As Twitter has matured as an information and sharing platform, brands and governments and public figures got hip to the micro-blog’s power and an unofficial code of Twitter conduct emerged: Make posts clever and personable; share useful information; promote but don’t over promote; listen to your followers; in the event of a PR calamity, take to Twitter immediately and honestly; and generally don’t say anything stupid. It all seems to make sense. Unless you’re Sweden.
The Swedish Institute and tourism body VisitSweden recently flouted traditional message-control convention and handed control of its official @Sweden Twitter account to its citizens via Curators of Sweden, an initiative designed to promote the country’s many voices.
Every week, someone in Sweden is invited to tweet for the @Sweden account. For seven days he or she shares opinions, third-party links, photos, and responds to comments in both English and Swedish. Content is wholly unregulated, as evidenced by posts from the feed’s first curator, Jack Werner, who has used the platform to get a little existential after comparing pizza and gaming to masturbating. If one thing’s clear, those Swedes really like their transparency, and their pizza.
The idea for what many would consider a PR nightmare was, to “paint a picture of Sweden, different to that usually obtained through traditional media,” says VisitSweden’s social media manager, Tommy Sollén, who says the hope for the initiative is that through their tweets, curators will “create interest and arouse curiosity for Sweden and the wide range the country has to offer.”
Working with creative agency Volontaire and web production company Oakwood, VisitSweden started by selecting interesting individuals from a variety of geographic, political, or religious backgrounds who were already active on Twitter. What they have in common, says Sollén, is that they have something to say and welcome debate and dialogue.
“The guest writers have been chosen because they represent values, skills, ideas and are passionate about a number of areas, ranging from gay rights issues, fashion, and design to innovation, that all combined makes up Sweden. While no single individual can represent everything that makes Sweden, we are confident that the guest writers combined and over time will accomplish this,” he says. Curators, in turn recommend someone they feel should be a future Curator of Sweden.
Creating transparency through Twitter, which is the purpose of Curators of Sweden, is not a new approach for VisitSweden, says Sollén. In November 2007, the organization launched CommunityOfSweden.com, “a website where real Swedes and foreign tourists can share photos and travel stories with each other without censorship.”
While response to this campaign has been largely positive, some vocal criticism points out the shortcomings of the approach. Expat Swede Anna Dahlström condemned the stunt on her blog for failing to promote Sweden in any positive way. VisitSweden.com, she says, had in the past served as a valuable and insightful tool for Swedes abroad as well as foreigners wishing to visit the country.
An information architect and user experience professional, Dahlström also takes issue with the stated transparency agenda. It’s here she points out the concept’s biggest flaw. Twitter’s infrastructure only supports one avatar at a time, meaning that when the keyboard is passed from one tweeting Swede to another, the avatar changes for the account’s entire history. So, when the second curator now at the controls–a mild-mannered Bosnian refugee who likes dancehall, shares stats about Swede’s love of coffee and asks, “how can I dazzle you?”–it appears as though Werner’s off-color comments are his. Likewise, his bout of TMI, fuelled by the excitement of the feed hitting 12,000 followers under his watch (“I got so nervous I had to take a crap… It’s all better now…”) will soon appear beside the photo of subsequent Curators of Sweden.
And, as Dahlström adds, “When you one day take back the account, if you do, it will look like you, the official body for marketing Sweden abroad, have tweeted all those things.”
With 50 guest tweeters lined up, and no real plans to take back their communications reins of the country, however, that day looks far off. Says Sollén: “This is the start. Why should it end? We don’t see this as a project or a campaign.” In the meantime, Sweden can relish its status as the first-ever Democratic Republic of Twitter.