As marketers, we constantly debate about the importance of social media. Most people think social media is extremely important to engaging consumers, but nobody seems to have a grasp on how to measure the effectiveness of social media. Most important of all, very few marketers want to take the risk of losing control by empowering consumers to directly engage in an uncontrolled conversation.
But let's take a look at the recent example of Sweden. The Scandinavian countries are probably the most open-minded nations in the world at the moment and have been setting trends in many sectors. The Swedish government recently initiated an experiment with social media by entrusting the country's Twitter account to a new citizen every seven days. Any Swedish citizen can now be an ambassador of Sweden via @Sweden. From this experiment, it's obvious that there's no such thing as a typical Swede. The oldest @Sweden so far was 60 and the youngest was a teenager who lives with his parents and younger brother. One tweeter posted photographs of his Christmas moose hunt. Another used this Twitter account to criticize the foreign secretary. Another declared that she would like to be making love (as did another tweeter simultaneously). Another, a Muslim lawyer, discussed the ubiquity of the name Muhammed among immigrants.
The @Sweden program, known as Curators of Sweden, came about when the Swedish Institute and Visit Sweden, the government tourist agency, sought to develop a plan to present the country to the world on Twitter. Their ad agency Volontaire recommended this concept of handling the account in a progressive way and giving control of it to ordinary Swedes. What better way to demonstrate the country's brand values - being progressive, democratic and creative?" People who want to tweet in this program are not supposed to put their own names forward - they are nominated by others and then selected by a committee of three. The qualifications are that they have to be interesting, Twitter-literate and happy to post in English. Once chosen, the 'ambassadors' are told not to do anything criminal, not to label political opinions as their own, and not to make it sound like the entire Sweden feels that way.
The program has inspired similar projects in other places such as Ireland, New Zealand and the city of Leeds in England. Most of those who followed Sweden's example have been organized privately and without government involvement. Can we imagine what will happen if we have an @Canada Twitter account officially empowering every Canadian citizen to be an ambassador for their country? And what about leading Canadian brands giving consumers the power to tweet about their brands and products with minimal screening? It's all about taking risks and very few companies and organizations are willing to lose control by engaging in a conversation with consumers.
A recent survey of 400 business leaders by Queen's University School of Business indicated that Canadian managers have mixed feelings about the value of social media to their business, but they still intend to invest in it. Thirty-nine percent said they need to use social media - whether they want to or not. Almost the same number (35 percent) said they use it heavily because they see it as a good business tool. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (72 percent) said their company will invest the same amount, or more, in social media this year as it did in 2011.
But it's not just a matter of investment - it's all about the willingness to take risks and to truly engage in a conversation with consumers!