Roping in a Global Audience

When an Oklahoma City cowboy museum closed its doors to visitors in March due to the pandemic, it found a social media star on the premises to keep its audience engaged.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

audience engagement

Tim Tiller, head of security at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, is known on social media as “The Cowboy” for his work keeping the museum’s fans engaged during the pandemic. Find him on Twitter @ncwhm.

When the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City made the decision to close its doors to visitors in March due to the pandemic, Seth Spillman, the museum’s CMO, looked for a way to keep its audience engaged.

Working with the museum’s digital marketing director, Spillman pitched an idea: to turn the museum’s social-media accounts over to one of the few staffers who would remain in the museum — head of security Tim Tiller.

A grandfather with a handlebar mustache, Tiller accepted the role, drolly playing up his innocence about social media as he took followers on his rounds, commenting on the museum’s collection with a steady stream of good-natured jokes. The effect of his humor on a stay-at-home audience was like a match tossed in dry grass. In early March, the museum had 8,000 Twitter followers; by July, there were more than 300,000. Tiller mixed nuggets of information about the museum’s artifacts with his own behind-the-scenes activity — a selfie showing him sweep- ing the floor got 6,758 likes.

This story is part of Convene‘s September CMP Series package on ways the world has changed since COVID-19 and what we hope will stick once the pandemic is behind us.

The museum has now reopened with safety protocols, but “Tim the Security Guard” has become so beloved, he’s staying in the social-media saddle. And when the museum’s event space was the backdrop for the virtual Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy Heroes Ball in August, “Cowboy Tim” took participants on a private behind-the-scenes video tour.

In unleashing Tiller, “we’ve found an authentic voice for the museum,” Spillman, formerly with the Oklahoma City CVB, told The Daily Oklahoman. “What we didn’t anticipate was how much that voice would resonate with people during this difficult time.”

Event organizers looking for ways to engage digital and hybrid event participants can take a few lessons from this, said Naomi Clare, founder of Storycraft Lab, a Washington, D.C.–based experience design company. “Tim represents the authentic human connection we all crave right now,” she said.

“Let’s find our own ‘Tims’ — those people … that provide virtual participants with unique commentary, perhaps even unfiltered perspectives on the live event. In a world where physical human contact is tricky or unavailable, the appreciation for human, empathy-driven connection is greater than ever.”

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.

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