@Sweden goes rogue

Jack Blog

June 19th, 2012 By Jack Morton

A few weeks back I’d posted about “Brand USA’s” new campaign that featured a song by Roseanne Cash. You can read it here, but the jist of the commentary was that I felt that while the song and campaign pushed all the right buttons emotionally with me, I wasn’t the target. I also noted how the campaign glossed over all of the unpleasant aspects of US tourism policy – fingerprinting, aggressive border inspectors and the like that, anecdotally at least, have been keeping travelers from visiting the US. Curating a reality that may exist, but practically, doesn’t.

Then, about a week ago the New York Times posted an article about how Sweden had taken a democratic approach to its country brand, allowing one citizen a week to take over the country’s Twitter handle, @Sweden. That person represents Sweden for a week – and as the spokestweeter, for lack of a better term, rotates, so changes the topics and conversation. Each person can take on a topic important to them, as they tweet Sweden from their point of view.

That was (is) a great example of new realities of brand behavior, where your people – your users, your community – define what you stand for, and where control of the brand lies with them. It makes a lot of sense, in a way – @Sweden should speak for Swedes and Sweden, so why not have different citizen-volunteers take it over? And what better way to learn what Sweden stands for than through the voices of its own people?

I thought it was a brave move, handing over the reins like that – I couldn’t imagine the US government, or “BrandUSA”, giving control of its twitter account to anyone.

That’s probably because they’re terrified of exactly what happened to @Sweden the day that the New York Times ran its feature, when a new citizen-tweeter took over and promptly started making controversy. That story is noted here.

That’s unfortunate, and embarrassing for Sweden.  I certainly hope they don’t let the sheer ignorance of one ruin the entire experiment for everyone. I hope they’ll adapt, adjust, and continue – maybe with a better screening process for tweeters, maybe with some more firm guidelines for content.  But I hope the program continues. 

But it provides a country-scale lesson for brands:

Brands have to be comfortable with less control – and things like the Sweden tweeter will happen to your brand. How will you respond when they do?

A brand’s footprint and experience can’t be designed, scripted, and delivered as preciously as we’d like it to be.

Brand experiences live in the real world, have to survive contact with real people, and be able to evolve and react as they live:

Being perfect is impossible.  Being agile and aware is essential.