Social Media Design: Tips and Tools for Visuals That Pop

/ 11 min read
Laura Wilson

Social media is an inherently visual medium. From Instagram to TikTok and every social platform in-between, our feeds are filled with images, GIFs and videos—and for good reason.

Study after study shows that including images within your social media posts leads to more engagement and interaction (in one Journal of Marketing Research report, it was found to increase retweets by 199%!).

The findings are clear: if you want to get the most out of social media marketing, you need to create captivating visuals.

Luckily, the days of needing to run out and hire a designer, or fork out half your budget on costly resources are over. Thanks to a hoard of helpful tools, it's easy to create eye-catching posts with minimal investment of time and money.

In this post, we've curated our favourite of those tools and outlined a few tips and tricks to help your small business get the most out of social media.

What is social media design?

Social media design refers to the planning, creation and posting of visual content on social media platforms. Simply: social media + graphic design = social media design.

What exactly those designs are depends on the context. In a single week, you might post an image announcing a new hire, share a GIF showing off a new product, and produce a unique graphic for a targeted advertisement.

Who needs social media design?

These days almost every business has a social media presence, from global giants like Amazon, to your local cafe. And any business that chooses to engage in social media marketing needs social media design.

With people scrolling through feeds for upwards of 145 minutes a day, eye-catching visuals are a great way to make a good first impression and keep current customers informed about what’s going on with your business.

They also empower you to engage with your audience, generate brand awareness and even make sales.

How to design beautiful social media posts

1. Define your brand identity

Brand is how you portray your business to the world. It's also at the heart of every single thing you do on social media, from choosing your profile picture to the type of language you use in your posts. You need to maintain a consistent look and feel to give yourself the best chance of finding an audience.

Most social media profiles are made up of three basic elements: a profile picture, a cover photo, and a short description or bio. Before you worry about creating posts, you should make sure your profile reflects your brand perfectly.

This doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. Add a logo as your profile picture, include a cover image that adds further context, or shows off a product or service that you provide, and include a brief, description bio that succinctly describes your business in a sentence or two.

By standardising your look, and keeping it consistent, you help define your brand in the minds of people who come across your content. For example, our friends at Notion are great at maintaining their unique branding across all their posts:

Important: Beyond design, you should also keep your voice and tone in mind. If you sell hardware supplies, you might use an informational, down-to-earth tone, whereas if you sell clothes to teens, you might be more enthusiastic and emoji-heavy.

2. Adapt to your chosen platforms

You don't talk to your grandma the same way that you talk to your best mate. Likewise, you shouldn't talk to LinkedIn audiences the same way that you do to people on TikTok. Certain types of content are suited to certain target audiences.

This is true both from a technical standpoint and based on how people use the respective platforms. For example, landscape videos don't work well on TikTok because the vertical aspect ratio is catered to smartphone users (technical), while quote graphics do well on Instagram because users like to engage with that type of content (behavioural).

Profile Picture and Cover Photo Size by Platform
Profile Picture Cover Photo
Facebook 180 x 180 820 x 312
Instagram 320 x 320 N/A
Twitter 400 x 400 1500 x 500
YouTube 800 x 800 2560 x 1440
TikTok 20 x 20 N/A
LinkedIn 400 x 400 1128 x 191
Pinterest 165 x 165 N/A
Social Media Image Sizes
Facebook 1200 x 630
Instagram 1080 x 1080 (1080 x 1920 for stories)
Twitter 900 x 450
YouTube 1280 x 760
TikTok 1080 x 1920
Pinterest 225 x 150 (board image)

This means that, while repurposing content across different channels is smart, you shouldn't directly copy. Make tweaks to individual posts to suite the platform your posting on— it'll have a marked effect on engagement and performance.

3. Learn the basic principles of design

We’ve all seen bad social media posts. The kind that has hard-to-read fonts and eye-searing colours. The kind where you're not even sure what's being said—like the horrific example we put together below.

If you're new to design, the chance is you'll probably make a few rookie mistakes that can be glaring to the eyes of your viewers. That's why it's important to do two things:

  1. Look at how other brands design their posts. What stands out? Are there certain elements you love or hate? Through looking at these you'll start to see certain trends and motifs that are repeated. You can borrow and remix these to fit your posts.
  2. Acquaint yourself with the basic principles of design. If you're a small business owner you're not going to have the time or inclination to take a design class. You don't need to. Spend some time on YouTube, and reading articles to get a crash course.

Also keep in mind that your social media posts are basically advertisements—for products, features, services and just generally for your business. Your name, logo or website should be present on every post so people can find you.

Important: Every post should also have a clear call to action. What do you want people to do after they see your post? This could be something as obvious as prompting someone to buy your product.

4. Use a content calendar

It's all too easy to create an Instagram account for your business. It's much harder to consistently post to it. A content calendar makes this easier by allowing you to track and plan content, and stay on schedule.

This doesn’t have to be complex. It could be something as simple as a page in your notebook, or a dedicated tool like Notion, Asana, or Google Sheets. Just set aside a regular time, and try to schedule posts for a few times a week in advance. Between 2-3 is a good start for most small businesses.

To save time, alternate between fresh and re-posted content. Did you know that original tweets only account for 14% of Twitter activity and 80% of pins on Pinterest are re-pins? This is because people mostly use Twitter to respond to and interact with each other. It’s called social media, after all.

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5. Analyse your results

When you get a notification of a new "like" or comment, in the moment, it’s a nice little confidence boost. It’s also a fleeting sensation—it's easy to post things and then have no idea how they actually perform.

That’s why you should take the time, around once a month, to look over your posts and find out which posts got the most engagement. Each of the main social media platforms offers its own in-app analytics, so it's easy to get quick insights into what works.

When looking at the data, consider these questions:

  • Which social media platforms worked best?
  • What time of day was most successful?
  • What type of content is your audience responding to?
  • What kind of comments are you receiving?
  • Did you get any negative feedback?

Once you have some data, you’ll be able to make informed choices about your next posts.

10 tools for beautiful social media designs

There’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to social media post design, but don’t worry. Creating beautiful posts doesn’t have to be hard, and it definitely doesn’t have to break the bank.

We’ve compiled a list of 11 tools that will make your job easier. Take a look to find out how you can take your posts to the next level.

1. Canva

Source: Canva

Pricing: Free for 250,000+ templates and one user

Best for: Combining multiple visual elements into one image.

No social media article is ever complete without the mention of Canva. It's the go-to design tool for all design novices and with good reason.

Canva has a massive asset library and hundreds of thousands of professional social media templates. With its flexibility and versatility, it can easily be described as Adobe PhotoShop for novices.

You can create unique social media images using Canva’s photo library, add typography, icons or graphic elements to your images, create charts and even upload your own graphics.

2. Adobe Creative Cloud Express

Source: Adobe

Pricing: Free plan with limited features; premium plan for $9.99/month

Best for: Creating branded posts from start to finish in the one app.

Adobe Creative Cloud Express is similar to Canva, but it integrates with Adobe’s world-class suite of editing software. This means you can edit your images with Photoshop tools without leaving the app, making it a great one-stop shop for social posting.

PhotoShop might be a bit complex for standard users, but the core features within Express are simple to use. Its design templates and stock elements are beautiful, and there’s a lot of them.

Plus, it integrates with Paperform and other apps, so you can access your design assets more conveniently. Simply upload your fonts, colours and logos to Adobe Creative Cloud Express, and they’ll appear in any app you link to it.

3. Unsplash

Source: Unsplash

Pricing: Free

Best for: Royalty-free, non-stocky stock images.

Unsplash is a lifesaver for anyone with limited access to brand assets or photographers.

With Unsplash, you can access thousands of free images and videos to use as backdrops for your social media posts.

The best part? The images are far from being the generic stock images you might be accustomed to seeing. Unsplash receives its content from real, talented photographers, ensuring a great level of originality and variety.

4. Infogram

Source: Infogram

Pricing: Free plan with limited features; premium plans start from $19/month

Best for: Designing infographics

The best way to easily turn blog posts into social-friendly, visually engaging posts is by turning them into bite-sized infographics.

Infogram is our tool of choice here for its ease of use, high-quality images, and huge library of templates. Even a design novice can create stunning posts using its range of typography, colours and graphical element options (including charts, symbols, maps and shapes).

5. Placeit

(Source: Placeit)

Pricing: Variable amount per post or $14.95/month for unlimited posts

Best for: Showcasing your product with mockups.

Placeit is hands down the easiest way to create brand assets and mockups. In minutes, you can create mockups of your website or app (for example showing your website on an iPhone or desktop), or design branded t-shirts to showcase your company culture on social media.

Placeit has over 38,000 templates for you to choose from. These templates include  static images, and high-quality videos that really look like a model is using something with your image on it. It can also be used to create logos, designs and videos.

6. Logaster

(Source: Logaster)

Pricing: First small logo for free, increasing one-time payments for more features

Best for: Creating a stunning logo for your social profiles.

Having an attractive-looking profile picture or thumbnail for your social pages is crucial. Ideally, this should match your brand logo, but if you don't have one that's social-friendly, Logaster is the easiest way to create something attractive that will look great on all social channels.

Simply enter in your brand name, choose a design style and Logaster will generate a huge range of customised, stylish logos for you to choose from.

7. Wavve

(Source: Wavve)

Pricing: Free plan with limited features; premium plans starting from $12.99/month

Best for: Creating shareable audiograms.

Quote graphics only take you so far when it comes to promoting audio content. Wavve takes your audio files and creates social videos, so that you can share video and podcast clips with your audience in a unique way.

Wavve has animations that match your audio, simple progress timer animations, and can even generate captions. The drag-and-drop editor is easy to use, and you can save your own templates to keep things efficient.

8. Animoto

Source: Animoto

Pricing: Free plan with limited features; premium plans starting from $9/month

Best for: Creating social media friendly videos from multiple elements.

Animoto is to video what Canva is to graphics. It has a huge stock library of photos, videos and music, or you can upload your own. You can then customise your video with captions and graphics.

It’s perfect for creating video storyboards for social media. You can use their templates, customise them, and save your branding for future videos. Every video can be sized to the platform you’re posting it on, which means whether you’re making an Instagram story or a video for a Facebook post, it’ll look great.

9. Animaker

Source: Animaker

Pricing: Plan with commercial rights is $19/month

Best for: Creating animated and live action videos.

Animaker is a video making tool that’s a bit more powerful than animoto. It’s capable of making both live action and animated videos and has a huge stock library and diverse templates for both. In saying that, the animation is definitely where it stands out.

With its character builder, you can create a cartoon character who then stars in your video. There are plenty of activities the character can act out, with a variety of expressions—there’s even an auto lip-sync feature that animates your character’s lips to your audio.

While it’s well-suited to full videos, you can also make shorter ones for social media, or to create GIFs of your content.

10. Paperform

Source: Paperform

Pricing: Starting from $20/month (Free trial for 14 days)

Best for: Engaging with audiences using personalised quizzes or surveys.

With users facing sensory overload on social platforms everyday, an easy tactic that can really help you stand out is interactive content that engages your users beyond asking them to click on a page.

Asking questions on social media is proven to boost likes, shares and comments, and the best part is that it's an easy tactic to implement at scale. With Paperform, you can create a quiz, survey, or questionnaire to share on your social channels in minutes.

Easy to use and fully customisable for your needs, Paperform is the perfect tool for design novices to create beautiful, memorable social content.

lightsaber color quiz

Important: Whatever you may think about them, there's a reason Buzzfeed used fun quizzes as the engine to grow their business. Not only do people enjoy filling out fun quizzes and surveys, they share them with their friends—which means extra word of mouth for your business.

Over to you

And there you have it. You're all equipped to charge into the social world with your newly-found design skills. Keep in mind that most people who succeed on social media aren't designers; it's a combination of the right tools and attitude that will bring success.

About the author
Laura Wilson
Laura is a former Content Writer at Paperform.

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