There's a tonne of photo manipulation tools out there that link to your profile, from Instergram to Hipstermatic, and all the tools like them that FourSquare and the others have crow-barred into their mobile interfaces - which are fun to play with though really social media channels (or channel supports) in their own right. This is not what I want to highlight. What I want to share is a few tools for making custom images, because sometimes you need something a bit special and it's these that get the likes and get passed around. Yes, it takes some effort, but effort is invariably rewarded with community support. What we're looking for, to be blunt, is the more 'pinable' kind of stuff without needing the skills to do all this in Photoshop.
Ok, I love this tool. I use it a lot for more fan based channels where I want to highlight quotes or whatever, but sometimes for clients too. If you need a simple sign or graphic, this is fried gold.
here's one I made earlier
As with all these tools it's not the tool but how you use it that counts. Think about how to get the best out of this and make sure it's of value.
Let's say you're my good lady wife, with a new Steampunk cooking book coming out this year. How about using it for seeding recipe ideas or quoting Victorian literature about food? Say you're an accountancy firm like my buddies over at Sedulo (who rock all over social by the way). How about picking out a 2013 Budget quote that's going to affect business? Posting topical quotes, inspiring messages, home-made haiku, tips, hints, whatever suits the channel or brand and will be fun for the community, will help spread the good word and show you care enough to make something just for them.
I've got some deep admiration for this as an online app. It's apps like this that really give you an insight into where the web is heading in the future, when tools like this will be in the cloud instead of locally on your machine. PicMonkey, even the free version, does pretty much everything (and does it very stylishly) that you need to edit imagery for your communities. Stickers, textures, adding text (with a decent font bank), some decent touch-up tools, etc. The 'Themes' area has some nice groups of tools to help you make a start. You can see a features list on the site. You can also edit screen grabs and stuff with the Chome add-on. Nice.
The opportunities are fairly obvious, but I find I use it mostly for making easy collages of images and for adding text.
Animated GIFs are pretty hot right now, and have been getting a resurgence since the advent of Tumblr. I've always had a massive soft spot for them and used to do them the old fashioned way with stills in Fireworks. They work great in G+, and for blogging obviously, but Facebook and Pinterest (while they recognise them) don't animate them. Google Image search also has an animated image search now, so it's a nice little nod for SEO moving forwards. I also like them (if subtle) for Twitter profile images, where appropriate.
Animated images give a special kind of impact, offer a slice of life, attract the eye, get passed around, and often use imagery taken out of context to make a point or (with text) to highlight a message. Choosing what clips you use, and where and how you use them, is the difficult and creative part. Big corps. are now using them for movie trailer previews, the possibilities are a lot of fun.
a special kind of impact
I'm told that GIF Animator is good on the PC, and Gickr and GIFSoup (which also has a big collection of pre-made stuff) are a couple of the better ones on-line - but to be honest I've not tried them. For smartphones there's GifBoom for the iPhone and Android, which let's you do the necessary live and for free - I've tried this but couldn't really find a use for it at the time. If you find anything good let me know, I'd love to add them if you've got recommendations.
So there you go. Something a bit different. Social channels are catering for images and the web is getting more visual. Making something unique, putting into the web (and not regurgitating the same old drok) is where the shares are. Go make something cool.