Building Brand Awareness with Social Media: A Local Case Study

By Guest Blogger

Back in September I attended a number of events hosted in Chicago as part of Social Media Week.  One event, titled Elevating Chicago, was a panel discussion that focused on how three Chicago non-profits successfully connected online and offline marketing to drive the success of their respective campaigns. One of the non-profits was the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF).

Interesting Dilemma

When Jennfier Lucente became New Media Manager for the CAF one of the first things she did was to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for the organization. But to her dismay, she learned from the CAF social media followers that the CAF was primarily known for just one thing, the River Architecture Cruise.

Jennifer was surprised to learn that very few residents were aware that the CAF also offered exhibitions, programs, classes, and about 80 other tours that residents could experience. So she wondered what she could do to increase overall awareness of the CAF’s offerings beyond the River Architecture Cruise.

The Big Idea

Jennifer knew that she did not have a large budget for traditional advertising so she would have to come up with a grassroots marketing campaign. After some brainstorming Jennifer thought of an idea called the “Around Chicago in 85 Tours” challenge. She personally challenged herself to take all 85 of the CAF’s tours in a one year period. Her plan was to promote and document the entire challenge using social media with the goal of increasing public awareness for the CAF’s tour offerings.

So starting in spring of 2010, Jennifer began the 85 Tours challenge. Before each tour  Jennifer posted the schedule online and invited the CAF social media followers to join her. During each tour she Tweeted fun facts and observations from the docents leading the tour. After each tour Jennifer created a summary post on her 85 Tours blog  and uploaded pictures and video from the tour to the CAF Flickr and YouTube pages.

Results of the Challenge

Jennifer completed the “Around Chicago in 85 Tours” challenge in May 2011. The event ended up being a big success for the CAF. The CAF’s membership numbers greatly increased during the campaign and the organization had its best year ever in attendance and revenue figures.

There were no blockbuster exhibitions or tours in 2010 so the results were driven mainly by the 85 Tours Challenge. While the challenge did end up attracting a lot of main stream media attention, the CAF did not work with a media agency and there was no paid PR campaign. The marketing for the event was purely a grassroots movement fueled by social media.

Lessons Learned:

  • Live it to sell it! By taking all the tours herself Jennifer got a better understanding of what the CAF was all about which made it easier for her to promote the tour experience to potential consumers.
  • You don’t need a big marketing budget to spread the word about your product or event. Jennifer promoted the 85 Tour Challenge entirely through a grassroots social media effort. She did not use any paid media promotion.
  • Spread the word about things you do that people don’t know about. Jennifer started the 85 Tour Challenge because most people only knew about the Architecture River Cruise.
  • Turn your everyday activities into something compelling for social media. Things you don’t think much of because you do them everyday might really interest audiences that never get a peak into your operations.
  • Invite consumers to join in your adventures. Jennifer invited people to accompany her on each of the tours she attended and many people joined her along the journey.


How have you used social media to build awareness for you company or brand? What tactics worked the best? Let us know in the comments below.


You can learn more about the Chicago Architecture Foundation on its Facebook page  or by following its Twitter ID.

By Kyle Akerman

Kyle is a recovering electrical engineer who spent the majority of his adult life designing hardware for a large mobile device company (Hello Moto!). While attending business school Kyle developed a taste for marketing. Now he enjoys devising and implementing online content strategies to help clients tell their story better. And because of his engineering background he is not afraid to dive into web analytics data to help clients find actionable insights and make sure that they measure what matters.

Kyle on Twitter

Kyle on LinkedIn

Kyle’s Blog

There is more where this came from…

The best articles from this blog are available all in one place – our book. Now on it’s 6th edition.

Content Chemistry, The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing, is packed with practical tips, real-world examples, and expert insights. A must-read for anyone looking to build a content strategy that drives real business impact. Check out the reviews on Amazon.

Buy now direct $29.95