Developing and monetising online communities

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Nik Wyness, Head of Marketing and Engagement at The Tank Museum.


“Social media allowed us to speak with our own voice and get our stories out directly, unfiltered to a much bigger audience.”

Nik Wyness is Head of Marketing and Engagement at The Tank Museum in Dorset.

He has led the digital transformation of this rural regimental Museum and registered charity, creating an industry-leading strategy in the development and monetisation of a global online community.

The Tank Museum tells the story of the tank and the people that served in them, with a collection of over 300 vehicles dating from World War One to the present day, displayed in modern awe-inspiring exhibitions.

But the Museum’s rural location poses an ever-present challenge – how to make people aware it exists?

With the simple objective of “Being more famous” and a passion for powerful historical stories, Nik used social media channels like Facebook and YouTube to begin building a niche following worldwide.

This laid the foundations for a base of advocacy and support that would lead to 27% of the Museum’s total 2022 turnover generated online in 2022 – albeit somewhat inadvertently at first!



What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Nik’s genius strategy to grow audiences
  • The Tank Museum’s phenomenally successful online communities
  • How the museum earned 25% of a total £6m turnover, just from online sources

Skip the Queue Nik Wyness blog


To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.


The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Nik Wyness



Kelly Molson: Nick, I am very excited to have you on the podcast today. Welcome to Skip the Queue. 

Nik Wyness: Thank you very much for having me.

Kelly Molson: As ever, I’m going to start with some ice breakers, though, and I’ve got a topical one for you. 

Nik Wyness: Okay. 

Kelly Molson: So, last week, the BBC reported that a visitor had broken Jeff Koons iconic balloon dog sculpture. I know its  awful, isn’t it? At a high end art fair in Miami. I want to know, have you ever been told off by security for touching a museum exhibit that you weren’t supposed to touch? 

Nik Wyness: Oh, that’s a good one, actually. I obviously work at The Tank Museum. That’s why we’re talking about. But I first visited The Tank Museum when I was about eight years old and I was a cub scout, and this was obviously quite a long time ago. Different decade, probably the 80’s. 

They used to have a little arcade machine in there. I know it’s kind of weird, like arcade machines in a museum, but they used to have one of those little kind of like, penny pushes. 

Kelly Molson: Oh, yeah, I love that. 

Nik Wyness: Yeah. I mean, it’s a h*** of a way to lose money. And that’s what happened. We were getting a bit frustrated with this thing. It kind of like, hangs over the edge, doesn’t it? A really sort of tempting way. So my friend and I, we couldn’t resist giving a little bit of encouragement, a little bit of a rock, and this guy came out and he told us off. And when I started working at The Tank Museum in 2004, I met the same guy. How funny is that? 

Kelly Molson: Wow. I mean, one, that’s lovely. Very high rate of retention of staff at The Tank Museum. So that’s a plus. Oh, my God. Did he actually recognise you? 

Nik Wyness: No, thankfully not. Otherwise things could have got different. But I definitely recognise him, that kind of ferocious look in his eye.

Kelly Molson: That is a brilliant story. My Nan just while we’re on the subject of penny machines, because I really like those penny machines, they are a very good way of losing a load of money, but only go for the 2p ones. Right. And then it doesn’t feel as bad. 

Nik Wyness: High roller. 

Kelly Molson: High roller. My Nan had a bit of an obsession with those and the grabber machine, so they had a caravan in Walton-on-the-Naze, and she used to spend a lot of time on the old penny slot machines in her day. And I reckon that she might have had a little bit of a nudge of some of those because she used to win a lot. And you don’t win that much on them, do you? I reckon she did a little hip bash, grandma. 

Nik Wyness: I think everyone must do that from time, so how could you not? It’s so tempting. But I think the trouble is, if you go too far, that alarm goes off and a man comes out and tells, “you off”. 

Kelly Molson: Especially at The Tank Museum. 

Nik Wyness: Especially at The Tank Museum. 

Kelly Molson: That is excellent. Thank you for sharing that story. Right, okay, next one. I was going to ask you what your favourite tank is, but I think that’d be quite boring. 

Nik Wyness: You’re like choosing a favourite child. You can’t do that. 

Kelly Molson: I know. Unless you just have one and then it’s easy. What one thing would you make a law that isn’t already? 

Nik Wyness: Well, I think it should be law that everyone should visit The Tank Museum more than once a month. More than once a month. There you go. 

Kelly Molson: More than once a month. That’s a lot of tanks. Okay, good one. All right, last one. I’m always intrigued by this. I think I’m going to start making this a regular question. I want to know if you now, or if you did when you were younger, if you had a collection of something?

Nik Wyness: I’ve never really been one to collect things. I’m a bit sort of rubbish and a bit lazy. I get really into it and then I kind of lose interest in what I do. I used to collect stickers and that kind of thing. I remember my sister used to collect key rings, but, yeah, I’m not much of a collector. But I know you collect. Is it rubbers?

Kelly Molson: Oh, you’ve done your research. 

Nik Wyness: One of the first things you told me about yourself when we first met, grew up at that Edinburgh conference. I thought it was an interesting thing to go in with early, but you did it and I respect that. So I’m sure we have a Tank Museum rubber and I kind of feel that I should maybe send you one. 

Kelly Molson: I would love that. 

Nik Wyness: It might even be tank shaped. 

Kelly Molson: Wow. Also, just for anyone that does meet me in the future, I’m really sorry. That is what my starting lines is, “Hey, I’ve got an 80s rubber collection”. Excellent. Well done, me. Okay, let’s move on to your unpopular opinion, Nik. 

Nik Wyness: Okay, so I thought long and hard about this because I have many unpopular opinions, so I’m going to go with this one. And that is I do not like Twitter. I can’t stand Twitter, which is quite ironic, given what we’re going to be talking about. I know, the shock, the despondency on your face. But hear me out.

I’ve got three reasons why I really don’t like Twitter. So the first reason is that Twitter, in my opinion, just seems to bring out the absolute worst in people. It’s kind of like golf. If you’ve been on a golf course and a normally perfectly rational person can just turn into this kind of like snarling clubs, napping. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, you’ve met my husband. 

Nik Wyness: There’s plenty like him. There’s plenty like him. I’m probably one of them myself, which is why I don’t play golf. But, yeah, I don’t know. On Twitter, you can see normal people, what appeared to be at first sight, normal people, anyway, kind of turn into vacuous, narcissists, all trying to show how clever they are or how virtuous they are or how much funnier they are than the other guys.

It’s kind of like a playground one upmanship, but it’s quite derogatory and quite negative as well, isn’t it, really? It’s all sort of a bit sort of unpleasant. And I’m just amazed there are so many people out there who are willing to spend time arguing with people they’ve never met on the internet. Surely there has to be more to life. 

But the second reason is that, and this is the one which is always probably wound me up the most, is that lazy journalists mistaking what happens on Twitter for actual news, or worse, for actual public opinion, when it’s actually neither. And so the fact that journalists do that is it kind of gives all of this rubbish a bigger platform and gives it greater credibility than I think some of it actually deserves.

But the third reason, I just like Twitter, and there are many reasons why I think they have an increasingly polarised society, but Twitter is definitely not helping. And one of those general things that we worry about is what you see on Twitter being kind of manifested in just the greater public discourse. It’s just like we’ve forgotten how to have a disagreement, respectfully, do you know what I mean? 

Nik Wyness: Nobody can have an argument these days without having to play the man or kind of take the other person out on every level. There’s no, well, I respectfully agree with the opinion, but I will agree to disagree. There’s none of that on Twitter, really, is there? Everyone’s basically hacking the other person to death verbally until somebody gets bored and has to get off the bus or something.

So for those three reasons yeah, and I hate all that abuse of public figures as well, whether it’s just general hate or misogyny or racism, all that kind of stuff. Interesting, none of these people well, hopefully none of these people would have the courage to say the things that they’d say on Twitter to another person’s face. 

And I always think that you should never say something in writing on Twitter, on social media that you wouldn’t want to say to their face, because you’ve got to accept the consequences, right. Of the things that you say. And I think people hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. I don’t think that’s healthy. Gosh, that was quite a moralistic rant, but, my God, do I feel better. 

Kelly Molson: It really was. But, wow, what a great one. And I really love how in depth you went with your unpopular opinion. I was nodding along there, because I think that point 3, there is a dark side to Twitter, and I was agreeing with you on point 3. 

I like Twitter and I enjoy it, but I think that I’m probably in my lovely, happy, safe, kind of comfortable bubble there, because I follow really nice people and I engage with lovely people. And actually, there is quite a big kind of attractions and heritage and cultural community on Twitter that I feel quite part of. So that all feels very nice, but I absolutely agree with you that there is a dark and destructive side of it which isn’t healthy for anybody to be involved. 

Nik Wyness: I respectfully disagree with your opinion. There you go. See, it is possible. 

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. We’re still friends. You’re still going to send me a rubber. I’m still going to start our conversations in strange and weird ways whenever we see each other. Let me know, listeners, what you think about Nik’s unpopular opinion. I know a lot of you talk to me on Twitter, so it’d be interesting to hear if you agree. I think you probably agree with both of us. Good place, bad place, brings out good in some bad in some. 

Nik Wyness: Absolutely. I mean, sure. Just tweet me. 

Kelly Molson: Tweet Nik. Oh, God, please. Go, Tweet Nik. Go tweet him. Make him respond on the platform that he finds appalling. 

Nik Wyness: Yeah, exactly. I’ll just kind of go straight for the abuse. 

Kelly Molson: Great. Okay, Nik, you work at The Tank Museum. Tell us about your role there and what you do. 

Nik Wyness: Okay, so I, as you’ve heard, my association with The Tank Museum goes back an awfully long way from trying to rob arcade machines until when I first became a paid member of staff, which was in 2004, which was a very long time ago, almost 20 years, which is absolutely terrifying.

So I first started working there as the PR officer, and this was at the beginning of a very transformational period for The Tank Museum. We applied for Heritage Lottery funding. There was this big redevelopment project in the office. And so it was very exciting, it was a very exciting time. And it was great to see the organisation go through this kind of great arc of transformation, which was supported by public money. But what was particularly good about that is it was really successful. 

And we achieved, with that Heritage Lottery funding, all of the things that we said were going to do. So we’re bringing more people in, really making the subject a lot more accessible to a wider audience, all of those things absolutely fantastic.

So it’s been a big part of my career. I did leave The Tank Museum back in 2012, 2013, and I went to work at a very well established visitor attraction in another location. But I missed my tanks. I missed my tanks. And the First World War centenaries were coming up as well. I am quite into my military history. So the opportunity came to go back to The Tank Museum in a very different role, a much more senior role. And I took that opportunity back in 2016, and I haven’t looked back. 

So my role at The Tank Museum, my job title is the Head of Marketing and Engagement, which means I’m head of marketing and engaging things. But in English, what that means is obviously I’m responsible for ensuring that the visitors show up. So The Tank Museum is a medium sized visitor attraction. We have about 200,000 visitors a year. When there isn’t a pandemic. We have a portfolio of special events. Our big fundraising event every year is Tank fest, which if you haven’t been, you absolutely must. 

Kelly Molson: Top of my list. 

Nik Wyness: Top of that. I’m sure it is. Although I’m surprised you haven’t been already. 

Kelly Molson: I haven’t been to The Tank Museum. 

Nik Wyness: You have the rubber if you did. 

Kelly Molson: Right, exactly. It’s not in my collection.

Nik Wyness: There you go. We’ll have to put that, right. So that’s The Tank Museum. Responsible for making sure the visitors show up and all of that kind of external communication, whether that’s stakeholder communications, the public relations activity, the media relations activity, and the social media activity and the ecommerce activity.

And a big part of what I’ve been doing, particularly since I returned, was basically building up these online audiences and building this online community. And latterly of sort of successfully monetising that, really. And what we’ve done is create an entirely almost distinct business from, if you like, our visitor onsite income.

We’ve created this separate, sort of almost separate moneymaking enterprise, which is all about our online audiences that are online followers and supporters. 

Kelly Molson: This is what I want to talk about today, Nik. I have heard Nik talk about this. Well, the last time I heard you speak was up in Scotland at the Tourism Associations Conference, which is incredible. What you’ve achieved is pretty phenomenal, I have to say, and just so incredibly impressive. And I’m so glad that you’ve been able to come on and share it with our listeners today. So I think I’m not sure if I’ve got the date right, but was it in 2020 that you started to develop this strategy, or was it pre pandemic? 

Nik Wyness: It was pre pandemic, yeah. So it’s kind of what I’ve been working on since I came back in 2016. 

Kelly Molson: Right, okay. 

Nik Wyness: I wouldn’t say what I started working on is where we’ve ended up. So what we started doing, it was all about basically building up these online audiences. And it was all really about if I just wind back a bit, one of the problems with The Tank Museum, I’d say problems, I mean, it’s a fantastic location, being endorsed as we are, but we are absolutely in the middle of nowhere.

We are in a tiny garrison village of Bovington. The nearest big town is like Bournemouth, that’s an hour away by car. So we are absolutely in the middle of nowhere. If it wasn’t for the fact that Dorset, sorry, was a successful domestic tourist destination, there’s no way The Tank Museum could have survived at all, really, because lots of people come to Dorset on holiday. August has always been our busiest month, for example. 

So the fact we’re out there in the middle of nowhere means we have a real sort of challenge to get people’s attention. And so this whole strategy came out of our requirement and our desire to just kind of let people know we existed. And the objectives that I set myself was we just needed to be more famous. So everything we did was about making The Tank Museum more famous. 

Kelly Molson: That was it. That was the key objective for the whole strategy. Love it. 

Nik Wyness: That was literally it, be more famous. Because if people don’t know you exist, they’re not going to come and visit you. And so, like I said, I’m kind of from the sort of more PR end of the marketing spectrum. I did like a journalism degree and I’ve always been really interested in storytelling.

And The Tank Museum, as you can imagine, we tell stories and we tell some amazing stories, and warfare is one of those bits of history where you get to see the very best in humanity, but you also get to see the very worst. And some of the stories we deal with are just absolutely fascinating. Sometimes there’s goodies, there’s baddies and there’s loss and love and all of that kind of thing. Really good story. 

So it’s always been, in my view, the case that storytelling, PR, those kind of traditional ways of reaching an audience with stories, was going to be the way that we can to achieve that cut through making The Tank Museum more famous, making our objects speak for themselves, if you’d like, and the stories that we tell. And so the strategy really grew out of that PR strategy.

And when social media kind of came around and we started to take things like Facebook more seriously back in, I don’t know, 2010 or something like that, it was about using social media as a means to reach people without the filter of the media, if you like. There were specialist magazines and there were national newspapers that we could get the occasional story in, but it would always be heavily edited to be more in their voice. 

Nik Wyness: But social media allowed us to sort of speak with our own voice and get our stories out directly, unfiltered to a much bigger audience. And we started to see that audience online grow. And basically what we’re doing at that point was very much alongside what we’re doing offline, as it were.

We started to see that audience grow and as it grew, it started to become clear that actually, the majority of people that were actually hitting with this weren’t British, as in they weren’t resident in the UK, and so they were therefore quite unlikely to be able to visit The Tank Museum. 

And that in itself did pose a bit of a kind of intellectual dilemma, really, because it’s like, if you’re putting all that time and effort into reaching people, you want them to visit, but if they’re not actually going to visit, well, what’s the point of actually reaching them then? You’re just kind of making a lot of noise and it’s unsustainable.

And so the whole monetisation piece came out of this sort of really, I think, for me, being challenged by the trustees of The Tank Museum to say, well, this has got to pay for itself somehow. How are you going to do it? And if you don’t do it, you got to stop. And so I like a challenge, so I stuck in. 

Kelly Molson: You really got stuck in, so I love this. So you achieved your objective, right, so we go back to 2016. You said the objective would be more famous. You drive that objective and you achieve it over the next few years. But actually, in achieving that objective, it’s not bringing any more revenue to the organisation because your audience is.

Nik Wyness: Lot of PR activity, it can be quite difficult to sort of measure. It can be quite difficult to track that back to source. 

I think the big change for us came when we introduced YouTube to our sort of social media marketing mix. And again, we’ve got a very visual subject matter. Tanks are big objects and they move so they look good on camera.

And I launched the YouTube channel originally, I don’t know, it’s been about 2010, I bought a little rubbishy sort of digital camera and basically, for me, the idea of making videos for YouTube was I just had this idea of doing like, visual press releases, basically, because it might make them a bit more interesting.

And were starting to see at that point, other people were coming to The Tank Museum, with camcorders and making little videos, and they were doing quite well. So we thought there was clearly a bit of potential in this. 

And then as time went on and we kind of introduced what is our sort of flagship YouTube series, which is The Tank Chats, where we have one of our experts literally standing in front of a tank, just talking about that object, the history of that object, how it was developed, blah, blah. And that’s what really set our YouTube channel off. YouTube is quite a labour intensive.

Nik Wyness: You need to have the kit, you need to have the people to make films, then they need to have spent time editing those things as well. So I think at that point, were getting really great views, really great engagement, but the reality was, we’re a charity, we have to be careful how we spend our money. We’re not rich like, say, we’re in the middle of nowhere. 

This all has to go back to some kind of important box ticking objective and that has to be sort of financial in some way or other. We have to make sure it’s washing its face. And whilst we could see, as the YouTube channel started to grow, 2014, 2015, we could see that were starting to see more international businesses, for example, rocking up our special events like Tank Fest.

And we could see that our experts that were putting in front of the camera were bizarrely starting to get, like, people coming up and asking for autographs, which is kind of adorable in many ways, so we could see that, but you can’t really put a figure on that. So, like, I say, like, a lot of PR activities, just really difficult to quantify in that way. 

And we’ve got a very switched on group of trustees and they were basically challenging to say, well, put value on this and it’s very difficult unless you find another way of literally making it clear how it’s performing for you. 

Kelly Molson: Okay, so we get to that point and trustees challenge you. What did you then start to do and how did you start to develop the monetisation strategy that you’ve put in place? 

Nik Wyness: Yeah, so there was this trustee meeting and I was very pleased with these massive numbers because it’s all about on social media, the bigger the numbers, the more successful you are. So I think we’re all feeling quite pleased with ourselves about that and say, “Look at all these people in America watching us. People have never heard of The Tank Museum, have now heard of The Tank Museum. Isn’t that great?” And in a way it is great, but they were absolutely right to sort of say, well, hang on a minute, because actually that intervention has just led to things being better, really.

And that’s what you want from your trustees. At the time, it probably felt like a little bit deflating. Yeah, because my first thought was, goodness me, how on earth are we going to do this? Because there’s no model in our sector for doing this at all. And normally, if you’re short of a good idea or two, there’s plenty of other people in our sector, bigger organisations, more established museums.

You can just help yourself to an idea from really or talk to them and say, well, how have you done it? And what ideas can we basically steal and reform? But this one, there was nothing. So it was a real challenge, but actually, that’s what made it fun in a way. 

And so what I did is, because I was then, and I still am now, a bit of a YouTube addict, I definitely think I probably watch more YouTube than Netflix and certainly much more than terrestrial television. I just like the variety and the randomness of the things you can see in my son, who’s only eight years old, is much too my disappointment.

Equally addicted to me, which is you spend hours watching people play minecraft and what is that about, how is that enjoyable? And they’re all quite irritating as well, but that’s why this isn’t a therapy session, I must remind myself. 

Kelly Molson: Get it all out.

Nik Wyness: Anyway, back to monetisation. So, yeah, so what I did is I had to look at YouTubers and how they were making a living effectively from just running a YouTube channel. And that became a thing, if you like, sort of 2012, 2013, 2014. And it was just literally a case of saying, right, how are they making their money? And identified there was four key ways in which they were making their money.

The first thing was through advertising revenue. So when you are on YouTube and you’re playing your videos, google basically puts ads at the beginning of those videos and I’m sure you’ve seen them, I’m sure you’ve skipped many of them as well. And basically they do operate a revenue share scheme with their creators. So you basically get a percentage of every ad that’s played. So the second thing is memberships. 

So Patreon had just launched at that time and Patreon is like an online modern membership platform which allows you to facilitate an online modern membership scheme and it’s very closely linked to YouTube. At that time, YouTube kind of endorsed it.

A lot of YouTubers were using it, as well as a means to provide sort of tiered memberships where people could give monthly micro donations, whether it was one dollar a month, $3 a month, $5 a month or more in exchange for a tiered set of benefits, whether that’s additional access to the creator, early access, that sort of thing. The third way was through sponsorships. 

Nik Wyness: And I’m sure we’ve all seen YouTube videos where at the very beginning of the video, no matter what it’s about, there might be somebody who’s promoting a product, whether that’s like a VPN service or a pair of gaming headphones or whatnot. And the final way was merchandise sales.

And even people with modest merchandise, YouTube channels will be using Printly or something like that to print their own T shirts with their like channel logo on it. So basically, using those methods, that’s how we sort of built the strategy around kind of making it happen.

And ad revenue is all about the more views you get, the more ads get served to your content and the more money you can make. So to give you an example, last year we had about 22 million views and we earned £90,000 from ads. 

And it’s not an immaterial sum of money, it’s completely passive as well. Once it’s out there, you don’t have to do anything apart from just kind of take the payment every month. And the other thing about that was really interesting to us as well, was that what we saw is that the overseas audience, particularly the American based viewers, were actually a lot more lucrative than the UK based viewers.

So last year, about 30% of our viewers were based in the USA and basically 45% of our total ad revenue originated from those American viewers, because the ad market is much more developed on YouTube in the USA than it is in the UK. So the UK viewers contributed just 20% of our total views, which is, of course, a lot lower as a proportion than the USA, but just 23% of our ad revenue. 

So you can see it was actually a benefit all of a sudden to having these American based viewers. And you can see how in the future, it might beneficial for us to actually aim our content a little bit more at the American audience for that very reason. 

Kelly Molson: Gosh, that’s fascinating. I can’t believe the numbers on that as well. For passive income. That’s incredible. 

Nik Wyness: Yeah, and that’s from what you can that’s not particularly stellar either, I have to say. There are people who do much more kind of commercial content than we do, because ours is very much educational, who would probably do a lot better than that, like the guys who make those Minecraft, but here that my son watches are probably absolutely pointing it in. So it really makes you question your life choices, doesn’t it, really? 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, if it does. 

Nik Wyness: And then we launched our Patreon, and again, that was just a case of setting up the platform and then sign posting it in all of our videos, basically saying, if you want to support the town, it’s easy for us, we’re a charity. So if you like the ask is a lot more straightforward, you know, support our work, help us keep the channel going.

We were able to eventually fund an internship using the earnings from Patreon. It built up such I think it was just over £20,000 after the first couple of years. So went to our local arts university and brought in a graduate placement, who had just graduated from the Film Study schools to help us make more content. So it became beautifully self fulfilling. 

Kelly Molson: That’s wonderful that you could do that as well. 

Nik Wyness: Yeah, and it was all funded by the patrons and then yeah, we work with partners to generate sponsorship income. I think because we’re a charity and because we’re a museum, we’re not going to just accept any old sponsorship opportunity that wanders by.

We have to be a bit careful about our brand and who will work with and that sort of thing, but we’re already working with a video games company called War Gaming. They make a video game called World of Tanks, which I’m sure you’re an avid player of yourself and I need to introduce it any further. But basically it’s one of those massively multiplayer. It’s free to play online. 

And basically what you do is you kind of drive around in a tank and you sort of shoot at other people who are driving around online in their tank, played by literally millions of people worldwide. And they’re already sponsoring like exhibitions and events at The Tank Museum. So it wasn’t really a big leap for them to start sponsoring our online content as well.

Nik Wyness: And a really good example of how their sort of support and sponsorship for our online content on our YouTube channel in particular could be found in 2020 during the pandemic. Because I’m sure you can remember all too well, weren’t able that summer to hold our Tank Fest event because obviously everything was shut down, which left us with a real big problem because of course, Tank Fest is our biggest fundraising event of the year. 

 So were able to use our YouTube channel and a bunch of edited footage to bring a Tank Fest 2020 live stream to the Internet with World of Tanks’ financial support. So they basically gave us the sponsorship to kind of bring in the technology to live stream this stuff that we’d edited together, which was sort of live hosted and create a live stream.

And that video did really well. It’s had over a million views and still growing now, which is quite remarkable. From that live stream gained £50,000 worth of additional donations from the viewer base and it led to an additional £20,000 of sales in our online shop that weekend as well. So it was staggeringly successful for us, but we wouldn’t have been able to do it without World of Tanks to support. 

Kelly Molson: That is an amazing achievement. So just thinking about what you said about the Pandemic there and not being able to do certain things because of it, but then being able to do this quite transformative project. Did the Pandemic speed up some of the things that you were going to do? Or were these things kind of naturally in progress anyway as the pandemic hit? 

Nik Wyness: I think were lucky in the sense that a lot of this stuff was just starting to get rolling when the pandemic hit. The fact existed when the pandemic hit. No question about it. I think it saved jobs at the time. No question about it. 

And I think that’s really good news story, isn’t it? At the end of the day. We were already in a place where we built these really big online audiences into a sort of a loyal community of almost advocates. And so when we were asking them for help, they were happy to support us. So we saw an increase in our Patreon age. 

During the pandemic, we saw an increase in ad revenue as well, because across the board, more people will have more time to sit and watch YouTube videos. And obviously, we work with a lot of tanks on that occasion to do this kind of big set piece, live stream, special event, which yielded great results. But probably for us, the most important thing, and the biggest chunk of our online income comes from e commerce.

And so the fact that when the pandemic hit, we actually had the time, for the first time ever, to really focus in on e commerce and make it work, get it sorted out, get the website sorted out, sort out our logistics and yeah, I mean, in 2019, we took £120,000 in our online shop, which were quite happy with. In 2020, we took £1.2 million. 

Kelly Molson: Oh, wow. 

Nik Wyness: Exactly. And we wouldn’t have been able to take that if we hadn’t already built this enormous online audience organically. So, sure, were using, were advertising the products and that kind of stuff online during 2020, but the fact is that we kind of went in from a sort of a running start, because the audience was there, the product selection was there, we knew what were doing and what we wanted to achieve.

We just actually had times to get on with it and actually, there’s nothing like a crisis of that sort to really focus the mind and for everyone to be pulling out the stops. It was a fantastic team effort.

Kelly Molson: Oh, absolutely. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you’re under that kind of pressure. And you’ve got nothing to lose, right? There’s no barriers there. You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose by doing it.

Nik Wyness: Nothing else to interfere with. 

Kelly Molson: There’s no people, we don’t have to worry about them. So was that a one off or has that continued since this big increase in your online sales? 

Nik Wyness: So, I think for us, that was always the concern, wasn’t it? And I’m sure a lot of e commerce, of course, are a massive boom because there was literally nothing to do all day apart from watch YouTube and buy stuff on the internet. We were obviously worried that, how will things be in 2021? Is this just a blip? Is this just a bit of anomaly?

So we did 1.2 million in 2020. In 2021, we did the same, I think 2.1 million again. So were like, well, that’s interesting, but it’s been a funny year, there’s still lots of covered hangover. We locked down at the beginning of the year. So for us, 2022, the year just gone was a real test for us. This is going to tell us whether or not we managed to create sustainable growth. 

Actually, last year we did 1.4 million, so it was a huge effort. We had to work really hard for it, but we’re far better set up for that. We’ve increased the size of the team to cope with this. But actually what we’ve shown is that we’ve got some really good foundations here and some really good foundations for future growth as well.

So it wasn’t just I mean, that was the concern. It could have all fallen away last year and we’ve been sort of sat wondering what we’re going to do with all these people who were sat on their hands. But fortunately, so far at least, knock on wood has shown to be holding up. 

Kelly Molson: And is that the same with some of the other things as well? So is that the same with, like, your YouTube views? And has everything stayed the same or increased since then? 

Nik Wyness: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, that was for us. I think the big thing in 2022 was about basically kind of stepping back and letting your hands off and going, “Right, is this still, is it still there? Is it still happening?” So we didn’t set, like, massively ambitious targets for 2022. It was all just about zero.

Okay. But, yeah, we still continued. We had, I think, 22 million views last year, which was 2 million more than the one before. The membership income was £2000 more than it was the previous year. So what we saw is a lot of people who signed up to support us during the pandemic, when the pandemic was over, kind of fell away, but that’s fine. 

We also know that people have been hit by the upheaval in financial uncertainty, so we’ve certainly lost a few, but we’ve had to work hard to gain a few as well. And our sponsors, War Gaming, have sort of stuck by us as well. And the e commerce, as I’ve just said, has continued to work really well. We had an incredibly strong Christmas season and we’ve continued to do some of the things that we started doing in 2020 as well. Like these self published books. We’ve got the audience we can sell directly to them. 

So what we do is we’ll take a book that’s out of print that we’ve got the rights to, you know, we know we can be relatively comfortable that we’ll be able to shift 3 to 4000 of those based on the fact that we’ve got this really loyal audience in a real niche. We don’t have a great deal of competition for that niche, and those have been really good for us as well. Really good things to drive sales and bring in the customers here. 

Kelly Molson: Are your Trustees happy? That’s what I want to know. Are they happy? 

Nik Wyness: They’re never happy. And I don’t want them to be happy either, because if they’re happy, that just makes life easier. They’re always pushing us to try new things and just try and push it a little bit further. But that’s why I believe The Tank Museum is very successful. We get the finger in the back, you can’t get comfortable, you can’t get complacent, and that’s the way I like it. That’s why I like working in The Tank Musuem. 

Kelly Molson: Yes, that’s a good place to be, isn’t it, where you’re always challenged, so there’s always more that you can do. You said earlier about.. The attraction sector is one that is incredibly supportive of each other, and you mentioned earlier that there’s normally a model or someone’s done what you’re trying to achieve, and you can often go and ask people, but in this case, you are the model, right? You have developed the model. So what would be your tips for other museums that are looking to implement a really similar strategy to this? 

Nik Wyness: That’s a good question. I guess part of the issue is we never really set out to implement the model. It kind of just awkwardly fell in this way. But I’m always looking at what other, whether it’s attractions or museums in particular, really are doing in this space and how they’re trying to do it.

And I often wonder why there are much bigger, more established organisations than ours that aren’t doing better than us. And I kind of feel like they arguably could be. I do think there’s an issue with that. I have made the same museum because I’ve always had a lot of support from particularly my director, who’s just kind of let me get on with it. And it’s a bit of a smaller organisation as well, so working cross functionally is a little bit labyrinth. 

It’s easier to get things done in a smaller organisation. You can be a bit more nimble. But I think a lot of the reason for our success really goes down to this obsession with really getting to know the audience and really sort of cherishing them, so you can really understand what they want and then you give them what they want.

So it’s not really rocket science at that point, if you know the audience. We’ve got a niche audience, obviously. People who are into tanks, they’re quite easily defined, aren’t they? “Is it a tank? Yes. I like it. It is not a tank. No, google don’t like that”, so we’d know when to talk about sharks or fish or anything like that. 

Nik Wyness: But the other thing I think that’s made us successful is we throughout the course of this journey, because we didn’t set out to achieve everything all in one go. We didn’t realise were doing it at the time, but we’ve got these really strong and consistent online brand values. So I’ve always thought that the content we produce, anything we put on social media, has to be useful.

It’s got to give the audience something interesting, something they actually want, it’s got to satisfy a need and we give them, hopefully, interesting stories and engaging facts. You’ve got to lay off on the sales on your social media, really, haven’t you? It’s a long game. You’ve got to earn the right to sell to people by giving them lots of useful, sort of free stuff. 

I think it’s really important that organisations on social media are authentic to their own sort of organisational voice and not trying to be something else, not trying to follow what other people are doing necessarily. You’ve got to kind of cut your own path. I think being original is really important. There’s no point trying to imitate what others are doing.

I don’t think it would be seemly for The Tank Museum to be trying to sort of imitate other online influences with the kind of things that they do, because that’s not us, we’re The Tank Museum. We’re trying to be serious content creators and we’ve got a serious message. 

I think simplicity is important. And I mean simplicity in terms of sustainability to create, because we’re not a massive team, but we have this requirement now to put a video out on YouTube every week and actually that can be quite labour intensive. So you need to make sure that you’re not trying to achieve more than you actually can. And of course, the content needs to be good, simple.

And what I mean by that really is easy for the audience to consume. Those would be my tips really. Gosh, there’s quite a few. There’s a lot there. I don’t even know. I have no idea what happened. 

Kelly Molson: This has happened. They’re really good tips, though, and if I’m honest, so they’re tips that I took away. So I have heard you talk about this a couple of times, Nik and I’ve taken those tips away and I’ve implemented them, or I’ve tried to implement them for Rubber Cheese ourselves. So I think that there were a few things that were already doing, but I think just coming back to those every time to be useful, that everything that you push out has to be useful, is so vital.

And that’s the one takeaway that I took from your talk, is that if you are trying anything that you’re trying to do on social media, whether you’re trying to grow your audience or grow your presence or your brand or sell something, but not in a salesy way, it’s just about being useful. 

What can we do? What do we know that would really be helpful for our audience? Just share that stuff. And that, for me, is the biggest takeaway from the things that you do, is about being useful. 

Nik Wyness: Absolutely, yeah. And it’s sure, it’s not useful to anybody, is it? But we’re not after anybody online. We’re particularly after that niche audience of enthusiasts. But because it’s online, there’s lots and lots of them scattered all around the world.

The Tank Museum itself, and this is one of the really key things that I really kind of really grasp, and it’s difficult to get other people to understand, is that the online audience, particularly for The Tank Museum, is totally different to the onsite audience. And that’s how I want it to be. So the onsite audience is all about being accessible to the widest possible group of people who are endorsed and able to visit. We want families to visit, we want older people to visit, we want younger people to visit, we want schools to visit. 

But online, we’re just going for those sort of military history aficionados. And you can see that, if you like, in the actual demographics of the audience. So I think on site, our gender split is 60% men and 40% female, which actually, I think we need to do better on. If I’m being honest. 

Kelly Molson: That’s not bad, though I wouldn’t have said that was too bad for what seems quite stereotypically male. 

Nik Wyness: Absolutely. Yeah. And it has got better. But the reality is actually, for me, is actually the subject matter The Tank Museum really is, particularly the way it is presented in recent times, because we’ve completely redone the entire museum. There is no reason why anybody couldn’t come to The Tank Museum.

There was nothing in here for me, because we just tell really good, fascinating stories, really. So you don’t have to be someone who cares a great deal about tanks to get something out of The Tank Museum, but you do have to be someone who cares about tanks to get something about online content, and that’s the way you want it.

So online, our audience is 90% male, maybe more, probably more. And it’s also very international. We probably struggle to get 10, 12 percent international visitors onto The Tank Museum site. 

It goes up during our special events, but not by much, probably to 20%. And we know that our online audience is probably 20, 25% UK. The biggest single segment would be North America, so that’s USA and Canada. And what’s left is everywhere else. And we’ve got Europeans, Australians, South Americans. 

It’s a very global audience. And that’s the thing with niche audiences. A niche audience in the UK is not so small when you take it to a global scale. And that’s why this strategy is able to succeed at scale financially. 

Kelly Molson: It all comes back to what you said right at the beginning. Know your audience. 

Nik Wyness: Know your audience. Absolutely. And care about them.

Kelly Molson: Good advice. Yeah, not just no care. Exactly. Okay, what is next for The Tank Museum? What can you share with us that’s coming up? What other ideas have you got in the Tank?

Nik Wyness: I like it. 

Kelly Molson: You’re welcome. 

Nik Wyness: Well, I think for us, the biggest thing is we have to focus on COVID recovery. Last year wasn’t horrendous, but we know that there are further headwinds. We know that there’s a bit of an economic uncertainty at the moment. We’re not quite sure how that’s going to affect us on the door. We are very heavily dependent on The Tank Museum site, at least on the vagaries of UK domestic tourism.

So there is a bit of wait and see. This year, we’ll see the first normal Tank Fest since 2019, you know, because we’ve had to reduce the numbers or we’ve had to operate it in a very different way. And that event is so very important for us. But I think on the online side, I think there’s still so much that I’d love to do.

If only there was the time and the resource to do it. We want to get better at doing this stuff. We want to get better at the community development side of things. I think that’s obviously going to be the future. And I mean, that niche broad is sent from starting with growing the amount of emails, engaged email subscribers that we have and kind of nudging them up that fabled ladder of loyalty. We want to increase the output of our content. So one of the big things that we did last year was launch a TikTok channel because TikTok is where the younger people are. 

And you’ve got to think about the future in terms of getting your brand in front of the younger audience because just because they’re young and they’re on TikTok doesn’t mean that among that will be people who are interested in military history. It’s not all about sort of funny dances and twerking. Although that’s a good time, I’m sure. Yeah, if you’re on TikTok. 

Check out famthetankman, who is our in house TikTok, he did really well last year. He only launched the channel in late April and he’s accumulated 271,000 followers and 51 million views last year, which I think is pretty impressive. He’s doing really well. 

Kelly Molson: That is phenomenal. I’m not on TikTok because it’s another thing that I’ve got to learn and understand and to find time for. So I’m not on it yet. I need to be I do need to understand it. But that is a really big achievement in such a short space of time. 

Nik Wyness: Yeah, absolutely. And it shows that there is an appetite for serious military history content. And of course, we change, if you like, the tone of voice that we’re using and we change the conventions that we’re using in the kind of presentational sense. But the messages are still the same, the stories are still the same.

Do you know what I mean? So there’s still that consistency of authority and kind of our authenticity coming out through TikTok. Even though it’s a very different approach and a very different audience to our YouTube channel, which is, you know, 45 plus, I suppose it’s biggest continuing with TikTok, we know that the biggest audience is 18 to 25. So it’s really important, isn’t it, to find a different avenue and a different way of communicating with different generations. I mean, that’s basically marketing, isn’t it, really? 

But the other thing we really want to do, and I really hope we get to do it this year, is launch a second YouTube channel. And the reason we want to do that, again, it’s part of this audience diversification piece we’ve done really well targeting that really hard core of sort of armoured warfare, history and enthusiasts.

But we want to go a little bit broader than that. We want to sort of almost use a second YouTube channel as like a funnel to the main one, if you like, by telling more broader stories about people and events. Whereas our current main YouTube channel is very much focused on objects and things and stuff, if you know what I mean. 

Kelly Molson: So why set up the second one out of interest? Do you feel like you would dilute the first one if you put those kind of stories on there? 

Nik Wyness: Yeah, I think it’s about when you because we’ve got some 477,000 subscribers on our YouTube channel at the moment, and so since the channel is launched, particularly in the last sort of seven years, we’ve really given them a very strict diet of very strict, kind of very in depth tanky information.

So that’s that audience, that’s what that audience likes. It really is that kind of granularity they like, and they do prefer, generally speaking, those stories about the stuff like the objects. It’s more, perhaps more engineering, more development, less about human history.

Perhaps at times, we go there, but not very much. This is mainly about the kind of the machines and the objects, really. So with this second channel, we are looking to tell more interesting stories about what happened, when, and the artefacts are obviously a big part of that. But this is more about the human story. 

Kelly Molson: That’s the kind of stuff that would appeal more to me than the real kind of specifics. So, again, it’s looking at broadening that audience online, too. Got you. Brilliant. Great advice, great achievements. I’m so glad that you’ve been able to come on and share this with us today. Thank you. 

Nik Wyness: No, thank you very much for having me. It’s always great to get out The Tank Museum and have a chat with people. 

Kelly Molson: Well, before you go, we always ask our listeners if they’ve got a book that they love that they’d like to share. 

Nik Wyness: So I had a look at what your other guests had recommended. I thought, my goodness me, there’s lots of really worthy choices in there. I’m not really one of those people who particularly enjoys reading those, like, management strategy books, because I was like, in my own free time, I want to read for fun and obviously a bit of a nerd of military history.

And there’s interestingly a bit of an overlap, I suppose you could say, between sort of like military and marketing. We use a lot of the same terminology, like strategy and tactics and deployment and cut through all of that sort of thing. So I’m going to recommend a book which kind of overlaps a little bit with a professional, with the military history. That book is quite an old book, actually. It’s called Hal Moore on Leadership: Winning When Outgunned and Outmanned

And basically Hal Moore was an officer in the US Army. He died a few years ago, I think. But I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie. The Mel Gibson movie came out in 2002 called Weaver Soldiers. Have you ever come across that one? Okay, it’s quite a good film but basically it’s a Vietnam War movie and basically the star was this Hal Moore guy.

It was biopic and it was about the first major engagement in the Vietnam War between the US army and the North Vietnamese Army. And basically his unit, 400 blokes were dropped in the jungle by helicopter. They quickly found themselves surrounded by like 4000 north, the emission soldiers and they found themselves cut off and basically having to fight off the determined and repeated attacks. 

And basically Hal Moore keeps his unit together through this tremendous series of challenges. And so that book is all about his perspective on leadership and what he learned during his military career. And actually I’ve worked with several ex soldiers and actually what you learn from soldiers is that the military is one thing that they’re really good at and they’re very good at many things is training leadership, if you know what I mean, and training people how to be a good leader. And I don’t think that’s something that the civilian world and the business world is actually very good in. 

Nik Wyness: But what’s interesting as well that I’ve learned from these former soldiers that I’ve worked with is you get a completely different perspective from them, particularly those who have seen sort of action or any form of operational deployment on things like resilience and what tenacity is and what courage is and even what stress is and what a bad day in the office is like.

Because of course a bad day in the office at The Tank Museum is nothing like a bad day in the office on a front line somewhere unpleasant in the world. So that perspective I think is really useful. But Hal Moore comes up with these four kind of principles of leadership, which is a book. The first one is something like, “The battle only stops when you stop fighting”. Which basically means don’t give up. 

Doesn’t matter what you’re facing, you’ve got to keep going. A bit like Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through h***, keep going”. And the second one was that, “When you’re in a tight spot there’s always one more thing you can do to influence the situation positively in your favour”. And that’s about being proactive, right? Because when you’re in a tough spot the worst thing you can do is nothing is freeze. You’ve got to be proactive and you’ve got to keep going.

And the third thing was, “If there’s nothing wrong, there’s something wrong”. So basically what that means is don’t be complacent. Keep your garden up, be alert. And I think there are times when you’re running marketing campaigns when you almost think, “well, everything’s going all right”. But actually, that’s probably when you need to check in on things the most. 

And the last one was, “To trust your instincts”. Basically, he argues that you’re well trained, you’ve got plenty of experience, and so is your gut, so you should listen to it. And the other thing, of course, is your subconscious is much more observant than you will ever be. As marketers, we’re very analytical. We like to look at our data and that kind of thing. But your gut can tell you if you’re interpreting that data correctly or if you need to look at it again. 

Kelly Molson: Gosh, what a book. Wow, I’ve never heard of that book. 

Nik Wyness: That’s pretty old. 

Kelly Molson: Never been recommended before as well, so that’s a great one. As ever if you would like to win a copy of Nik’s book, if you head over to our Twitter account and retweet this episode announcement with the words, “I want Nik’s book”, then you’ll be in with a chance of winning it. Maybe you’ll come back on in a year from now and tell us how 2023 went and how the first Tank Fest since pre pandemic went. 

Nik Wyness: Yeah, I’d be delighted if my hair has gone completely grave at that point. You’ll know, it wasn’t a great year. 

Kelly Molson: I’m sure it’s going to be a good year. Thanks ever so much for coming on, Nik. It’s been a pleasure. 

Nik Wyness: Thank you. 


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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