watermark:

If you want to use a watermark you have already created in another program, here's how:

  1. Upload your watermark image to Canva.
  2. Click and drag your watermark onto the image.
  3. Resize and place your watermark where you think it looks best on your image.
  4. Use the Transparency Slider to adjust the opacity of your watermark:

Downloading Your Image

When you have finished making your image, you'll want to save it to your computer. That way you have immediate access to it and can upload it to your social media sites.

Here's how to download your final product:

  1. Select Download in the top right corner.
  2. Select your file type. I suggest using either PNG or JPG, as they are best suited for general use.
  3. Canva will save the image to your Downloads folder on your computer:

Create a Facebook Cover Image

Whether it's for your business page, or simply for your personal profile, every Facebook page needs a cover photo.

Here's how to create your cover:

  1. From the Canva Home Page, choose the Facebook Cover Template.
  2. If you just want a text based cover, choose a template option from the Layout Panel:

3. Change the elements of the template to something that works for you! Switch the colors, and alter the text to make your perfect cover photo:

Want to add an image to your cover? Its easy! Just upload the image you want to Canva, then drag and drop it to where you want it on your cover:

Create a YouTube Video Thumbnail

A YouTube thumbnail is the still image appearing as the cover of your video. It can be a still frame from the video itself, or one you've created outside of the video.

In this example, I'll show you how to use a template to create a thumbnail using one of your photos.

1. From the Home page, select More>>YouTube Thumbnail:

2. Choose a template from the left-hand side. Pick one that uses an image so you can easily insert yours:

3. Upload the image you want to use, and drag and drop it into the image. You can move elements of the template around to better fit your image. You can move text, change colors, and add and remove elements to personalize your graphic. Here, I changed the text, moved the text boxes, added my own image, and changed the color of the background box behind the small text:

Create a Collage for Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest

1. Choose the Find Templates panel and search for "Collage."

2. Select the Template that best fits your needs. 

3. Upload your images, and drag and drop them into the collage. Change the text to fit your needs, and you'll have a great looking photo collage:

You can also search for specifically-sized collages, for things like Facebook Covers and Instagram posts.

Want something without pre-made text boxes? With the Grid feature, you have dozens of collage templates to choose from, and you can add your own text later to get your collage exactly how you want it.

To use the Grid feature:

  1. Choose what template size you want.
  2. Click the Elements Panel and choose Grids.
  3. Choose what grid works best for you.
  4. Go to the Uploads Panel, then simply drag and drop your images to the boxes:

Summary

Canva is a great social media tool that doesn't require any experience or large amounts of your time. It can help you create great looking graphics for your business, and put you a step ahead of the competition. I also recommend reading my PicMonkey article to learn how to edit photographs. These two articles used together can help make you a social media rockstar.

Ultimate Guide to Using PicMonkey to Create Social Media Images

Editor's note: Sam Peagler is our new Content Developer at Socialmediaonlineclasses.com. He's a student at Austin Community College studying Photography and Technical Communication.

How often do you need images for your small business marketing?

Daily for social media?

Weekly for your email newsletter?

Monthly for events?

The good news is you don't have to use an overly-complex tool like Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. Instead, you can use a simple online image-editing tool called PicMonkey (7-day free trial here). 

In this article, you'll learn how to do the six most-common image edits you'll need for your small business, from basic cropping & lighting changes to changing out backgrounds and collages.

Let's get started . . . 

Make Basic Image Edits

Resizing Your Image

Does it seem like every social network needs a different-sized image? No worries - with PicMonkey, it's easy to resize your image to exactly what you need. 

Here's how to resize your image to a specific size:

picmonkey resize image tutorial
  1. From the PicMonkey Home page, select Edit>Computer, and choose the image you want to resize. Select Open.
  2. Select Crop from the left sidebar and enter the width and height you need. Check the Scale Photo box, and then drag the image handles to include the image area you you want.  You can then position the cropping boundary up or down to refine what's included in the cropped section.
  3. Select Apply. PicMonkey crops your photo the perfect size.
  4. Select Export and name your photo.

You can also resize your image using a predefined template. Watch the video below to follow along as I resize using a template (the text version follows the video):

  1. From the PicMonkey Home page, select Edit>Design>Templates, and choose the image you want to resize. Select Open.
  2. Select Crop from the left sidebar and enter the width and height you need. Check the Scale Photo box, and then drag the image handles to include the image area you you want.  You can then position the cropping boundary up or down to refine what's included in the cropped section.
  3. Select Apply. PicMonkey crops your photo the perfect size.
  4. Select Export and name your photo.

Give Your Image a Makeover Using Lighting & Contrast

If you'd like to enhance your image, you can use PicMonkey's Exposure settings to improve it.  This photo was dark before; after tweaking the Exposure settings, the image is brighter and you can see the subject more clearly:

Here's how to using PicMonkey's Exposure settings:

Step 1Open Your Image

Open the image you want to edit and select the Basic Edits Panel (the Sliders icon in the left sidebar). Then, select Exposure:

Step 2. Use the Sliders to Adjust Your Photo

  • Brightness changes the overall exposure of the image
  • Highlights and Shadows adjust only the light or dark areas of your image
  •  Contrast changes the intensity of the colors and tones

Step 3: Remember to select Export to save your enhanced image to your computer.

Congratulations! You just gave your image a makeover and made your brand look awesome.

Removing an Image Background

Removing a background has long been a major hassle. Now you can use PicMonkey to remove the background from any image easily (without straining your eyes or pulling out your hair).

  • exclamation
    To remove an image background, you need to turn your image into an Overlay (PicMonkey's term for clip art). We'll show you how below:

Step 1: Open a Blank Canvas and Add Your Image

  • From the PicMonkey Home page, hover over Design and select Custom Design. Specify the size you need and select Make It!
  • Select the Overlay Tool (Butterfly icon), and Add Your Own. Select the image you want to use, and select Open.

PicMonkey displays your image along with the Overlay settings, shown below:

Step 2: Remove the Background

Now that you've opened your image as an Overlay, you're ready to start removing the background. Here's how:

picmonkey zoom in while removing background
  • Select the Eraser Tool from the Overlay tool box to remove the background. Your cursor turns into an eraser you can drag over the image to remove the background.
picmonkey remove image background
  • You can adjust the size of your eraser by dragging the Eraser slider in the Overlay settings toolbox.
  • Too zoom in on your image while you're erasing (and reduce eye strain), use the Zoom Tool slider at the bottom of your screen.   You can also move the image around using the Image Box in the lower right corner:

Step 3: Save your image by selecting Export.

Bravo — you successfully removed an background from your image.

Easily.

Add a Watermark to Your Image

picmonkey final watermarked image

Adding a watermark to your image can be essential for a small business: it promotes your brand, while also protecting your images from being stolen. Using PicMonkey, you can create a great-looking, reusable watermark to give your images their own branding.

Creating a watermarked image is a two-step process: first, you'll create the transparent watermark; second, you'll add it to your image.

Let's get started:

Step 1: Open a Blank Canvas

  • From the PicMonkey Home page, hover over Design and select Custom Size. Select a size that's around 1000x1000 pixels (that's big enough to create an easily readable watermark). 

Step 2: Make the Canvas Transparent

  • You want your canvas to be transparent, so your watermark won't have a background. Select Transparent Canvas (checkbox in canvas color), and select Apply:
picmonkey transparent canvas

Step 3Add Your Watermark Text

  • Select the Text Tool (Tt) then Add Text . Choose your font, and type away:
add watermark text picmonkey

Step 4: Customize Your Text

  • You can adjust your watermark's size, alignment, and color using the Text Adjustment Box (left side box):
add watermark text picmonkey

Step 5Add Overlays 

  • Apply any overlays you'd like to add to your watermark. Overlays can add flair to your watermark, and give it some character. Choose the Overlay Tool (Butterfly), and select on the overlay you want to use:
picmonkey watermark text adjustment

Step 6: Save Your Image

  • Click Export (top left) and save it as a .png:
picmonkey watermark text

You now have a complete watermark to use on any of your branding!

Step 7: Add Your Watermark to Your Image

Now you're ready to add your new watermark to one of your images. Here's how:

  • Open up the image you want to watermark (Open New from the main menu).
  • Select the Overlay Tool then Add Your Own.
  • Choose the watermark you just saved, and add it to your photo!
  • You can resize it and change the transparency using the Adjustment Box as shown below: 
picmonkey watermarked image

Step 8: Save Your Watermarked Image

  • Select Export and give your new image a name.

You can use your watermark on any of your images to give them a branded look.

Create a Facebook Cover Image

One of the most common images you'll need for any social media marketing is your Facebook Business page cover. 

Here's how to create your cover from your favorite image:

Step 1: Choose Your Image

  • From the PicMonkey main screen, select Open New from the main menu and choose your image from your computer:  
picmonkey open new tutorial Socialmediaonlineclasses
  • Select the Crop Tool (located on the left sidebar) to resize your image to 851 x 325, as that is what loads the fastest and looks the best:
picmonkey facebook cover image

Step 2: Adding Text and Overlays

Here is where you transform your plain image into a working Facebook business cover with your brand name, hours, location & other relevant information:

  • Choose the Text Tool (Tt) (located on the left sidebar), then Add Text and type away!
  • You can modify your text's appearance by doing the following:
  • check
    resize the text box by dragging its sides
  • check
    resize the text by dragging the text box corners or the Size slider
  • check
    select a different font by choosing one from the left sidebar
  • check
    change the text color by selecting a color from the Text settings box

Want to make your text stand out even more? Easy! You can add colorful shapes and backgrounds:

  • Select the Overlay Tool (butterfly icon). PicMonkey displays a list of overlay types in the left sidebar.
  • Select the type of overlay you want and PicMonkey adds it to your image. I'm adding a red rectangle behind my brand's name and I can move and resize the overlay, as well as change its color.
  • To move your overlay behind your text, select the Layers icon in the bottom toolbar. PicMonkey displays each element of your cover image in the Layers box, and you can drag your overlay below the text:
picmonkey facebook business cover tutorial

Brand Your Content Using Consistent Colors & Fonts

Want your audience to recognize your images instantly? Use the same color scheme and fonts to give your content a branded design.

Watch this brief video tutorial to learn how to change your colors & fonts easily in PicMonkey:

Create a YouTube Video Thumbnail

A YouTube thumbnail is the still image appearing as the cover of your video. It can be a still frame from the video itself, or one you've created outside of the video.

In this example, let's start using a plain image to use as our thumbnail:

Step 1: Choose the YouTube Template

  • Hover over Design, then select Templates. Select the template for a YouTube Thumbnail (scroll down the bottom to find it):
picmonkey youtube template

Step 2: Choose Your Image

  • From the PicMonkey main menu, select Open New and choose your image. Resize & reposition the image to your liking. 

Step 3: Add Your Title to the Thumbnail

  • Using the Text Tool (Tt), you can write your full title, or just a keyword or two to grab attention. Again, you can customize your text's appearance so it stands out against your image:

Step 4: Apply Overlays

You can use overlays to make your text stand out, frame your text or images, and add a little bit of flair. In this example, I'll add a frame around the text and erase a portion of it to make the model pop out in front of it:

  • Use the Overlay Tool (Butterfly) to select the frame or other object you want. I selected a rectangle from the Geometric overlays, made the center transparent by changing Color 2, and the border white by changing Color 1.
  • To position an overlay behind your text, Fade it using the Adjustment Box (right-side box). Move it behind the text by using the Layers toolbox from the bottom toolbar.
  • Select Erase (right-side box) to remove parts of the overlay.

These effects can help parts of your image pop out, and give it dimension:

picmonkey youtube thumbnail overlay

Step 5: Save Your Image

  • Click Export (top left) and save it to your computer. You're now ready to upload your image to YouTube as a video thumbnail.

Create a Collage for Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest

Step 1. Choose Your Images

  • From the PicMonkey's Home page, over over Collage, and select Computer. Choose your images, and open them in PicMonkey:
picmonkey collage images

Step 2. Choose a Layout

  • Select the Layout Panel (Three Tiles) and PicMonkey displays the collage layouts you can choose from. Review the ones you're interested, and click on the one you want.
  • check
    for a collage to use on Facebook, select the FB Cover layout
  • check
    for a Pinterest collage, select the Pinter-etsy layout (you need a premium account for this)
  • check
    for an Instagram collage, select the Square Deal layout
picmonkey collage layout

Step 3: Add Your Images to the Collage Layout

  • In the Images Panel, you can either click and drag your images to the collage panel you want, or simply click autofill and let PicMonkey do the work for you:

Step 4: Edit the Background

  • You can edit the shape of your cells and the background color using the Background Panel (Paintbrush). Here, you can change your cell spacing, round the corners, and change the background color:
picmonkey collage background

Step 5: Save Your Collage

  • Click Export (top left) and save it to your computer. You're collage is complete and ready to use on on your favorite social network.

Summary

I recommend you bookmark this post and return to it when you've got an image you need to edit for your brand. It walks you through a simple workflow editing the image itself, as well as transforming it into multiple social media images.