Welcome to Solo PR Pro’s Tool School series! Designed to fight overwhelm, all this month we’re offering specific recommendations for services that are cost-effective for indies, and aren’t enterprise-focused or overkill for our needs. In this, our second installment, we focus on the tools that help digital and communications consultants accomplish great things for clients.
While there are thousands of services in this space – many with steep price tags and unneeded features – the tools below (some with special discounts for Solo PR Pro members) are our favorites to help indies level the playing field and produce world-class results. Next week, we’ll look at “The Best Tools For Consultants to Manage and Promote Your Business.” Though there is some overlap, the tools below are well-suited to help with your client work.
Most of the tools listed here are free, though some are paid and a couple (noted with an asterisk*) are affiliate links that earn Solo PR Pro a commission, which help support the operations of Solo PR Pro if you purchase through them (my techie guru thanks you! J). We only recommend products we use and love, and those in the Solo PR community have heard us recommend these tools for years.
Our Day-to-Day Tools
You know those tools you simply couldn’t live without? Let us tell you why the following are the absolute PR/digital workhorses in our consultant toolbox:
1. Inkybee – Inkybee focuses on one of the most vexing aspects of PR, digital, and social media outreach: blogger and influencer relations. It offers a suite of powerful tools for research and discovery, outreach, and reporting that includes everything from detailed blog and social media searches to influence metrics to relationship and results tracking (CRM). They advocate relationships and quality over quantity, and even produced an ebook on doing blogger outreach the right way (get your copy here).
»»Breaking news! Today, we’re thrilled to announce that Inkybee is offering a half-price discount on its Small Team Plan exclusively for members of Solo PR PRO Premium! This Inkybee special offer is the latest addition to the long list of benefits of Solo PR PRO Premium membership – learn more about the exclusive Inkybee discount here!
Some of us remember using the paper-based Bacon’s and/or Media Map guides that later became the powerful Cision online media database. Not only do they update media and influencer profiles daily, but they’ve continued to add new features (such as monitoring) to meet client needs. Most recently, Cision announced a unique approach to calculating Digital Reach, a new take on determining Unique Visitors Per Month, which factors in social sharing metrics.
“Cision has long been one of the go-to tools for researching traditional media outlets and contacts, with full bios and other helpful content that can be useful in building media lists and compiling client briefing books. Inkybee's features give me the extra edge in reaching bloggers and other influencers – it helps me sort and rank influencers by metrics I care about, and I can contact bloggers from within the tool to track conversations and receive detailed analysis and reporting. I also love that Inkybee notifies me when my target bloggers mention my campaign keywords. The products have different strengths, so the best tool depends on what you're trying to do – I like having both in my arsenal, and the Solo PR PRO Premium discounts are phenomenal!”
3. SproutSocial*- This social media management tool provides powerful publishing, engagement, analytics and reports. Many in the Solo PR community have found that SproutSocial’s included advanced reporting capabilities make it much more cost effective than other solutions that seem more affordable at first glance (such as Hootsuite, which charges a premium for each report).
SproutSocial reports are more professional and easy to produce, and combined with time-saving features like its “All-In-One Social Inbox,” the investment (starting at $59/mo.) can more than pay for itself in productivity and reporting improvements.
4. Buffer– This service helps you space out your Tweets so you aren’t sending multiple links in rapid succession – the Buffer bookmarklet and tools make it easy.
5. BuzzSumo– Suprisingly powerful tool to discover trending stories across all the major social networks on a given topic, including the most shared links and key influencers. Simple and easy to use for everything from client research to content creation.
6. CustomScoop– Yet another service that offers Solo PR PRO Premium members an exclusive discount of more than 50% off regular rates, CustomScoop provides an all-in-one monitoring solution that covers both traditional and social media. This service has many fans in the Solo PR community as a way to easily catch and report to clients all of the mentions that occur across platforms – without spending hours researching in an often futile attempt to track them all down yourself.
7. PicMonkey*- By far the easiest and most powerful image editing tool out there for non-experts (that’s me!). I gladly pay the $33/year (which works out to just $2.75 a month) for the “Royale” plan of extra premium tools. Whether you want to create a professional-looking collage, add text to cool images for your clients’ social media or remove the background from a photo, PicMonkey is up to the task!
8. Canva– This is an amazing service that can really help the design-challenged among us (again, me) create stunning designs. Unfortunately, Canva doesn’t replace the need for PicMonkey (I think someday one of these tools will overtake the other, but until then we still need both), but you can use your images from PicMonkey or other sources in Canva to create sophisticated layouts for Web or print: blog graphics, presentations, Facebook covers, flyers, posters, invitations and more. They offer a variety of helpful templates, and also have stock photos you can use in your designs for just $1 each.
9. 4imprint– This has become my favorite company for promotional products and giveaways, largely because they have a huge catalog and relatively small minimum orders for most products. They also offer free samples (so you can see what you’re getting!) and really great service.
Media and Influencer Relations
Beyond the services mentioned above, here are a few more tools in this category to consider:
10. Help a reporter out (HARO) – Now owned by Vocus, one of the easiest ways to get story leads also happens to be free. Most PR pros now know about HARO – just sign up and you’ll receive emails of press queries, organized by industry/interest for easy scanning.
11. Muck Rack– Many PR pros like Muck Rack as a way to find and contact journalists using social media.
12. Vocus – Another of the leading cloud-based marketing and public relations software providers, Vocus and Cision were both purchased earlier this year by the same firm, and we look forward to what comes next from the combined entity.
13. Mention.net and Talk Walker – When Google Alerts went kaput, these two services became the most widely-used free tools for monitoring alerts via email. Most of us have found that neither of them is as good as Google Alerts were, but when used in tandem you can catch a lot of mentions.
14. Who Shared my Link– A tool from the folks at MuckRack that allows you to enter a URL and see how many times it was shared on social media, and by which journalists and bloggers.
15. SumAll- A free tool that allows you to connect and compare data from your social media, e-mail, ads, Google analytics and more, all in one dashboard.
16. Cyfe– Another all-in-one data-monitoring dashboard that allows you to collect and analyze data across popular online services (many features are free).
17. SocialCrawlytics– A free tool that lets you identify your competitor's most shared content.
18. Tagboard– A page that lets you track hashtags across all major platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Google+.
19. Twilert- An application that sends regular email updates with mentions of your brand, product, or keyword on Twitter.
20. FreeDigitalPhotos.net– This is my favorite source of free images – quickly downloading photos from this online database is especially easy since no registration is required, and the quality is higher than on many other no-cost sites (most images require attribution to use for no fee).
21. Compfight – Use this Flickr search tool and turn the “Creative Commons: Commercial” qualifier on, and it will find only the free images that are usable for commercial purposes (be sure to give the photographer attribution per their individual terms).
22. Wordswag– Easily add text to iPhone photos for modern-looking graphics.
23. Photo Peach– Use this digital tool to create a slideshow with photos, music and captions that can be shared on Facebook, Twitter or a blog.
24. Powtoon– Online presentation tool that lets you create animated videos or explainers.
25. Animoto– A web-based service that provides a quick and visually appealing way to share photos and create videos.
26. gifboom– Express yourself in motion with animated GIFs made with your iPhone or Android.
27. Swipe- A web application that allows you to create web-powered slideshows and share them.
28. Dafont– A powerfully searchable archive of more than 17,000 fonts you can download for free. Use them in your presentations/documents and in combination with PicMonkey* for images (you can use any font installed on your computer with PicMonkey). Careful, it's addictive!
29. Piktochart– DIY infographic creator that offers a number of tools and templates to make the process easier.
30. Infogr.am– Another well-known DIY infographic app.
Coming August 26, Solo PR Pro Tool School will feature How to Smartly – and Cheaply – Automate Routine Social Media Posts – where we go in-depth into our methods for sharing content. But first, in addition to the social media-related tools elsewhere in this post, here are a few more of our favorites:
31. Oktopost*- With an affordable pricing structure, I’ve tried and liked Oktopost for social scheduling and reporting. Specializing in B2B, LinkedIn is where this tool really shines – it allows you to share multiple LinkedIn accounts (helpful if your client needs you to assist with status updates or group participation) and it shows you exactly which LI groups are resulting in clicks and conversions. It even allows you to bulk upload posts and it will auto-schedule them for you (I’m too much of a control freak to have used that feature J).
32. Hootsuite*- While other tools are encroaching a bit on Hootsuite in the post planning/scheduling area, it remains one of the best tools for organizing and monitoring various social networks, profiles, and feeds all in one place. The Pro plan allows you to connect 50 social profiles and monitor unlimited RSS feeds for just $14.99/month – and if you work with subcontractors, they can access your account via their own free accounts, so you only have to pay the fee once.
33. Rebelmouse– Allows you to connect multiple social networks and profiles, hashtags, etc., onto one unified public dashboard that can be branded and shared.
34. GroupTweet– A useful tool for transparently combining the voices of multiple contributors into a single Twitter account (pricing based on number of followers).
35. RoundTeam– Another tool that allows multiple users to contribute to a single Twitter account, this time with a different subscription plan (plans without ads start at $3.99/mo).
36. Facebook Debugger– If your link is not expanding properly to include details and thumbnails on Facebook, this tool can help.
37. GramFeed– This photo search platform shows images and accounts that are trending on Instagram.
38. OneLoad– A video distribution tool with both free and paid plans that allows users to quickly upload video content to a multitude of sites at one time.
39. YouTube Capture– An app that lets you record, edit, and upload videos on your phone to YouTube, and post to Google+, Facebook, and Twitter simultaneously.
It’s true, the plethora of boring PowerPoint presentations most of us have suffered through have given them a bad name. But I’m sure no one reading this has ever given one of those! J I still find most audiences prefer having a visual presentation to follow along, and these tools help you keep them interested:
40. Powered Templates* – When I’m in a bind, this site is a great source of nice-looking downloadable PowerPoint templates and backgrounds (while some are cheesy, there are many professional designs to be found). Most require a small fee, but if you’re design challenged (as I am) it can save you hours of time and is well worth it.
41. Slideshark- Useful when presenting to clients, allows you to display Powerpoint presentations on an iPad, preserving animations, fonts, graphics and colors. Tap or swipe to advance animations and slides.
42. YouTube Downloader– An app that allows you to download and save online videos to your computer – especially helpful when using third-party videos in presentations (so you don’t have to rely on the often-spotty wifi where you’re presenting!). When installing, be sure to click to “decline” offers to prevent it from loading extra stuff on your computer.
Get creative with your use of surveys, with these tools to help:
43. SurveyMonkey – All the tools you need to create and share your own online surveys quickly and easily. Use it on your clients’ behalf, or create a quick survey to solicit feedback from clients on your performance. SurveyMonkey can also help find people to fill out your survey for a fee.
44. Wedgies- A super simple browser-based survey tool that allows you to create a question and share it via text-sharing and social platforms.
Solo PR Pros are digital and communications consultants that offer services well beyond traditional public relations. If search engine optimization (SEO) is among your offerings (and don’t we all do some SEO from time-to-time?), these tools can help:
45. Raven Internet Marketing Tools*- Specializing in search engine optimization, as well as social media conversations, online advertising campaigns and more, Raven helps you manage link building, track search engine trends, create and manage ad campaigns, monitor and manage social networks, collaborate with team members and produce sophisticated campaign reports. At $99/month, it’s one of the most affordable services of its kind (many of its competitors target larger agencies), so if you’re responsible for SEO, or if you’d like to test a tool that takes a different approach to social media, you may want to checkout Raven- they have a free trial.
46. Moz Local– For $49/year per location, Moz Local helps you ensure local business listings are correct, consistent, and visible across the web.
47. Ubersuggest– A free web-based keyword suggestion tool.
48. Google Keyword Planner– Replacing the popular Google Keyword tool, the newer Keyword Planner combines elements from the old tool and Adwords Traffic estimator to offer a more focused workflow to create ads and campaigns.
49. Website Grader– From Hubspot, this web-based tool can provide you with basic insights into areas on your site that can be improved for better SEO and social media popularity.
Tools don’t have to be complicated – the following excel at addressing just one need:
50. Visible Tweets– A super simple website that visualizes and animates tweets for public display – especially useful for showing hashtagged tweets at events.
51. Clickto Tweet– The easiest way to create a ‘Tweet This’ link for specific pieces of text.
52. Embed Code Generator– A tool that allows you to quickly create embed codes so others can easily repost your images, infographics, etc. on their own blogs.
53. Wordle– An online tool that lets you create word clouds based on the content of any website.
54. AP Stylebook Ask the Editor – Can’t find your Stylebook? This online Q&A is searchable, and you can often find the answers to your style questions here.
Did we miss your favorite PR or digital tool? Be sure to share with everyone in the comments! And keep checking back for more Tool School – still to come this month, additional posts on The Best Tools For Consultants to Manage and Promote Your Business (coming August 19), and How to Smartly – and Cheaply – Automate Routine Social Media Posts (coming August 26).
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