Back in 2011, I honestly had no idea what this whole social media thing was all about. At the time, “social media” wasn’t even that developed, Instagram wasn’t even 5 years old, YouTube was for videographers only and TikTok didn’t even exist! For bloggers, social media was only there to promote their posts, not like it is today – the main platform through which digital influencers exert their, well… influence.
So, with that in mind, let me share with you a country that does a stellar job managing its global reputation, especially online: Sweden. The organization responsible is the Swedish Institute, self-described as “a public agency that promotes interest and trust in Sweden around the world.” They do great work year-round, through many marketing channels.
The below example wasn’t created by the Swedish Institute it was created for Visit Sweden, the Tourism arm of the country, but it’s indicative of the way Swedes approach this matter. In a special video they created, they leveraged IKEA’s global recognition to Sweden’s benefit, in a quirky, charming way, that appeals to so many values appreciated by the audiences they are trying to attract.
So, it won’t surprise you that Sweden was one of the first to have the confidence to allow Swedish people to “take over” the country’s official Twitter account, for almost a decade! It started in 2011 when a new Swede was handed over control of the content uploaded to the account every week, without giving them scripts or insisting on some kind of censorship. The goal was to show Sweden through the eyes of those who know it best – its citizens.
You must admit, that’s a pretty brave thing to do, right? I guess the Swedish Institute committee or the person who made this decision believed in their product too and allowed the message to be shared by others. A risky business indeed, which they discovered over time, as content creators became unhinged, which brought this effort to an end seven years later, in 2018.
But let’s be clear, what the Swedish Institute did at the time was brilliant and the right thing to do, on the right platform and under the social media parameters that existed at the time. Over the years, social media has become even more decentralized, with more and more platforms emerging, and people really stretching the limits of what’s appropriate to share and what’s not. By 2020, the U.S. Senate began to understand that some form of regulation needed to be considered to control what was going on in this virtual world, and we’ll likely see this regulation become a reality over the next decade, as the powers-that-be figure out what to do with this incredible, but also dangerous, platform of public opinion.
Back to Sweden, what’s great about social media takeovers is that it allows for diverse voices and points of view about a “product”. For a country, this is particularly important, as Millennials and Gen Z value diversity and inclusion; they do not want a singular, one-dimensional presentation of a product.
Over the years, 365 content curators participated in the @sweden takeover, resulting in over 200,000 tweets. According to the New York Times, “The messages, largely in English, have ranged from didactic to deeply personal, polite to racy. Along the way, @sweden has provoked heads of state, stirred controversy, got laughs, earned 147,000 followers, and even drew some imitators.”
Eventually, the Swedish Institute understood that letting go completely is risky business, and terminated the campaign, recognizing, rightly, that it was time to move on, bearing in mind the evolution of the Twitter platform in those 7 years. But I think they deserve kudos for being brave enough to establish a social media trend, and also to know when to stop it.
I expect they’ll continue to create trends with the various platforms now available, and I hope they do, because playing it safe doesn’t always cut it, certainly not if you want to create attention on social media. So, here’s to being brave with your marketing, whether your product is yourself, a commercial product, a company, or a place.
Written by Joanna Landau, Founder and CEO of Vibe Israel