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Curating the Swedish image

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Last year Visit Sweden teamed up with the Swedish Institute to launch a Twitter campaign called Curators of Sweden.

The aim was to present Sweden to the world via Twitter, in an attempt to democratise national speech, strengthen the nation’s image and hopefully increase tourism in the process. Sweden’s typical image is already associated with progressive, democratic and creative values. The Curators of Sweden campaign sought to further these by being ultra-progressive on Twitter.

Sweden handed control of its national Twitter channel over to a different ordinary Swede every week. Nominated by others, each Curator was then selected by a committee of three. The only qualifications were that Curators had to be interesting, capable of tweeting in English, and competent with Twitter. They were also give certain instructions; not to say anything criminal, and to label political opinions as personal and not speak on behalf of the whole country.

But adventurous Sweden got more than it bargained for.

The country discovered that 140 characters is plenty for saying something stupid, but not always enough to properly explain and/or apologise. This revelation was caused by 27-year-old Sonja Abrahamsson, who decided to hijack the Twitter spotlight for her own ends while taking her turn as an @Sweden curator.

As soon as she got control of the national Twitter feed, Sonja launched a series of negative tweets about Jews, unleashing a tirade of criticism from outraged Twitter users around the world. The unhappy respondents targeted both Sonja and Sweden in their angry tweets; which could have potentially been a PR disaster for Sweden’s image.

Sonja later tried to apologise. Then she said nothing more about her comments, nor the response they triggered. Sweden’s tourism board took a typically Swedish approach to the issue, maintaining the value of free speech and insisting that they would not censor the curators. Despite the unwise approach from this particular curator, Sweden reinforces its core brand values by refusing to censor her remarks. Nevertheless, tourism boards should be aware of the speed with which Twitter comments can spread globally, and perhaps are better off relying on trusted professionals to handle their official feeds. Depending on how risk-averse they are. After all, the image of the nation may be at stake.

Sweden has continued the Curators campaign to this day. A tweet only last week contained the gem of wisdom “beer bloating is the new black.” It’s a bold approach to tourism promotion and brand development. Curators has brought dramatic success for Sweden, not only growing the country’s Twitter followers from around 8,000 to over 66,500 at last count, but greatly increasing engagement with Swedish tourism. Obviously, the uncensored tweets haven’t put many people off. Media coverage has also been successful, with the Curators project bringing in around $40 million worth of promotion.

In the words of Visit Sweden’s US manager, Lotta Thiringer, the spirit of the project is ‘just as important as those numbers’. Thiringer said, “The campaign has proven to the world that Sweden is a truly open, authentic and innovative country. We get that message across by showing what Sweden is all about, instead of just saying it.”

Authentically living the brand is the best way for places to achieve lasting success.

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