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01/19/2012 Sweden’s Social Experiment


For the last several weeks, the tourism and marketing arm of the Scandinavian country of Sweden has allowed various Swedish citizens to take over its Twitter account. Called “Curators of Sweden” The idea is:

“...that the curators, through their tweets, create interest and arouse curiosity for Sweden and the wide range the country has to offer. The expectation is that the curators will paint a picture of Sweden, different to that usually obtained through traditional media.”

The end goal, though unstated, is to attract more tourists to visit the country.

I’ve been following this experiment in social curation for a number of reasons. I’m always on the lookout for smart social marketing ideas. I also lived for many years in Sweden (and live with my half-Swedish family in Vermont). So I was very curious in how the curators would paint the picture of Sweden for the rest of us.

The first few weeks were disappointing. It seemed like @sweden started with a lot of check-ins at local bars and nightclubs, discussions about older American movies, and pictures of Sweden from the summer. There’s nothing wrong with those topics. What was missing, for me, was any sort of context.

I didn’t mind the bar hopping in Sweden (although I didn’t recognize any of the clubs from 15-20 years ago) but what I missed was any sort of description of the nightlife or the people in those places. There was no feel or texture. I liked the farmer tweeting from somewhere in the country but where was the story of what it was like to actually do that for a living in Sweden (did he get 5 weeks vacation, for example?). The discussion about watching American DVDs put me over the edge, though. How about talking about Swedish movies (yes, I’m biased, I used to work on them)?

More to the point, I wondered how any of those very topical tweets “painted a picture” or “aroused interest” for Sweden. They sounded just like very normal people from anywhere in the Western, industrialized world.

When a female Swedish priest took over, things started changing. She did a great job of describing different aspects and places in Sweden. Despite Twitter’s 140-character limitation, she allowed me to start recognizing places I’ve been, and imagine places I hadn’t been to. Leave it to a female Swedish priest. Everything about her set the bar high.

A Swedish female truck driver swiftly followed her. Another amazing opportunity, right? Again what followed lacked a story. I imagine that the truck driver gets to see more of the country of Sweden than 99% of Swedes. There’s very little of that here, yet. 

The big question for me is: Who curates the curators? We live in an era of citizen journalism and customer created content. The problem is that although we may be citizens, most of us are not journalists. Even though we are all customers, most of us have not developed our talents for content creation. 

Experiments and collaboration are great. But they need context. Social marketing will always trend to the banal and irrelevant without a story, structure or perspective to hold it together, and to hold our interest.

It’s as though social media has given rise to a corollary to Camus:

“I am, therefore I’m interesting.” Social has given us all a channel to prove it. But it still doesn’t make it true.

The biggest question is whether this campaign will increase tourism to Sweden or not. Based on the content to date, I would guess not. The uniqueness of the campaign, and even the publicity it generates, will probably not be enough to convince people, like Americans, to spend the big bucks to visit that beautiful country.

Marketing, social or not, needs to tell good stories. Perhaps the medium of Twitter is the culprit, limited as it is (sorry McLuhan). Perhaps Instagram was the way to go, since pictures always provide more context than words (although they’re not always better). I don’t really agree with either of those though.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of Curators of Sweden. I just wished the execution lived up to the idea.  Johannes Karlsson, head of PR and Social Media at Visit Sweden tells me to give this experiment time. I will. 

I hope that @sweden can develop into a great social story telling platform that gives people the flavor of one of my favorite countries in the world.

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