Stories we just had to tell

Illinois Social Media

by Claire McCallum

We’ve had the pleasure of marketing some of the world’s most spectacular visitor destinations here at TimeZoneOne. But the opportunity to drive travel in Illinois, the home of our headquarters and so many of our team? That’s a dream—and you’ve got to pursue your dreams.

We’ve had the pleasure of marketing some of the world’s most spectacular visitor destinations here at TimeZoneOne. But the opportunity to drive travel in Illinois, the home of our headquarters and so many of our team? That’s a dream—and you’ve got to pursue your dreams.

We’re pretty familiar with the Illinois Office of Tourism (IOT). From running the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism, through to the 2017 redesign and development of the Enjoy Illinois website, our knowledge of, passion for, and partnership with the State runs deep.

So when we heard IOT was on the hunt for a new PR and social media agency of record, we knew we couldn’t let anyone else tell its story. We know that story better than anyone.

Now, we know destination marketing and Illinois inside-out, but PR hasn’t traditionally been an area in which we specialize. That, along with our “boutique” size, had the industry in a twitter (pun absolutely intended).

But lo and behold, in a "David vs. Goliath” showdown, we took on some of America’s biggest, most prestigious communications agencies for the work, and won.

Stepping up paid off for us. But more importantly, it’s paid off for IOT. In just seven months, we’ve really turned things around for Illinois’s tourism marketing.

Phenomenal Traction with the Domestic Market

In our first seven months working with IOT (May-December 2017), we’ve achieved phenomenal Facebook results:

year-on-year increase in link clicks


year-on-year increase in website traffic driven by FB


year-on-year increase in organic reach


year-on-year increase in comments


year-on-year increase in reactions


year-on-year increase in engaged users


180% increase in total social impact

(the number of reactions on all posts, all shares, and all page likes)

The Road to Success

 There’s no secret sauce to that kind of hard-hitting social impact—just a lot of hard work.

We had a fleeting 30-day transition between our appointment as IOT’s agency of record, and taking the microphone. But we put every day of that to very good use.

It all kicked off with a discovery session to understand IOT’s social media needs. These ranged from an existing lack of data-driven decisions and innovation, through to attention to detail, state diversity, and understanding of the mammoth economic impact travel and tourism has both on Illinois, and the USA.

The State has some pretty hefty goals to increase overnight stays and spending in Illinois. We translated these into the social media space and came away with three key areas where we wanted to lift the needle:

  • Increasing online traffic to the website and usage of online tools
  • Reaching domestic consumers
  • Engaging domestic consumers

Next, we audited their existing social channels of Facebook (seven global pages), Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Flicker.

We’re firm believers in working smarter, not harder, so dived into the analytics and data to see how existing social media efforts measured up against our goals, and how each channel served IOT.

  • Facebook: To engage
  • Twitter: To interact
  • Instagram: To inspire
  • YouTube: To showcase / To be discovered
  • Pinterest: To facilitate

It was a data-driven decision to focus 60% of our resources on Facebook, 20% on Instagram, 20% on Twitter, and to park Pinterest while we scrubbed and re-strategized. The emphasis on Facebook came from the account’s following, targeting options, measurability, and capacity to meet the State’s goals.

The Voice and Look

Up next, we collaborated with the content team to come away with:

  • 14 social media content verticals
  • tone of voice (making IOT sound like a friend you’d want to have on your feed, not a corporate business)
  • visual guidelines for each channel – including a colour-palette scheme for Instagram to reinvigorate the feed with seasonal flow at the grid-level.

It’s not about having everything matching. It’s about giving the audience something to expect, whether that be a style of photography, consistent inspirational subject matter, or a social identity.

Content creation and curation was where things got juicy. We researched, tested, and landed on a super User Generated Content tool (shout-out to our friends at CrowdRiff), established a video-creation plan, and a website content plan. We used these resources to produce a scheduled monthly calendar of social content, including two daily domestic Facebook and Twitter posts, and daily Instagram posts and stories.

We’ve really found our mojo with a split of pre-planned content to properly represent all regions of Illinois, and a mix of agile media hits, viral posts, and live content. Monthly reporting helps us understand what’s resonating, and leads us to do more of that.

Stop, Collaborate, and Post

You may have heard of an influencer takeover, but what about a Convention and Visitors Bureau Takeover? Once a month, we give a Bureau an opportunity to shout from the rooftops about their area on Enjoy Illinois’ Facebook page. In seven months we’ve supported eight CVBs and the results speak for themselves:

people reached


clicks received


engagements generated


It’s great to be able to support the CVBs in this kind of capacity. The reach we gain for them in a day may be more than they’d receive in an entire month. Having them write their own posts gives them a tangible hand in creating Enjoy Illinois’ social media presence, which is something they’ve found rewarding.

Going Global

Nailing the domestic comms was just the beginning. IOT has four key offshore markets including Japan, UK, Germany and Mexico. We assigned offshore partners in each of these markets to activate and localize our domestic content.

Managing our messaging and aligning social efforts has been no easy feat. The social insights we’ve gathered have highlighted a shift in the perception of America under the current administration, as well cultural differences in social media use – from gender, to interaction preferences, to the reason people use Facebook. As a result, we’ve been very agile in tailoring our strategy to our target personas and shifting the goal posts accordingly.

It Takes a Village

It’s one of those projects that everyone in our agency touches in some way, whether it be campaign ideation, video creation, killer creative, a user-friendly landing page, or wrangling approvals. Many minds; one integrated approach.

From inspiration, to planning, experiencing, and catalysing the next wave of traveller inspiration, social media really is a cornerstone of the traveler journey. We can’t wait to see how we can work with IOT over the coming years to further bolster Illinois’ social presence, and to get more people visiting.

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