Sweden was the first country to hand over its official twitter account to citizens. Each week a different Swede gets to run @Sweden, the ‘world’s most democratic Twitter account’, showcasing the skills, opinions, lifestyles and experiences that make the country what it is. The initiative kicked off on December 10, 2011, with the first ‘curator’ being Jack Werner, a writer-editor. Since then, there have been five other faces of Sweden, ranging from an advertising executive and an organic sheep farmer to a coffee-loving lesbian trucker.
The project, christened ‘Curators of Sweden’, has as its rationale. By means of the various curators’ narrations, not one Sweden is conveyed, but several.
The objective: arouse interest and raise curiosity to drive tourism by highlighting Sweden’s qualities through the curators.
Sweden understood the importance of strong relations with the outside world. It hoped that its curators, through Twitter, will showcase the country in a light not usually seen in traditional media. Maddy Savage agreed in a piece for the BBC :
The Swedish Institute and VisitSweden launched the experiment in December as part of an attempt to give a more diverse insight into a nation perhaps best known for its meatballs, flat-pack furniture and crime novels. They argue that Sweden’s future prosperity depends on creating a more active exchange with other countries.
“No one owns the brand of Sweden more than its people. With this initiative we let them show their Sweden to the world,” says Thomas Brühl, CEO of VisitSweden
This insight comes from a study that said that, when it comes to travel decisions, the people of a country are as important a factor as everything else – weather, site-seeing, etc. Language is an important factor, too, which is why English speakers prefer visiting countries that speak the language. Sweden understood that communication is vital, which is why it chose a platform that would get people from other nations familiar with the country through its people.
People seem to identify better with brand Sweden after it tried to create a relationship with its followers by adding a human touch to its Twitter feed. Excerpts from a blog :
The project, an initiative of the Board for the Promotion of Sweden is definitely looking to market travel with the human element. Ask anyone who specializes in social media niche jackets– they will tell you that the more personal and human-like you can make your company’s social media accounts, the good. Sweden hopes that by giving people the chance to see the country through vastly different sets of eyes, they will inspire curiosity.
VisitSweden carefully chose its curators, making sure they represented the country’s values and skills, such as gay rights, fashion and innovation. The process was lengthy as it was essential to select the right curators. The conversations created by them would have a huge bearing on the perception of Sweden itself. Curators are nominated by the public. The nominator must send an e-mail to email@example.com, answering a set of questions about the nominee. If the answers and evidence justify the nomination, chances are that he/she will be selected as a curator.
The content posted is personal and bold. The Swedes who run the account face little censorship and don’t shy away from criticising the country.
Former curator, beekeeper Hasan Ramic, tweeted:
@sweden The current Swedish welfare system is a bad joke compared to what it once was
Hanna, a truck driver, criticised an archaic medical practice still alive in Sweden:
@sweden I do. I think it’s a disgrace that a civilized country is still doing that. #myownopinion
Almost all governments would be skeptical about allowing such criticism on their own platforms. That’s where the Swedish government comes across as truly open. Allowing curators to freely express their thoughts is what makes people believe that @Sweden is the world’s most democratic Twitter account. Take for example Ramic’s tweets on what it was like to grow up in Sweden as a Bosnian refugee from the Balkan wars of the 1990s:
@Sweden: When the war started in Bosnia, a part of the conflict was based on religion. We were Muslim, and forced to flee to Sweden.
@Sweden: In our fight to preserve our Bosnian Muslim identity we didn’t celebrate Christmas. It was a Christian tradition and not to be observed.
@Sweden: We still observe our traditional Muslim holidays, but it’s not about religion for us. It’s about the spirit.
Blogger Jeremy Stahl said this truly demonstrated Sweden’s democratic nature:
Thousands of immigrants from Bosnia fled to Sweden for its open asylum policies during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, but the nation continues to wrestle with immigration and assimilation. Yet in 2010, an anti-immigrant party gained a foothold in the country’s parliament for the first time. When the Swedish Tourism board says on its Curators of Sweden website that “Hasan Ramic is @Sweden” and gives him the opportunity to speak for his nation they are telling us a lot more about the country
Sweden could not have chosen a better time and. Several governments are discussing the possibility of moderating content on social networks, which has received tremendous flak.
Curators of Sweden, on the other hand, mostly received rave reviews for being uncensored, innovative, daring, personal and different. Observers applauded Sweden for taking a route that most countries would shun. The very fact that Sweden aimed to connect with its followers through its citizens made it a novel concept.
Blogger Chris Armstrong is a fan:
I tip my hat to Visit Sweden for being daring enough to go all the way and encourage a conversation between its citizens and the rest of the world. Whether it’s called a social experiment or a publicity stunt, I’m pretty sure it’ll do its job well in increasing awareness about Sweden and lead to more curious tourists.
However, there is a section that didn’t like the idea. Detractors felt that the lack of moderation deterred Sweden from creating a positive image for itself. No censorship meant that there was a barrage of abusive/offensive tweets and some promoting the curators’ personal ventures.
Listen up, folks! I’m @kwasbeb, a regular swedish dude, and I’m taking over this goddamned account for a week! Expect bad sex and slapstick.
Well, ok, I’ll swede the LOT of you: meat balls äre guud, änd naked girls make me sæy “jaa!”
Expat Swede Anna Dahlström launched a scathing attack on her blog , calling the initiative a ‘publicity stunt’ as there were many tweets not remotely concerning to Sweden.
For all the wonderful things Sweden has to offer I highly recommend visiting www.visitsweden.com, just not the twitter account, for now.
An insight picked up across the web was that there were several disgruntled followers who seemed to dislike the curators, and not the campaign itself. This was brought up by Tommy Sollen (Social Media Manager, VisitSweden) on the same blog in response to Anna’s attack:
Let me begin by saying that I’m very glad you’re recommending visitsweden.com and that you have been happy in the past with our Twitter account 🙂
Now about our new approach on @sweden on Twitter it seems to me that you like the idea but you don’t like our first curator, Jack.
Granted, he is an outspoken person and his way of writing is certainly very different from our previous more official tone of voice. But if we are to be transparent and genuine in our presence on Twitter and truly show the wide range of what we as a country and as a people have to offer then we have to let go of some measure of control and have some faith in our people.
In 2012 you’ll probably have 50+ new curators to get acquainted with and I’m sure you’ll like some of them, if not most 🙂
Media Culpa, a Swedish media and public relations blog agreed:
Now, what a brilliant idea to turn to the crowd and let ordinary Swedes share their views on Sweden. The only problem with letting go of control is that, well, you have little control. You see, there is one thing I’m not particulary impressed with in this campaign so far, and that is the actual tweeting.
The whole purpose of this activity is that the tweets should be linked to Sweden and create interest in Sweden. But I have a hard time seeing that tweets containing foul language, mentions of dreams of racist jokes or jokes about planning terrorist attacks on Twitter are what the Swedish Institute had in mind.
The jury is still out on whether this is a social experiment or a mere publicity stunt. What is not in doubt, however, is that @Sweden worked brilliantly to increase its follower count to almost 23,000 from about 8,000 in early December. The UK-Based Huffington Post summarised it in a sentence:
Of course it’s all a stunt to boost tourism, but as stunts to boost tourism go, you’ve got to admit it’s a pretty ingenious one.
Tourism boards around the world have found social media an effective way of communicating with their audiences. As Twitter matures as an information and sharing platform, people are becoming accustomed to seeing governments and tourism boards on it.Sweden’s campaign stood out, which led to other countries trying something different on social media. Australia and the US are already copying the idea, and it has been well received.
marcsettle marc blank-settle
Good point by @jackschofield: @sweden account being used really nicely. @england is all but dormant. @twitter – please free up dormant accts
Canada has also done something innovative with its most recent campaign that had the Calgary Philharmonic singing tweets submitted by the public. The Calgary board called on Calgarians on Twitter, asking how they stay warm in the winter. The tweets were curated and turned into a song.
There is little doubt that other countries will also soon use social media to drive innovative marketing campaigns. For now, Curators of Sweden sits atop the heap.
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