On March 17, 2020, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK introduced their social media followers to Tim Send, the museum’s Head of Security. In doing so, they struck gold. The decision has led to exponential growth in the museum’s social media fan base and online engagement. To paint a picture, the majority of Instagram posts made prior to Tim’s takeover received a range of 70-300 likes. Since Tim’s takeover, likes of post now range between 3,000-15,000.
This campaign has also earned them national press coverage. Media outlets such as CNN and the Wall Street Journal have published stories about Tim and the museum. Perhaps even more importantly, this campaign serves as a daily momentary distraction from the pandemic that all across the globe are experiencing.
Since taking on the additional responsibility of social media management, Tim has made posts that provide followers with a glimpse into the museum’s collection. These same posts also document Tim’s learning curve in a wholesome, comical way. He signs off each post with “Thanks, Tim,” as if closing a formal letter or email.
There’s a certain amount of pleasure that’s derived from watching who one assumes to be a no-nonsense, strait-laced (though that may not be an appropriate description since cowboy boots don’t have laces), middle-aged man learning the nuances of social media in the midst of a global crisis. Imagining Tim as someone who isn’t keen on small talk, perhaps a Ron Swamson with a twang in his voice, I can only suspect that prior to all of this he was the type to say “the Googles.”
There are a few posts that Tim has made that have become my personal favorites, truly making me laugh out loud. The first worth highlighting is when Tim attempted to use a hashtag for the first time. Instead of using the symbol, Tim spelled out the word “hashtag.” His fanbase commented in response to the post, and they gently informed Tim that he missunderstood how hashtags work and then provided him simple instructions to follow for future posts. Another is when Tim promoted the museum’s “selfie stations,” which he also managed to innocently blunder, not once but twice.
Much like how Ernest spoke to an off camera Vern (“Know what I mean Vern?”) and how Bon Appétit’s Brad Leone engages his camera operator (first Vinny now Hunzi), Tim often references “Seth in Marketing.” One gets the impression that Seth is younger than Tim and that he is remotely coaching Tim through all of this. The introduction of “Seth in Marketing” makes the audience feel as if they’re getting to know another one of the museum’s staff members, albeit indirectly.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum collects, preserves, and exhibits western art and artifacts. Let’s be honest, some may consider this a niche institution and perhaps even irrelevant in national conversations. But, Tim’s posts have appealed to a very broad audience - and in doing so connected that audience to the institution and its mission.
The museum’s popularity has grown to its highest point ever, all while their doors are closed to the public. This is confirmed by examining the number of online searches conducted through Google using the museum's name. These searches have grown by 10x after the campaign was launched in mid March. It’s further exhibited by looking at their social media following. Their Instagram touts 89.5k followers and their Twitter 293.1k followers.
It will be interesting to watch how the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum build upon Tim’s popularity after the current crisis concludes. Once normal hours of operation resume, there’s no telling what type of stardom Tim will have. I’d venture to guess that the museum will see a new wave of visitors who became aware of the institution as a result of the social media campaign and who visit with the purpose of meeting Tim, or perhaps even Seth in Marketing, in person.
I doubt that the museum imagined Tim becoming a sensation when they asked him to take over the institution's social media accounts. They were simply adapting to the challenge of keeping patrons and others engaged during a shutdown. What they learned is that when you utilize digital platforms effectively your audience base grows beyond simply those who are geographically proximate to you.
Unfortunately, many institutions take a very sterile approach to their marketing campaigns. While you can tell that Tim is extremely knowledgeable about the museum’s collection, he doesn’t share his knowledge like an academic. Instead, he talks about the museum’s exhibits in a manner that is both passionate and accessible. In return, this makes the institution as a whole feel more accessible.
So, what is your organization learning from Tim?