Our agency has run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon’s social media for the past five years. In that time, we’ve gotten to know this unique community very well. With the 2017 Chicago Marathon in the books, we thought taking a look back at what made this year so successful for the Marathon would be useful – whether your brand caters to athletes or not.

Remember the mannequin model

We all know that social media audiences are accustomed to high-quality images on their feeds, but something we learned over the years with this audience is that they respond better to photos that don’t focus on a single person – so we opted for general course photos or large group shots instead. Even though we have thousands of images of runners pouring through the streets of Chicago on race day, we try to avoid shots of solo runners, when possible.

We do this for the same reason that department stores use headless mannequins: your audience needs to be able to see themselves in the experience (or that new outfit).

The theory with mannequins was that if you give a face to the mannequin, then your consumer is looking at someone else in the clothes instead of picturing themselves in them. The same concept applies here (and to event photos, college campus shots, etc.). If the goal is to get the audience to picture themselves with your brand, don’t make it about a single person.

Here are two examples of posts we published – one where the viewer can picture him or herself in the experience and the other where the two individuals are the focus. Look at how the likes stack up.

Content Context is king

One of the biggest social moments of the Chicago Marathon year is when we reveal the official finisher medal. This is a tricky moment for us. Some years people might love the medal, while other years people might be confused about the design.

We realized not everyone had the emotional connection to the medals that we did because they weren’t as familiar with what the medal was usually depicting: an iconic Chicago scene.

So instead of letting the medals speak for themselves, we turned the medal reveals into opportunities to teach our runners about the Marathon course and why the design was meaningful. This decision proved to be something that touched the hearts of Chicagoans and helped our international runners feel like a part of our city.

We started this mini-campaign last year when the medal highlighted Chicago’s famous Picasso statue. This work of art has always been a source of speculation, but to me the statue has always looked like a Baboon head – thus the need for context. We knew Chicagoans would immediately recognize it, but were worried that without more information, our out-of-state and international runners wouldn’t understand it. So we told the story of the statue and how it was home to the event’s original start line. People loved understanding the backstory of the medal and loved that it was a part of the event and the city’s history.

We followed it up with the 2017 reveal that highlighted the Chicago River. By telling runners to think about the medal each time they crossed the river, it made the medal a little more personal for each of our 40,000 participants.

Sometimes your brand understands why something is special, but without context, your audience might not know. Don’t be afraid to provide it.

Make it personal

Sometimes, as a big brand, it’s difficult for your audience to get to know you on a personal level. So this year, in addition to introducing the faces of the race, we regularly took the time to play digital tour guide for the city of Chicago. It let us build anticipation by talking to participants about the incredible sights they’d encounter during their visit here, and show off what makes this race special. We focused on making this city an integral part of the Chicago Marathon’s story and showed people what Chicago is really about.

These posts helped us connect with our out-of-town participants because it made the overall experience about more than just Race Day. They also provided a platform for our community to talk to each other – lifelong Chicagoans gave international runners their recommendations (like where to go for the best pizza downtown) and naturally showed off the friendly Chicago spirit that we try to emulate through the event.

Scene on the course: During mile 2, you’ll run under tracks of Chicago’s “L” train. Short for “elevated,” this train…

Posted by Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Friday, July 28, 2017

Our home. Our city. YOUR stage. 👇 📷: Choose Chicago

Posted by Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Thursday, October 5, 2017

As we head into the event’s 41st year, we’re looking forward to seeing what other stories we can tell with the help of this passionate fan base.

For more insights on the social media work coming out of our office, check us out on Twitter at @TeamWorksMedia.

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