Free Must-Try Tools for Digital Content Creators

The digital age has quickly become a cutthroat competition, vying for the limited attention of a target audience. Marketers and media are no longer just competing with other outlets, but friends, family, and total strangers too.

Although Microsoft’s 2015 report on humans’ average attention spans quickly declining was cited in a flurry of news stories by the likes of Time Magazine and The New York Times, Global Source Research and the BBC have pressed to add an asterisk to these claims. It’s not about “average” attention spans – which is a concept that is difficult to define and means nothing – it’s about maintaining interest by choosing the best format and medium for your content.

Not to overstate the obvious, but differing audiences and differing subject matter should always be the first considerations when deciding how to push out content. If you want to share a story about the boldest looks shown at Paris fashion week to an audience just being introduced to the world of fashion, perhaps a podcast isn’t the best choice. Incorporating video and photos would make a much more effective package.

However, in this oversaturated world where ourselves and our target audiences experience a constant media barrage 24 hours a day, every day, it’s always advantageous to stay on the cutting edge of content creation.

With increasing audience engagement in mind, the Northwestern University Knight Lab brought its “community of designers, developers, students, and educators” together to experiment with design and “push journalism into new spaces.” They’ve created a suite of innovative storytelling tools that are incredibly easy to use, come with instructions, and best of all, are completely free!

Of the suite, here are three from the Knight Lab’s storytelling toolkit:

1. Soundcite

This tool allows writers to make digital text come to life with the help of audio. Using a simple copy-paste, a reader can be lifted before an audience of 10,000 adoring fans or in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest through the magic of Java Script.

Check it out in practice on WBEZ Chicago’s website with the help of some Chance the Rapper tunes.

2. Timeline

This tool that can help create easy-to-follow, interactive timelines with nothing more than an Excel or Google spreadsheet – or JSON skills if you’re a data wiz. This is great for building out a chronological narratives in a visual way.

Here is an example from Time breaking down important events in Nelson Mandela’s life.

3. StoryMap

This tool gives a whole new meaning to following a story. With StoryMap, web stories can highlight significant locations through a series of events pulling content from social media, Google Maps, Document Cloud, and more.

Here is an example from the Knight Lab following Arya from Game of Thrones’ journey.

These three tools and are great ways to enhance a website and make digital content articles more engaging, absolutely free of charge. Within the Knight Lab and beyond, new web tools, mobile apps, and plug-ins are constantly being developed and pushed out that can help create a deeper connection with target audiences. With such accessibility to this kind of enrichment, it’s important for content producers to never allow themselves to settle for what gets the job done.

If we want to capture and hold onto our target audience’s interest, it’s important we utilize the best platform to deliver our content. Sometimes, we just haven’t discovered the right tool yet.

What are your favorite creative tools for developing digestible content? Share your latest obsession or a tried and true favorite below.

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