Considered to be one of the rising stars of the museum world, Adam Koszary’s stellar career has seen him work at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, put the English countryside on the social media map at The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL), enjoy a brief secondment to work for Tesla, manage social media and content at the Royal Academy of Arts and more recently make a move to the Audience Agency.
As MuseumNext found when we caught up with Adam, viral memes may look off the cuff and spontaneous, but genuinely valuable and impactful social media activity more often than not has much more going on behind the scenes.
Ahead of his talk at November’s MuseumNext Digital Marketing Summit, Adam shared some of his experiences, passion for the potential of social media and hinted at the way he’ll be approaching his talk at the summit.
“It’s interesting when I look back at the way I started out at a university museum. You get to have lots of fingers in lots of pies: from reinterpreting the galleries to taking on project management to falling into social media and digital content. What I found was that the label writing process was traditionally done by committee – and done by committee for good reason – but it’s slow, laborious and tends to leach all of the personality out of things.
“I think that’s why I gravitated towards social media as a way of telling the stories in the collection and doing so in a bit more of a dynamic and reactive way. I found that left more room for personality and could gather instant feedback on validity through likes, shares and comments.”
Adam says, “It was during my time at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford that I first discovered how valuable that personality element can be. At the time, museums were pussy-footing around the idea of injecting character and a human element even though corporations were embracing what it could achieve and how connections could be built.
“When you realise that the oldest university library in the country can get away with making cheeky comments on social – and have it well received – it’s clear that there really is nothing stopping anyone else.”
As many people in museum marketing will know, it’s at The MERL where Adam first developed his reputation as one of the most compelling and talented social media voices in the museum space. His “Absolute Unit” post of a heavy-set sheep brought The MERL global fame on Twitter. But while it is easy to see the virality of this one post as a ‘flash in the pan’ moment, Adam’s grasp on the importance of making human connections and driving engagement through voice and personality is something that can be perceived as an art form in itself.
“That tweet going viral really led to a whole new way of generating content for us – trying to be humorous, trying to tell stories, trying to do pretty much all of the things we’d always wanted to do. That tweet gave us the platform to gun for it.
“From there we encouraged the involvement of curators and archivists to share more material that we could post online. Initially, we butted heads on what we were trying to achieve. But once other departments began to trust us, they would come to us and say, ‘Let’s steer clear of using these archives but go wild with these other collections.’
“That collaboration and building the digital infrastructure to take people on a journey through our content was key. Those who wanted more memes could find them on our social channels, those who wanted the history of genetics could take a deeper dive on our site, and those who wanted a T-shirt could easily find the shop.”
Offering advice to those in other digital marketing and social media teams who want to build similar relationships with their own colleagues, Adam says,
“I think it’s really about demystifying the process and making it easy to grasp through regular dialogue – be that face to face catch ups or weekly emails. It’s also about understanding that you’re never going to convince everyone; there are some people that may never engage.
“And that’s ok, as long as you can find the right people and show them where they fit into the system of producing valuable content.”
Cementing the learnings of the pandemic
Now as Head of Digital at The Audience Agency, Adam is continuing to spread the message about the importance of making art “more human and relatable”, as well as drive the sector to embrace digital tools, engage with audiences and “grasp the nettle of digital content, I guess.”
The pandemic has undoubtedly been a hugely challenging time for the museum sector – as well as society as a whole – but as Adam suggests, it has served to shine a light on what many museum marketing and digital teams had already been saying, which was:
“Social media and digital is no longer just for marketing teams (not that it ever should have been); it’s about telling stories of the museum collections, it’s public engagement, it’s curatorial, it’s collecting stories for the archives. It has too many purposes to be pigeon-holed as one thing or managed by one person who isn’t immersed in the museum as a whole.”
While it’s easy to think that creating a roadmap for viral tweets and shooting for millions of followers on social media is always the goal for institutions, Adam is quick to dispel the myth that being active on social is only worth doing if the audience is comprised of millions of people.
He says, “Actually, it can be as successful as your ambitions. As long as you are serving your audience, communicating with them in an authentic way and fulfilling your mission, you don’t have to be hitting 50 million followers. If you are getting 20 visitors through the door a day, on average, and you have 200 people engaging online, is that not a success?”
Interestingly, Adam also says that knowing when to value the quantitative and when to prioritise the qualitative is a constant question that we should ponder going forward:
“There are some data sources that have unequivocal value: ticket sales, mailing list sign-ups etc. But I’m also increasingly seeing people applying a more analogue approach elsewhere. When posting we perhaps shouldn’t always be focused on chasing numbers but instead look to assess quality – of content, interaction and experience. That’s more difficult to track, of course.”
The juggling act for museums and cultural organisations more generally is about having team members that both live and breathe the museum; and also live and breathe social media. Asked for his thoughts on how this can happen in the future, Adam says,
“I’m already seeing it happen. There are people who’ve grown up with social media and are fully capable of using the tools who are also arts and culture lovers. The challenge really is to provide the framework for them to work within, so I would say it’s the leadership structure and the traditional siloing of teams that is causing the issues.”
The museum as a forum . . . but online
As fraught and challenging as the digital world can be, especially in the often confrontational world of social media, Adam suggests that these channels have real power to help museums fulfil their mission when used in the right way.
“I’ve always seen social media as a tool to support what museums were founded to do: that idea of the museum as a forum. Like the physical premises, museums’ social accounts should be ‘of the community and for the community’, I think. That can include having those difficult discussions and forming a dialogue, even when it is uncomfortable.”
At The Audience Agency, this is very much the focus of Adam’s work. He says,
“We’re trying to inform how the sector thinks about digital. As a values-led charity we are genuinely trying to give the public a voice in how cultural organisations run themselves, centring audience data at the heart of that.
In his talk at the Digital Marketing Summit, Adam will be sharing some of the details of his approach to social media informed by the experience he has gained over the last 10 years. In a nutshell, he says,
“I think I’ve done fairly relatable, informal and sometimes funny content that lands well – particularly on twitter. I’m calling my talk ‘Confessions of a (former) Social Media Manager’ but in some ways I think it may feel more like a group therapy session!
“People sometimes tie themselves in knots trying to measure all the ways to deliver messaging, measure success and utilise the tools at their disposal. I want to take this opportunity to tell people that even those in the biggest organisations with the biggest budgets feel the same stresses. Really, best practice is an illusion and sometimes we’d be better served by focusing on simply fulfilling our mission, telling stories and trying not to stress out.”
Hear more from Adam and an exceptional range of other museum marketing professionals at November’s Digital Marketing Summit running 22nd–24th November 2021. Find out more about the conference here.