Earlier this year, DCI profiled Visit Sweden’s innovative Twitter campaign, Curators of Sweden, which has given various Swedish citizens control over their official Twitter handle: @sweden. This approach offered a fresh way to learn more about the destination from those who live in Sweden and encourage a deeper connection between the potential visitor and the country.
@Sweden has grown in followers from 5,000 to almost 33,000 since the campaign launched. It’s been regaled for its innovative approach by the New York Times and won a Social Media in Travel + Tourism Award (SMITTY) from Travel + Leisure for “Best Use of a Social Media Platform” by a global brand.
However, this week the new curator on the account, Sonja, a 27 year-old from the North of Sweden, has shocked followers by tweeting about Nazis and, in some cases going as far as sexual sadism. Her tweets have caused an uproar, with bloggers from AdWeek, Slate and Mashable writing pieces showcasing the audacious tweets and calling into question the very campaign itself.
A response from Visit Sweden was shared yesterday afternoon on WSJ.com, quoting Tim Sollen, Social Media Manager at VisitSweden saying, “It’s very important for us to let everyone take a unique viewpoint. Every one of our curators is there with a different perspective.”
Swedes frown on censorship, Mr. Sollén noted, and to selectively delete posts or ban a particular participant could be viewed as blatant censorship. “You cannot look at any specific tweet, you can only judge a curator on the whole week…How else are you going to show the multi-faceted people that Sweden is composed of?”
All of the events of the past few days beg the question, how could this campaign have stayed on track and continued to be heralded for its unique and first-of-its-kind qualities?
As destination marketers and tourism public relations professionals, we know brand reputations can be the strongest influencer in landing a destination on the North American traveler “hit list”. While it is clear that Sweden is “standing by their man,” DCI’s recommends utilizing the following simple protocol when selecting local citizens to speak on behalf of your destination brand:
- Select Ambassadors Who Align With Your Brand: While the person chosen to have control of the Twitter handle will still have the freedom to speak uncensored, it’s important that their commentary align with your brand messaging. This will ensure that consumers remain informed without becoming confused. Part of the process is reviewing the ambassador’s personal Tweets over the course of a three-month period to ensure that their voice complements your brand.
- Establish Detailed Guidelines: Having specific guidelines that you share with the ambassadors, as well as the general public, will ensure that your ambassador stays on message as they share their personal insights. The more consistent your brand messaging is, the more likely a destination is to break through the clutter and influence consumers to select your destination as their vacation destination of choice.
- Prepare for the Best and Anticipate the Worst: Even the best laid plans can go awry. When allowing ambassadors to control your brand messaging, you risk damaging your destination’s reputation should your guidelines not be headed. To mitigate the side-effects of a brand ambassador gone rouge, prepare a course of action that allows you to regain consumer confidence quickly in the digital space.
The American traveler, by nature of our diverse demographics, is highly aware of social commentary. Will a single off-brand travel blogger influence an entire target audiences’ perspective of Sweden? Or will Sweden, like Time magazine, by the sheer audacity of the commentary, breakthrough the destination marketing clutter and convince more Americans to travel to Sweden. Only time will tell.