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This strange but successful campaign challenges traditional wisdom about how to promote a tourist destination.
Many travel destinations’ official social media accounts are relatively staid, sticking mainly to describing tourist attractions or industry news. Understandably, their directors would prefer to earn a boring reputation than risk a scandal.
Not so for Sweden. That country’s official twitter account, @Sweden, is controlled by the people — literally. A different Swedish citizen takes the helm each week, with participants including some lively characters from the very start. The first tweeter, a writer from Stockholm, was very candid:
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.
— @sweden / Jeppe (@sweden) December 10, 2011
Sonja Abrahamsson, a “27-year old womanlike human being from northern Sweden,” tweeted about Hitler and dolphins:
Before WW2 Hitler was one of the most beautiful names in the whole wide world. I know. Its as chocking as dolphin rapists.
— @sweden / Jeppe (@sweden) June 11, 2012
A priest explained the religious situation in Sweden through her own experiences:
But, in some regions of Sweden it’s harder than in others to be female priest. Also, as for women in general, we have to be way “better” >
— @sweden / Jeppe (@sweden) January 13, 2012
And last week’s poster opined that, “Beer bloating is the new black.”
This may not sound much like tourism promotion, but Swedish officials say that’s exactly what it’s been.
The project, a collaboration between VisitSweden, the country’s official tourism department and the public agency Swedish Institute, is called “Curators of Sweden,” and was primarily considered a “nation-branding campaign,” according to VisitSweden’s U.S. manager Lotta Thiringer.
But for a country like Sweden, branding is as good as equivalent to tourism promotion. “As in any kind of marketing, the overall brand and image is a prerequisite for successful destination marketing,” Thiringer said.
And for Sweden, that brand is defined by democratic principles, freedom, innovation and a bit of quirk — all things clearly communicated by an uncensored, citizen-controlled official Twitter account.
“Instead of using Twitter as a channel for controlled marketing messages, we invited citizens to share their view of Sweden and showed that there is no one image of Sweden but a mosaic of different, uncensored, views,” Thiringer said.
Over the course of this project, @Sweden’s Twitter ranks have grown from 8,000 to about 66,500 followers, and each tweet is now retweeted an average of 4.5 times.
Not only did the campaign achieve major audience engagement, but much of that engagement was specific to its tourism-related content — tweets about tourism or tourist attractions consistently netted more retweets and followers, according to VisitSweden.
Plus, the group says, the media coverage of its project alone earned Sweden an estimated $40 million worth of promotion.
But just as important as those numbers is the spirit of the project, Thiringer said. “The campaign has proven to the world that Sweden is a truly open, authentic and innovative country,” she said. “We get that message across by showing what Sweden is all about, instead of just saying it.”