Posted 09.26.2022 by Meghan Crawford

How to Build a Social Media Swipe File [Free Template]

Organize your creative process and build a gallery of inspiration and good ideas with a social media swipe file. Here's how to do it 👇

We’ve all been there – staring at a blank content calendar or rewriting the same caption over and over but it’s still not working. Creative block happens to all of us. Pushing through it is a lot less painful when you have a swipe file.

What’s a swipe file?

A swipe file is a gallery of good ideas: examples of outstanding work to rifle through and copy when you need a little inspiration. It should function as a template library. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to write a post. Instead, copy what you already know works.

You can have a swipe file for just about anything: copywriting, ad creative, blog headlines. For the purposes of this post, though, we’re just going to focus on social media swipe files and how to build one for your team.

Why create a social media swipe file?

If you Google “social media swipe file,” (which you probably did if you’re reading this post 👀), you’ll find tons of posts offering a social media swipe file that you can download immediately. So, you might be wondering, why bother building one from scratch?

A swipe file should be relevant to you and your team, full of examples that make sense for your audience. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ready-made swipe files – in fact, they can be a good jumping off point when building your own. But, like most things that claim to be, they’re usually not one-size-fits-all.

Besides, not all swipe files are created equal. Building your own ensures that it’s only full of the examples and best practices that you want your team to reference.

All value, no fluff.

And that value is 3-fold. With a social media swipe file you’ll be able to

  • Reduce the  time you spend ideating — capture great ideas when you have them, not later.
  • Improve your content’s performance — spend less time testing and go right to proven formulas.
  • Get your whole team on the same page — align your team on the attributes you care about most with a set of best practices.

That’s what our social media swipe file looks like, btw. ☝

You can grab our template below, but first… how do you build a winning swipe file like that? Glad you asked.

Let’s get into it. 😎

How to Build Your Social Media Swipe File in 3 Steps

Step 1: Choose Your Swipe File Tool

Before you start compiling your gallery of social media inspiration, you need somewhere to put it – and no, just saving the screenshots to your desktop doesn’t count. It should be somewhere centralized and organized, that your whole team can access and add to.

While there are plenty of tools to choose from for building your swipe file and it’s mostly a matter of preference, there are certain elements to look for that will make your life easier.

What to look for in a swipe file tool

Here are our three must-haves for building a resource you’ll actually use:

  • Tag + Search Function. A robust search function is key to being able to efficiently use your swipe file. This is particularly important as it grows over time. Make sure the tool you’re using allows for tagging and multiple filter options so you can find what you need and get back to writing that soon-to-go-viral post.
  • Allows Photo + Video Attachments. If your tool can’t support at least image uploads, it’s not the right tool. While you can and should link out to your examples, some content is time sensitive like ads or stories. The work around? Screenshots. You can keep them in your swipe file even if the post itself disappears.
  • Easy Sharing + Collaboration. Unless you’re a one-man-band, chances are you have a team that you collaborate with. Giving your team access to view and add to the swipe file will make it a more valuable resource for everyone. Your tool should make that easy.

Social media swipe file tools

Some tools to explore include:

  • Notion – Organize a wiki for good social.
  • Airtable – Build a base full of inspiration.
  • Google Sheets – Keep it simple with a spreadsheet.
  • Google Drive – Label and file your screenshots.
  • Pinterest – Create a private Pinterest board for your team.

The tool we use and recommend is Airtable.

Never heard of Airtable? Airtable is what happens when a database and a spreadsheet have a baby. In other words, it’s everything you love about spreadsheets with the extra space and power of a database.

It’s the ultimate tool for customizable, collaborative organization, which is what makes it so great for building a swipe file. The forever-free base package option doesn’t hurt.

Step 2: Find Posts to Add to Your Swipe File

You’ve picked the perfect tool; now it’s time to find some good social media posts to put in it.

Which begs the question:

What does good social media look like?

Chances are, you know good social when you see it. But for the purposes of a swipe file, you’re looking for either the best of the best or something totally new and unique.

Some reasons we might add a post to our swipe file include:

  • Strong copy: Whether it’s funny, informative, concise, outrageous, or a combination of all four, this copy made us click. Strong copy is particularly important for paid social. Add these kinds of posts to your swipe file to reference the next time you get stuck while writing social copy.
  • Outstanding creative: What makes a video, photo, or graphic outstanding? Depends on the post. It could be ad creative that strategically uses color or design elements to draw the eye to the CTA. Maybe it’s a graphic that pairs a product shot with a human face to leverage emotional response. Could just be sleek design or a funny photo. Remember to note why it’s outstanding when you add it to your swipe file.
  • Clever positioning: “Once upon a time someone had a problem. Then they found this product/service. Now their problem is gone and they are happy. The End.” We’ve all heard it before. It’s not a bad story, but every brand on social media is telling it so it doesn’t capture our interest anymore. But posts that can tell this story from a new perspective or with a unique twist stand out. They get more likes and shares and clicks. They also get to go in the swipe file.

You don’t have to start frantically scouring the web for stellar posts, either.

As you come across content that catches your eye in your feed or daily browsing on social media, you’ll be able to begin adding to your swipe file.

Step 3: Organize & Grow Your Swipe File

Now that you have your tool and your desktop full of example screenshots, it’s time to get organized. Fellow spreadsheet nerds, this next section’s for you.

(It’s also for non-spreadsheet nerds, don’t worry.)

Organizing your swipe file.

There are two main areas to focus on for organizing your swipe file: individual swipe data fields and overall swipe category.

Let’s start with some basic fields you’ll want to fill out for each swipe:

  • Brief Summary: This field should tell you at a glance what the example is and why it was added to the swipe file.
  • Company/Brand: Whose playbook are you stealing from? Name them here.
  • Content Type: This field is important if you’re using a single table to house all of your swipes. Or you could give up your chaotic ways and use multiple tabs. More on that in a moment.
  • Platform: Which social channel is this example from?
  • Format: Is this a video, a photo, a graphic? Tag it.
  • Screenshot: Upload all those screenshots you’ve been saving here. Now stand back and admire your desktop background picture that you haven’t seen since 2018. Amazing.
  • Link: If you have links, add ’em here.
  • Notes: Why did you add this to the swipe file? What does this post do well? What would you copy? What would you change? Account for yourself.

Next up: swipe category.

You can of course have just one, large social media swipe file if you’d prefer. It’s often more user-friendly to break it down into smaller sub-categories, though.

If you’re using a spreadsheet to build your swipe file, these would be your individual sheets (called “tables” in Airtable). Just how you stratify it is up to you.

We break ours up into the following three tables:

  • Organic Social
  • Paid Social
  • Accounts to Follow

You can actually grab our Airtable swipe file template right here. We put a few examples in there to get you started. 😉

Note: This is a view only Airtable base; click the “Copy base” button in the upper right-hand corner to create an editable copy for yourself. Check the “Start Here” tab for a quick tutorial on how to use.

Grow your swipe file over time.

Building a swipe file is a process that takes both time and collaboration.

To create something that is both useful to the whole team and easily maintained, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Collaborate with your team. Not only is it a resource that will elevate your whole team, it’s also easier and faster to build a good swipe file as a team. As a single human you can only spend so much time scrolling social media in a day. Inviting your team to edit means more eyes on the project. Plus, thanks to the varied internet habits of your team members, your swipe file will start to fill up with more diverse examples than if you were building it alone.
  • Train your team. While the overall process of keeping a swipe file is relatively intuitive, you might want certain guidelines or processes in place to help create a more cohesive, user-friendly resource. For instance, consider deciding on a formula for all team members to use when filling out the description field for each example. I.e, “adjective + platform + content format + outstanding feature” as in “funny LinkedIn carousel with clever copy.”
  • Review and update as needed. Best practices change over time and your swipe file should, too. Continue to add and encourage your team to add new examples as you find them. Periodically go through and clean it out – remove old, outdated examples, consolidate redundant entries, review formatting practices to see if they still make sense. Just like any resource, it is only as useful as it is well-maintained.

Swipe our social media swipe file template.

We’ve done all the hard work for you. Just make a copy of our Airtable base to get started.

get the template

Inspiration for Your Social Media Swipe File

For more social media inspiration, check out these other resources we’ve published:

Now that you’re all set with the tools and techniques to build a winning swipe file, nothing left to do but build it.

To help get you jump started, you can download our social media swipe file template here. It’s full of some of our favorite examples of awesome social posts, ads, and accounts to follow!

Happy swiping! 👋

Meghan Crawford

Meet Meghan Crawford, a California transplant by way of Florida, and Content Marketing Manager. Yes, she wrote that tweet you liked. No, she won't accept your guest post.

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