Swapping souls with Elon Musk

Why did he become a sheep

Imagine: it’s 10pm, you’re in bed watching Game of Thrones, and multi-billionaire Elon Musk changes his profile picture to a sheep.

Your sheep.

It was in response to MIT Technology Review describing the largest plane in the world as an absolute unit.

And when someone then dared him to change his profile picture to the sheep, he did.

And when a follower brought it to our attention, we called him out on it:

The Museum of English Rural Life went viral in April 2018 with the image of an Exmoor Horn Ram, captioned ‘look at this absolute unit’. Either Elon saw it then, or it was the first image he found when googling the meme.

Whatever the reason, it began a cascade of bizzaro world interactions between a museum of English rural life in Reading and the 25th most powerful person in the world.

We changed our name to the Muskeum of Elonglish Rural Life, got sassy, disappointed people asking for free teslas, launched a range of electric sheep and got into The Times (print), BBC, MailOnline and The Telegraph.

So why the hell did that happen

I didn’t coordinate this with Elon Musk.

It was just weird and it just happened.

The best I could do was react.

And that really is all I did. I relied (again) on the trust of my colleagues, meaning I can change our profile picture, change our name and spend a couple of days pretending to be Elon Musk without asking permission.

Usually for this type of thing we try and have a variety of content, so that alongside the silly stuff we also have something more serious and in-depth for those who want it. When we first tweeted the absolute unit, for instance, we had a blog on livestock genetics.

With Musk, we didn’t have this luxury. I could have pushed the interactions much more, made more imaginative links to our collections and perhaps even asked for a donation for using our sheep photograph.

As it was, this all kicked off on my day off, half an hour before going to sleep. I was mentally exhausted after a stressful start to the year. We were visiting my partner’s parents and I only had my phone and tablet, meaning I had no access to Photoshop. Because it was Easter, there was nobody even in the Museum to help (apart from hardworking Front of House).

But then, maybe that didn’t matter. When the sheep went viral there was a broader audience – when Elon Musk gets involved, it’s a mix of memelords, anime fans, car enthusiasts and people just along for the ride. They didn’t seem to particularly care about the background of the sheep, they just cared that Elon was using a meme.

One interesting thing was the private messages we received after changing our profile picture to Elon, with at least some people thinking we were the man himself. I had messages from people asking for jobs, for money to help their starving families, and for free teslas. Some just asked for memes. It was a terrifying glimpse of the amount of noise celebrities attract on Twitter, and I don’t know how they cope.

So

Ultimately this was a weird one-off, a ripple from our absolute unit of last year. It cements for me the fact that our sheep is now a part of internet history, which is both cool and a little strange.

It also reinforces the importance of having the trust and freedom to react to events. It means being comfortable with doing social media that is just purely silly, and saving the education for next time.

It also shows that social media does not care if you’re on holiday.