Ask a marketing manager what single thing they need more of, and their answer will likely be, quite simply, time. Or coffee. And that’s important: a lack of time can mean the difference between scattergun marketing and strategic success.

For all of its benefits, content marketing can often feel like a never-ending challenge, full of idea generation, publishing schedules and ever-changing distribution channels. With the best team in the world behind you, it’s all too easy to drown in your own pool of ideas – or, more worryingly, suffer a case of writer’s block.

How do you face the content challenge, then, without going all Hermione Granger and investing in a timeturner?

Answer: tools.

The right tools will help you structure, formulate, perfect, share, and analyse your content. They will streamline your clunky processes and make you wonder how you ever went so long without them.

But boy, are there a lot out there. You probably don’t have time to look. But that’s ok; we do. (We also have coffee.)

 

Tools for organising

 

When managing any content strategy, an editorial calendar is non-negotiable if you’re to have any chance of sanity or success. Preferably both.

Sure, you could have a shared spreadsheet. It might even have colour coded columns and formulae. But really, we’d much rather you direct your retro tendencies elsewhere, because there’s a whole world of online task management tools out there to inspire, organise and delight.

 

Trello

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Free for most; business options from $9.99 per month.

Pros and cons

+Collaborative

+Flexible

+Integrates with other platforms like Evernote and Slack

+Visual and intuitive

-Light on reporting features

What the experts say: Trello is a fun and highly visual online tool that helps teams collaborate and keep track of projects using kanban-style management. You can bend this flexible tool to your will, but it’s less powerful than other project management applications.” – PC Mag

We’re biased, of course. Trello is our task management tool of choice here at Future Content, helping us work better, quicker, smarter.

Marketers are by nature, creative beings. We think outside the box, linearly, laterally, and, quite often, round in circles. Trello’s simple column design appeals to the aestheticist in us, while being bang on the money in terms of functionality.

It’s flexible enough to work in whichever way fits your business. At Future Content, we organise our dashboard by production stages – from consideration, to approved, in progress, and ready to publish. Equally, your board could be organised by social network or marketing campaign. Furthermore, the mobile app means we can check up on our content from almost anywhere.

Official video here.

 

CoSchedule

Platform: Web app

Cost: Free to trial, from $60 – $300 per month thereafter.

Pros and cons

+ Easy to use

+ Connects with social media channels

+ Good integration with performance measurement tools like Google Analytics

– Task system less detailed than Trello

– Not currently available for mobile

What the experts say: “If you want to manage your content and social media in one place, CoSchedule is a clear winner here. Its features with social media are simple, easy to use, and pitch perfect for content marketers.” – WP Curve

Trello aside, CoSchedule’s free editorial calendar tool is one of the greats.

First integrate it with your social media channels, making it super easy to visualise during the planning stages where your content will end up. Once published, social media analytics are displayed in real-time. Whilst it’s not a great productivity habit to obsessively check stats, it is nevertheless nice to get gratification within minutes.

Official video here.

 

Wunderlist

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Core features available for free. Pro upgrades from $4.99 per month.

Pros and cons

+ Simple interface – no distractions

+ Customisable appearance

– Lacks options for adding notes/context

– Free version has limited functionality

What the experts say: “Managing tasks and sharing shopping lists is easy with Wunderlist. Free accounts pack a lot of value, but the Pro version is expensive. Luckily, many individuals don’t need all that Pro has to offer.” – PC Mag

Wunderlist is a to-do list tool whose beauty lies in its simplicity. Perfect for planning your content strategy on the way to a meeting, without being *that guy* hogging the train tray table with his work laptop.

 

Tools for content curation

 

MindNode 2

Platform: Apple only

Cost: Free for iPhone and iPad. £22.99 for Mac application.

Pros and cons

+ Powerful yet simple

– Limited to Apple platforms

What the experts say: “MindNode 2 brings mind mapping to the masses with an impressive roster of accessible, easy-to-use features.” – Macworld

Brainstorming – as your Year 5 teacher taught you – is the best way to give ideas life and value.

Ideas – even when plentiful – are quite often fleeting and elusive, much like a Golden Snitch.

MindNode is a simple idea: it’s essentially the digital version of that skill you perfected aged 9, minus the glittery pens. You start from a central idea; adding headings, subheadings, and arguments until you have a fully-formed outline ready to flesh out.

Maximum creativity, with minimal effort, it translates the branches of your map into a linear to-do list which can easily be exported into your task management tool of choice.

Official video here.

 

Portent’s Content Idea Generator

Platform: Web app

Cost: Free

Pros and cons

+ Great starting point

– No strategy/industry knowledge backing up suggestions

What the experts say: “This tool is a piece of cake to use, and its chalkboard background makes it fun to play with. Simply add the keyword, and hit the “enter” button. You get one title and content suggestion each time you click.” – Entrepreneur

Even the most inspired marketing managers can sometimes simply run out of ideas. A feeling that usually peaks around 10:23 on a Monday morning, or 4:45 on a Friday afternoon.

The basic premise of this amusing tool? You enter a topic. It spews out a headline.

The algorithm has its flaws – after all, it is but an algorithm. But even if what it throws up is utter codswallop, at least you’ll be so fired up with ‘I can do better than that’ -ness, you’ll have been given the nudge you needed to come up with your own.

 

Human beings

Platform: real life

Cost: Billed monthly. Require teabags and milk.

Pros and cons

+ You can bounce off each other (not literally)

+ Time away from the screen breeds creativity

– Cons? What cons?

What the experts say: “Make the meetings something that the team looks forward to. People are more creative when they’re enthusiastic and having fun so don’t let the meetings drag. Steer discussions of analytics and data into actionable points,” – Valuable Content

Sure, the internet holds limitless information and content inspiration when you know where to look, but don’t forget to tap into the valuable knowledge database of your own team.

No one likes pointless meetings, but nothing could be less pointless than tapping into the hive mind already present in your company. Make it fun. Get coffee. Bring cake. Take turns on the whiteboard. A good editorial planning meeting will get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet and reinvigorate your overarching strategy.  

 

Tools for: Research

 

Without research, there cannot be strategy. Without strategy, there is no content. Or nothing of value, at least.

There are no shortcuts to clickworthy content; only solid foundations and an analytical approach. Here are some tools that will make your research journey easier, so you can get on with creating the good stuff.

 

Alltop

Platform: Web app, Apple

Cost: Free

Pros and cons

+ Share lists with your team

+ Easy to create in minutes

– Certain sites always appear first

What the experts say: “Discover amazing articles on Alltop. From health to technology, you can get almost all categories on this site. If you are a regular follower of Alltop, your mind is filled with ideas for the blog posts.” – 247 Tech

Essentially an online magazine rack for whatever industry you’re in – from engineering to elephant conservation. Why browse the entire newsagents looking for relevant articles when you can create a customised selection of subscriptions?

 

Feedly

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Free basic service. Pro from $5.41 per month.

Pros and cons

+ Attractive interface

+ Integrated Twitter and Facebook feeds  

– Not all features available for free

What the experts say: “Feedly gives access to RSS and other feeds on the web, and on mobile devices running iOS and Android. Feedly is available as a cloud based service, and aggregates a variety of feeds that can be shared with others.” – Slant

Feedly is a straightforward RSS feed, gathering the best stories from your sources of choice. There are hundreds of RSS feeds out there, but Feedly wins out due to its clean, minimalist look and ease of use.

 

Tools for: distraction-free content creation

 

Coffitivity

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Free for basic app. Upgrade for $9 a year.

Pros and cons

+ Adjustable volume

+ Choice of soundtracks – from ‘Morning Murmur’ to ‘Lunchtime Lounge’   

– After a while, you begin you notice repeated sounds

What the experts say: “Coffitivity is a cute menu-bar utility that brings a little bit of the coffee shop to your home office.” – Macworld

What do Ian Rankin, F. Scott. Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway all have in common? Other than being authors, clever clogs. Answer: they all frequented coffee shops as the antidote to crippling writer’s block.

Cliche as anything, there is something about the indistinct background chatter and clinking of spoons on mugs that will quickly get the creative juices flowing freely again.   

Open plan chatter is good too, but if you work from home, or a deathly silence has befallen your office, Coffitivity offers continuous cafe background sounds to replicate this phenomenon.

 

ZenPen

Platform: Web app

Cost: Free

Pros and cons

+ Zero distractions  

+ Two viewing modes – light and dark

+ Target word count tool

– Only basic formatting  

– No autosave option

What the experts say: “ZenPen is a very decent and reliable web-based writing application that is ideal for users who prefers to keep themselves away from anything that could disturb their flow of thoughts.” – dot Tech

It’s all a bit ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ to describe, but trust us, this works. ZenPen is a minimalist, zen-style’ (funnily enough) online notebook. In other words, a blank page.

Sometimes that’s all you need to get things going. Perhaps you normally write straight to WordPress. Or you use Pages and have windows open everywhere you look. ZenPen makes your work look beautiful before you’ve even started, and there’s something about the allure of the unwritten page to prompt you into writing the best content of your life.

 

Toggl

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Basic plan is free. Pro options from $10 per month.

Pros and cons

+ Stylish design  

+ Easy to use

+ Can be integrated with Trello

+ Export as a graph or PDF

– No automatic ‘stop’

What the experts say: “Toggl can record all the tasks and jobs you do. Whether you spend 10 minutes checking email or 10 hours writing a report, Toggl can record it.” – PC Advisor

Whilst there’s certainly a case to be made for procrastination, at some point we just need to put one word after the other and write. Toggl is a time management tool perfect for crazy-busy marketers with 300 projects on the go and no idea where to start. Supremely easy to use, it’s highly valuable to be able to track which projects are taking up most of your time, and whether this is proportionally represented in your priorities.

Wanna know how it works? A great Toggle guide here.

 

The Most Dangerous Writing App

Platform: Web app

Cost: Free

Pros and cons

+ Makes words happen  

– May cause heart attack  

What the experts say: “It’s meant to simulate the act of writing under extreme pressure, and it definitely works so long as you’re willing to write some pure nonsense in the event nothing of substance comes to mind.” – The Verge

Not adverse to risk? Only ever produce good content an hour before the deadline? Need the threat of failure to power on through? Not for the faint-hearted, this is designed to get you writing and keep you writing. If you stop for more than five seconds, your work will be gone. Forever.

 

Tools for publishing

 

Power Thesaurus

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Free

Pros and cons

+ Comprehensive selection

– User generated, so expect the occasional wildcard

What the experts say: “This is a great little tool for the word geek or for when you can’t quite explain what you actually mean” – Sweat, Tears, and Digital Ink  

A thesaurus is a content writer’s best friend. But there’s only so many times you can substitute ‘good’ for ‘nice’ and things begin to feel a little repetitive. That’s where Power Thesaurus comes in – entirely crowdsourced, it throws out original suggestions that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve heard the phrase a thousand times before.

 

CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser

Platform: Web app

Cost: Free

Pros and cons

+ Numerical scoring system

+ Offers areas for improvement

– Won’t always pick a winner, won’t always spot a dud

What the experts say: “We just love tools that help us write better headlines, and CoSchedule Headline Analyzer is doing it right. Simple and easy to use, you can now understand your headlines in great depth.” – Content Marketing Institute

Headline writing is part science, part skill, and reassuringly formulaic. This awesome little tool helps you achieve that perfect blend of character count, power words, readability and sentence structure, giving you a score out of 100 and feedback on how you can improve your SEO value.

 

Canva

Platform: Web app and Apple

Cost: Standard platform is free. Canva For Work from $10 per month.

Pros and cons

+ Makes designers of us all

+ Intuitive to use

– Many images are premium, from $1 per download

What the experts say: “Canva is an amazing tool for the clueless, and can come in handy for professionals too. It makes designing uniformly easy for everyone, but it’s by no means aimed only at amateurs” – PC World

We don’t need to tell you that integrating visuals in your content will get your more views, more engagement, more shares. Because we already have.

But not all marketers have access to their own team of graphic designers. Maybe you do, but there’s a wait-time of three days and you need to jump on this now.

Canva allows you to – either using their own stock photos or your own – add filters, fonts, and a whole host of cool stuff to create sublimely professional graphics.

 

Tools for distribution

 

According to the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 90% of marketers understand that social media is important to their business. Yet a whopping 86% don’t know what tools are out there to help them schedule, maintain, and measure their social activities. Whatever platform you choose, these tools can make your life easier.

 

Buffer

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Free for basic individual options. More advanced features from $10 – $399 per month.

Pros and cons

+ Insightful analytics tools

+ Clean, fuss-free layout

– Instagram not currently included

– Expensive option for larger teams

What the experts say: “Buffer for Business is an impressive social publishing platform that’s great for managing presences and tracking basic post-based analytics and presence growth.” – PC Mag

Buffer is a great piece of kit for content marketers managing multiple social media accounts, who want something simple and easy to navigate. It automatically suggests the best time for posting to each channel, for maximum post visibility.

 

Sprout Social

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Free 30 day trial. Priced from $59 per month thereafter.

Pros and cons

+ Detailed analytics and reporting

+ All your accounts in one single feed

– Limited flexibility; can only set schedules for weekdays and weekends

What the experts say: “Sprout Social is a full-service social media suite of tools. The user experience, social networks it supports, as well as its detailed analytics, provide plenty of fodder to gain insight from and begin to build a social program on.” – PC Mag

Sprout Social goes one step further than Buffer, with all of the above and much more in the way of follower management. Over time, its analytics tools measure how your audience is responding to different types of content so you can ensure you’re putting the right content in front of the right people at the right time.

 

IFTTT

Platform: Web app, Android and Apple

Cost: Amazingly, nothing

Pros and cons

+ Extensive usage possibilities

+ Did we mention it’s free?

– Some notifications have slight delay

What the experts say: “IFTTT gives you an unprecedented degree of control over your social media automation. For marketing experts, this is no small benefit.” – Joy of Android  

Our favourite of the bunch? It’s been around since 2011, but it’s an almost limitless tool covering every tech eventuality and almost (almost) taking us into the realms of AI.

IFTTT stands for ‘If Not This, Then That’ and has a trillion and one uses whatever business you’re in. For marketers though, it’s utter gold dust.

Picture this: 3 months ago you published an article on the behaviour of seahorses.

It got traction when it was first published, but interest waned as expected. Then, one Saturday morning, a groundbreaking study is published. Seahorses are trending. But it’s a Saturday morning, and your partner has made you promise not to work weekends. A brilliant opportunity that would, without IFTTT, pass you by.

With IFTTT, you could have set up a scenario (IFTTT calls them ‘recipes’), that instructs your company Twitter account to tweet your seahorse when content appears in your Feedly feed with a #seahorses tag. Nice.

 

So that’s it, folks. Remember: tools without marketers are just tools. Marketers with tools are superheroes with a plan. Time for a coffee.

Still feeling like your content needs rescuing? Head here to see how Future Content can help.

Image via Unsplash.