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It’s no secret that compelling graphics are an important ingredient in a successful social media strategy. In a perfect world, we’d have access to a graphic designer available to whip up something brilliant at all times.

For most of us, that’s not reality. Luckily, there are lots of tools and resources available that can help even the most creatively challenged among us create professional-looking social graphics. Here are a few must-have tools and resources:

  • Stock images. If your brand invests in custom photography, this can be a great source of images for social graphics. If not, or if what you need isn’t a fit, there are many free and low-cost sources out there. For free images, Morguefile, Flickr Creative Commons, and freeimages are good places to start (note, attribution is generally required when you use these sources). If you have a few dollars to spend, try iStock, shutterstock and Veer. All of these sites let you set a budget range, so you can search for low-cost options.
  • Image dimension cheat sheet. If you’re going to create social media images, a sizing cheat sheet is a must-bookmark. There are lots of them out there – just make sure the one you use is updated regularly as the rules and regulations change frequently. Because the dimensions for each major social network vary quite a bit, you’ll generally want to create a couple versions of your image sized in various ways. I like this one from Media Bistro.
  • Photo re-sizer. Whether you’ll be using custom or stock images to create your graphics, there is a high likelihood that you’ll need to resize your images to optimize them for various social channels (see: image-size cheat sheet above). A good photo resizing program is your friend. If you have access to Photoshop, congrats, go ahead and use that. But for the rest of us, there are lots of free web-based programs available. Pixlr is my go to.
  • Layout tools. There are several easy-to-use layout tools available that will allow you to customize images by overlaying text, adding filters, incorporating a logo, etc. Check out Canva to start. It’s intuitive and offers many customizable template layouts, plus a library of free and really cheap stock photos to use. Other tools like PicMonkey and Sumopaint are good for adding filters and creating image collages.

There are tons of tools out there that can help you design professional-looking social images, these are just a few of my personal favorites. What are your free/low-cost must-haves?