Free Content Marketing Tools: The Noun Project

Today, the visuals you use in your content often outweighs the text you are presenting.  Without a great visual, you will not have your content read or used.  One of the best sites I like to use is the Noun Project.  It is a great example of crowdsourcing something we all need…graphics we can immediately use on any subject!  It is fun, free to use [for most things] and is a great source of inspiration and useful graphics.  I use it in my blogging, client presentations, and proposals.  My students use it in all of the client coursework at Northwestern.

Content Marketing  Social IMC  CMO  Graphics  Icons

Here is how it works

The Noun Project started with an ambitious goal.  Create an icon for every Noun in the world.  To accomplish this goal, they opened the project to crowd sourcing.  Aspiring graphic artists could create graphics to submit to the projects.  The best would then be loaded for your use.

When you go to the Noun Project, you need to log-in to get access to the graphics.  On the project site, there are two types of graphics.  Free graphics can be downloaded and used immediately.  While you can just download them, it is good form [and probably good legally] to reference the artist who created them.  I do this under the graphic, in a footnote or at the end of my presentation.  The second type of graphics are those with a charge.  You can pre-buy packages at a very reasonable rate and it allows you much more graphics choices compared to the free version.

On the site, I have found their kits and categories to be very useful tools.  It gets you to subsets of graphics and allows you to consider different options for your content.  I also like to just look at the newer ones.  Often, inspiration can come from a variety of sources so browsing often produces great content results.

The Noun Project 3 Icon Examples

Regardless of your content needs, check out the Noun Project.  It’s fun, easy to use and contains great graphics for all of your content needs.  Great stuff for free!

RANDY Hlavac

Randy Hlavac is President of Marketing Synergy – a marketing consulting firm specializing in social and integrated marketing.  In addition, Randy teaches social and mobile marketing at Northwestern University and is the author of a new book on social marketing strategies titled:  Social IMC – Social Strategies with Bottom-line ROI.  Randy can be reached at

Social IMC: 3 Ways EA Sports Embraced Their Top Markets

Last weekend, EA Sports and ESPN ended the Madden 15 cover contest.  The contest used a “round robin” format to pit one NFL star against another with the fan vote determining who would move on in the tournament.  Lasting for a number of weeks, the contest on SportsNation drew over 9,600,000 votes and, in the final round, Richard Sherman totaled over 600,000 votes.  With his fan-fueled victory, Richard will now grace the cover of the 2015 EA Sports NFL game.  Why should this be of interest to you as a social marketer?  Because it demonstrates an alternative to traditional social network based Engagement Marketing.  It is a great example of Social IMC.  A strategy which builds measurable relationships with high value markets.

Social IMC  Embrace Social Social Marketing  Social ROI

Consider what EA Sports and ESPN [Sports Nation] did.  They needed to select a single player for their yearly updated NFL game.  Their highest value markets are football sports fanatics.  These individuals have very definite opinions on players and teams…and they are vocal about their opinions.  Rather than just select a player, EA Sports did the following:

  1. They created a tournament where the fans could express their opinion and select the individual who would become the cover player for 2015.
  2. They gamified the system by developing score boards where fans could watch each pairing to see if their preferred player was winning.
  3. They made it easy for the fans to “rally their supporters” to bring new people into the contest.
  4. They then went to “where the fans were” and engaged ESPN viewers through their SportsNation web & video sites – along with their own customers – to start the buzz about the contest.
  5. Throughout the tournament, they allowed fans to engage with other fans using Twitter and other social networking sites.

What happened?  They responded by the millions.  EA Sports created a socially exciting, win-win situation between the company and the individuals who will play their 2015 game.  Strategically, they empowered their target market to do something they deeply care about – vote & discuss their favorite players.  In return, the company got what it wanted – broad awareness of the EA Sports brand and their new release of their NFL 2015 game.  All for a fraction of the cost using traditional marketing strategies would have incurred.

This is the goal of the Social IMC strategy.  Use social monitoring and primary research to determine the mission a high value market “is on” and determine the virtual communities they are using to engage about their mission.  Then create an empowerment program to significantly help them achieve their mission goal[s].  Finally, create a private or monitored website where the engagement could happen and gamify the results to keep them coming back.  EA Sports did all of these steps and, as a result, created a Social IMC program that highly impacted their highest value customers and prospects.

From this example of Social IMC, here are three action items you must implement when developing your own social marketing programs:

  • Focus on THEIR Mission – Notice EA Sports did not discuss ANYTHING about its new game.  Instead, it focused on giving the fans a voice and a way to express their feelings about their teams and their star players.  Focusing on THEIR mission and helping them achieve it will also help your company achieve your business goals.
  • Keep Them Engaged – EA Sports did not have a single, big contest.  Instead they used pairings to create many smaller contests.  This allowed fans to compete more head-to-head competitions and, if their player was losing, it allowed them to rally their supporters to their players’ cause.  In addition, real-time score boards allowed fans to see if they were winning or losing and take immediate action.  Today, gamification of your high value social programs is a MUST.
  • Make It Rewarding – Because this was a chance for fans to express their opinion, ESPN and EA Sports gave them ample voices.  Besides voting, their voting page displayed Tweets and other social networking sites where fans were discussing [arguing] their selections.  When the contest was over, the final results announcement was mode at a major press event which was broadcast on ESPN live as well as virtually.  They made it rewarding to the fans who had voted multiple times over a number of weeks to revel in their success.

Today, social is much more than engaging people on social networking sites like Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.  It is deeply understanding the markets of highest value to your organization and then crafting Social IMC strategies designed to embrace and help them achieve their goals, then position your products and services to form a natural relationship.  EA Sports didn’t have to sell their game, the contest did it for them in the communities they valued the highest.  You need to develop Social IMC strategies to engage and empower your company’s highest value markets.

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Randy Hlavac  Author Social IMC - Social Marketing Strategies with Bottom-line ROIRandy Hlavac teaches graduate and undergraduate social & mobile marketing at Northwestern University.  His new book – Social IMC – Social Strategies with Bottom-line ROI” shows you how to create social programs to build 1-to-1 relationships with your high value markets.  Randy was recently published in Forbes Magazine.  Randy can be reached at or on Twitter @RandyHlavac

Debunking Social ROI: Time for Metrics not Intuition

Today, many companies are struggling to identify the Return on Investment [ROI] from their social investment.  The intuitively know developing and deploying content over social networks and blog sites makes sense but, when they need to monetize this investment, they cannot.   However, this problem is nothing new.  It traces back to the start of the development of social media and continues today.

The Myth of Social ROI

Back in 2011, David Meerman Scott, a major force in social media, responded to the question “What’s the ROI of social” with the answer “Well, what’s the ROI of your mother?”  In another 2011 blog on the Hypocracy of ROI, he stated “It’s ridiculous that executives require marketers to calculate ROI (Return on Investment) on one form of real-time communications: Social media like Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. Yet they happily pay for other real-time communications devices for employees like Blackberrys, iPhones, and iPads without a proven ROI.”

While you might think 2011 is too far back in time to be relevant, the same type of argument is being made today.  The difference is instead of discussing mothers and receptionists, the conversation changes to a discussion of a very special type of ROI calculation – Social ROI.

Social ROI

Take a look at the Social ROI calculation in the graphic.  It is one of many similar ones you can find from a number of social media experts.  Everyone of them starts by emphasizing that ROI has to be a combination of tangible [a hard calculation] and Intangible [value to the community].  Unlike any other channel, when you look at social, your SROI must combine these two different types of valuations to create a true measure.  So, how do you do that?  You don’t.  While Social ROI articles imply there is some “hard” calculation to determining Social ROI, they quickly eliminate the “hard number” or tangible part of this equation.  Let me illustrate with a blog article called  “Why Do Companies Struggle with Social Media ROI – 23 Facts“.  It was published a couple of weeks ago by Rob Peterson on Mark Schaefer’s great blog called Grow.  

Like many of these articles, Rob starts with this “fact”: Only 8 percent of companies say they can determine Return on Investment (ROI) from their social media spending (source: Econsultancy). While I would dispute the low percentage, it shows the reader that most companies cannot determine the ROI on their social investment.  Once established, the equation above is used to address social ROI using the following logic string:

  1. ROI is a business calculation designed to compare an investment made now with a revenue you will get some time “down the road”.
  2. Calculating ROI tangibly means you need to take a “leap of faith”.  After all, you don’t know the future so you can’t really predict if the revenue will be there.
  3. This means calculating the tangible part of the ROI is impossible and, besides, social cannot be tracked to revenue so there is no point in trying.
  4. However, look at his 23 justification points.  The premise is “If social has a tangible and intangible part and you cannot possibly do the tangible part, you needn’t worry as there are LOTS of stories showing the effectiveness of social media.  His list includes ample stories and non-quantified examples of how social has been used to expand the social footprint of a company or distribute coupons and other content to their social followers.
  5. Therefore, you really don’t have to do any “hard calculation” of ROI.  Intuitively we know it must be valuable because lots of companies have stories of how great it is.  And, after all, nobody can measure social from a tangible perspective so just accept the fact it can’t be measured.

Rob ends his article with this statement  “How do I measure the return on my social media investment? This question has been top of mind for marketers for the last three years. Clearly very few marketers have figured this one out. (source: Social Media Examiner)”  And so it ends.

In other words, the argument I see time and again is ROI is risky and complicated to calculate and really isn’t necessary because ROI is a combination of tangible and intangible elements.  The tangible one is hard so let’s just ignore it and focus on these great stories. [Which of course are for companies other than yours!]

It’s time to stop this Social ROI madness.  As an instructor at Northwestern, we teach ROI using the above calculation.  Notice there is no attempt to add intangible items.  It is a hard calculation and one with proven ways to handle the future revenue question.

ROI calculation

Because it does attempt to calculate return based on an investment done today against a revenue stream which occurs in the future, we train our students to develop multiple “what if” calculations to show investment gain over time using different response, rate of return, and investment scenarios.  This ROI equation is used for all other investments – including all of the other marketing channels used by a company.  Why should Social have a separate and totally different way to calculate return?  It shouldn’t.

In addition to the hard calculation, we also develop the performance funnel required to move the social visitors from initial engagement through to first purchase.  This gives us hard KPIs with each scenario we must reach to ensure the ROI will be reached.  These KPIs are the critical metrics and identify the points in the social marketing process we need to test and address to ensure success.  Do we consider the intangibles?  Yes, but they do not impact the ROI calculation.  Even for social programs, your results must meet the requirements used by the C-level executives in your organization.  Investments must return real dollar benefits.  The intangibles just “ride along” to further enhance the value of your social marketing program.

The Solution isn’t to Change the ROI Equation but to Examine your Social Strategy

Rather than focus on the current “Social ROI is impossible to calculate” mantra, over the last 8 years, i have been examining the 8% of all companies [it is REALLY much larger than this] who developed social programs with proven social ROI.  My goal was simply to ask the question “What are these companies doing differently on social”?  In other words, why do they have hardcore, tangible ROI from their programs when the others don’t?  The answer is YES and their strategies are different because they view social differently than most companies.  From my research, here are three critical differences in these companies’ view of social media and social marketing and three action items you need to adapt into your social strategies:

  1. Think Markets not Networks – As a marketing executive, you develop all of your marketing programs to target specific markets.  Even if you do the same for social, your market specific content is placed on your Facebook, LinkedIn, or other sites with all of your other content.  And, because these networking sites are untrackable, you can’t determine the ROI.  The 8% do it a different way.  They target a specific market and then deploy social strategies which databases and then engages them.  These strategies – Nurture Marketing and Social IMC – are designed to link the individual or businesses to the company’s sale and marketing systems.  This means they can measure their social investment against their social revenue flow to determine sales, profits, and…ROI.
  2. Identify your Desired Relationship – Not all target markets are created equal.  Some have much more value than others.  When developing your social marketing programs, this means some markets deserve a greater investment compared to others.  When examining the 3 social strategies used by companies today, two of them are designed to create databases of your social visitors to allow the development of a 1-to-1 relationship.  These strategies also allow you to develop and maintain a 2-way dialog using social, mobile and other communications channels.  To develop social programs with bottom-line ROI, you need to determine what type of relationship you want to develop with each of your high value target markets.
  3. Think Location, Location, Location –  A final point of difference for companies with Social ROI is the way they choose to engage their high value markets.  Most companies develop and deploy their social programs on social networking sites like Facebook which are designed to have an anonymous relationship with people.  They can “friend” you but you cannot database them or understand exactly who they are.  These companyies’ social programs consist of developing content to place on these sites and measurement is done in terms of their social footprint.  Whether the markets are high or low value, they engage them all using the same social networks.  Companies generating provable ROI and other business metrics on social do it differently.  They use portals, landing pages, and private virtual communities to engage with their highest value markets.  This  takes these high value customers and prospects “off the web” where both the community and the company can best benefit each other.  Today, you need to think about where you want to engage your highest value markets and build the type of relationship you desire with them.

There are ample examples of companies using social to generate market share, grow stronger relationships and generate profits.  High value and high opportunity markets should have social programs that allow for individualized engagements based on the persona of the individual and their relationship with your company.  Lower value markets can receive more “traditional” social programs with less tracking.  The key to social success is for you to understand the social strategies available to you and focus on those strategies with hardcore, tangible ROI.  Today, your social programs should be an integral part of your marketing mix and a coordinated part of your Omni-channel marketing strategy.  It’s time to develop social using the same business metrics and ROI calculations used for all of your business investments.


RANDY Hlavac

Randy Hlavac teaches Social and Mobile Marketing at Northwestern University and is the author of Social IMC – Social Strategies with Bottom-line ROI.  Randy can be reached at or on on Twitter at @RandyHlavac




Social Strategy: 3 Paths to Social ROI

Social Strategy Social ROIAccording to eConsultancy, Only 8 percent of companies say they can determine Return on Investment (ROI) from their social media spending (source: Econsultancy).  From their Global CMO study, they find 63% want to measure the ROI of their social investment.  Yet, many social pundits – while giving “lip service” to the concept of ROI, have “surrendered” to the ROI challenge and, have instead, encouraged their followers to simply focus on the “intangible” justifications for a social strategy.  In other words, don’t worry about the lack of social ROI, it is intuitive it benefits your organization and that is justification enough.

While these types of articles imply you don’t need to really consider or develop the ROI from your social investment, nothing could be further from the truth.  If you consider the “opposite side” of the IBM quote, if 63% of all organizations would like to measure their Social ROI, this means 27% of them can.  That is the direction I used when I started researching my new book – “Social IMC – Social Strategies with Bottom-line ROI“.

Social Strategy  Social Media  Social ROIThe fact is there are thousands of companies who are using Social as an integrated part of their marketing mix.  Their social strategies develop very specific KPI’s and provide a way to track their social investment from first social contact through to final purchase from the organization.  And these companies are no different than yours.  In developing my book, I looked at B2B and B2C companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100.  I examined for profit and not-for-profit firms, governmental organizations, and organizations across the globe.  From Africa to China, to the Pacific Rim, to Europe to the Americas, companies are designing, developing, deploying, justifying and measuring their social investment with the same precision as their other marketing investments.  The key is not to simply rationalize the fact you don’t have ROI today, the key to success is to look at your social investment through a marketing prism.  Start with your high value markets and you can develop strategies which transform your social programs into revenue producing, market share generating assets to your organization.

While my book goes into the strategies in great detail giving you the metrics, methodology, and best-of-breed examples from across the globe, there are three paths you need to consider in re-thinking your social investments from an ROI perspective.  They are:

  • Start with your High Value Markets – Man pundits advocate specific site strategies.  Whether it is blogging, building your Facebook presence, Tweeting, building your PInterest presence, etc., they focus on content and engagement, not ROI.  The path to an ROI strategy starts NOT with social networks but with your High Value Markets.  The goal of social strategies with bottom-line impact is to develop strategies which build 1-to-1 relationships with your high value markets.  Using social to build relationships rather than followers is one of the paths to social with measurable, provable bottom-line results.

  • Think Multimedia Engagement – If you look at social from a marketing perspective, it is logical that your high value markets are engaging on multiple levels of the social pyramid.  Whether they are consumers or business professionals, they are seeking expertise and information using blogs, websites, social networks, private virtual communities, videos, passion sites and a host of other social options.  For success, you need to understand where your high value markets are congregating, who is at the center of their conversations [the influencers] and where they are congregating.  This will allow you to maximize your impact by engaging them on the levels they “inhabit”.  This is where social monitoring comes in.

  • Build Relationship Funnels & KPIs – The final path is to begin thinking of your social strategy as a journey rather than a networking site.  To build a business relationship, you need to take your prospects through a process [a relationship or performance funnel] from prospect to customer [and beyond].  While many of these relationships will occur exclusively in social, many can use other marketing channels [sales force, conferences, meetings] to close the sale.  When I work with companies through my consultancy, we start by identifying all of the “steps” from suspect to customer.  Each level is quantified, valued, and then we begin by determining the performance required in each step of the process to be profitable.  Comparing every pair of behaviors in the relationship funnel gives us the KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] we need to manage the ENTIRE process from social contact through to purchase.

In summary, there are thousands of companies across the globe who are implementing highly effective, highly efficient, and highly profitable social marketing programs with their high value & high opportunity markets.  The key is to understand how best to use social as an integral part of your marketing mix.  Today, Social Strategies with Bottom-line ROI is a necessity and you need to know how to design, develop, deploy, measure & justify your social programs for your organization to grow and prosper.

Randy Hlavac   Social IMC  Social MarketingRandy Hlavac is a social and integrated marketing expert.  In 1990, he founded Marketing Synergy, Inc [MSI].   MSI helps business and consumer focused companies define, engage & acquire high value communities using social, web, mobile and integrated marketing technologies.  Using value based predictive systems and marketing databases integrating social and integrated marketing channels, MSI’s clients build profitable, long-term relationships with their most valuable market segments.  Marketing Synergy aids its clients in developing and deploying the marketing database, analytical, and marketing systems necessary to achieve their business goals.

In addition to being the CEO of Marketing Synergy, Randy is also a Lecturer at Northwestern.  He teaches courses on digital, social and mobile marketing.  Randy is a social marketing blogger and his first book – Social IMC – Social Strategies with Bottom-line ROI is available on Amazon.  Randy also writes articles for the Journal of Integrated Marketing, Chicago Association of Direct Marketing and is a frequent guest blogger on social, marketing technologies, and integrated marketing. 

Randy can be reached at  You can also reach Randy on Twitter at @RandyHlavac or on LinkedIn at randyhlavac