The aftermath some 36 hours later: a lot of people working in media, PR, marketing and social media are competing in tearing the campaign apart. Here are a few examples:
Åsk Dabitch at Adland.tv, Stephanie Hauberman at Mashable, Jeremy Stahl at Slate.com, Catherine Traywick at Time.com, Adrian Chen at Gawker, Kristin Burnham at CIO.com, Molly McHugh at Digitaltrends.com
(To be fair, there is also more neutral – and I use that term loosely – coverage, like Adweek’s)
So, why is it a mistake, according to all these sources? The Sara Silverman-esque Tweets that Sonja posted, where she basically made fun of her own ignorance of
“Jewish” as a nationality, and “Jewish” as a religion ”Jewish” being both a cultural and religious identity (with ties to a specific geographical region) in a naive way. However, all of them are stuck on different levels of “Sonja is stupid/ignorant/racist, therefore the whole campaign is stupid/ignorant/racist” and they fail to see the bigger picture:
The @sweden account is about uncensored content curation. That in itself says a lot about the Swedish heritage of openness; in Sweden we have a principle that all documents from public offices are official unless there’s a clear need for secrecy. That means that I can go to the local tax office and find out the equivalent of social security number for anyone – because it’s a public record. That does not mean unmonitored (which is why I don’t understand Anna Dahlström’s post from December 2011 where she slams the project) or without guidelines. I ran the @sweden account in April, and to me the boundaries were clear in the same way they’re clear in what I can and can’t do at my work place.
The @sweden account is about using Twitter to raise awareness about Sweden. It’s part of a bigger mission that the Swedish Institute (SI) and Visit Sweden has, to get more people aware about Sweden and to increase the tourism. There are lots of initiatives here, like Visit Sweden’s web site, or the book Up North, Down To Earth (which also has an iPad edition). To me, Twitter is about conversation and digital media is about transparency. This campaign hits the sweet spot in both.
The @sweden account is cheap. It was invented as part of Volontaire’s ongoing engagement with Visit Sweden. Once it was started, it’s basically the administrative costs of the people working with the back-end. There are no costs for the actual channel and the curators tweet for free. This is an important factor when we start talking about success.
The @sweden account is rotating (location) curation. This means that the next person taking over the account will be compared to the former, but not be responsible for their mistakes or success. I was often compared to earlier curators, sometimes hearing that I’m better and sometimes hearing that I’m more boring or uninteresting. On a large scale people understood that my tweets were my own. Also, this means that whatever bump in the road that Sonja’s Jew tweets generated, will be gone by the time the next curator takes over.
So what is success in this case? It’s impossible to measure how many people become more aware of Sweden thanks to this particular campaign. It’s as hard to say if there are any more tourists thanks to the Twitter account, as it is to say if the iPad book brings more tourists. So what can we measure?
- Awareness: SI does surveys about the image of Sweden, and this becomes one piece of that puzzle. This is a long term measurement, I would say that it has to run for at least two years or more before SI’s surveys will show if this made a difference.
- Coverage in media (both traditional and digital): This is easily measured: how many news sources have written about @sweden? Maybe it’s because I follow @tommysollen, who is responsible for the @sweden campaign at Visit Sweden, but I’ve seen quite a few (and that’s BJT – before “the Jew tweets”). I’ve asked Tommy about numbers and will get them Monday June 18.
- The amount of followers and their engagement: having a lot of followers is worthless unless they’re engaged in your Tweets. That means they have to interact: retweet, reply or click on the links you tweet.
We can conclude that Sonja’s tweets caused a commotion and generated quite a few negative articles. But it also generated positive buzz: Stephen Colbert talked about @sweden on his show and announced a campaign to become the first non-Swedish curator of @sweden under the hash tag #artificialSwedener. Those who know Stephen Colberts sarcastic hyperbolic style, like his regular audience and his Twitter followers, understand that his coverage is positive.
And all in all, Sonjas tweets have had a huge impact on the follower base of @sweden. New York Times ran an article on Sunday about @Sweden’s twitter account (before Sonja took over). That increased the followers with some 5,000 to 33,000. But after Sonjas tweets – especially after Stephen Colbert talked about them on his show – the account increased another 10,000. That, and all the interaction the account got from influential accounts like @StephenAtHome increased @sweden’s scores on Klout, PeerIndex and Kred.
Here’s the graph for @sweden’s followers for the past week:
The scores on Klout, PeerIndex and Kred reflect this as well. These are at a temporary high because of much attention from influential accounts such as Stephen Colbert’s – and I’m not saying that these are a sign of success yet, but they show the impact that Sonja has had:
You can discuss the tastefulness of Sonja’s tweets. Some will not appreciate her humor, some will think she’s incredibly ignorant. But did Sonja overall damage the rotating location curation project @sweden, as many of the opponents state? No. Actually, she spread the word and made way for the next curator.
Here are my predictions:
Two months from now, @sweden will still have more than 42k followers. It will keep generating buzz in news sources, both positive, neutral and the occasional Sonja-esque incident. It will have a Klout score of 65-66 or higher, indicating that the followers are still interacting with the account to a high degree. (I cannot say anything about the Kred and PeerIndex scores as I did not note them before.). Combined with the low cost of running the account I would say that as a piece of a bigger campaign puzzle, this is huge success.
On a personal note:
People have asked me what I think of Sonja’s tweets. I would not have tweeted them that way. Partly because it’s not my style, partly because I understand the volatility of the subject. I think they reflect a quirky Sarah Silverman-esque sense of humor combined with a naivety that isn’t uncommon in Sweden, and they truly do show Sonja’s personality. You can read her tweets as evil, ignorant and/or funny. I’m sorry that so many people don’t abide by “assume good will”. I can see that the tweets were naive, and that flaw reveals a real person. Because real people have flaws (even Swedes). To me, it’s beautiful that there are campaigns that build on real people, not groomed, rehearsed and brainwashed fanboys and fangirls. Sonja is part of Sweden, and by standing up for her and allowing her to speak Visit Sweden and SI have proven that their dedication to this project is serious (that’s a big credibility win for the project as a whole) and made me like them even more.
(Also: A lot of work went into this. If you’ve read this far, and liked it, please consider sharing or linking this post. If you disagree, I’d love to hear why in the comments or at your own blog.)