Europe

Twitter feed gives Swedes a new picture

  • 14 January 2012
  • From the section Europe

An organic sheep farmer, a priest and a Bosnian immigrant are among those who have helped double Sweden's Twitter followers in the past month.

As part of what the country is calling "the world's most democratic Twitter experiment", a different Swede takes sole control of the nation's official Twitter account each week, sharing their daily experiences and opinions and recommending things to do and see where they live.

Adam Arnesson, 21, has been the biggest star of the project so far, tweeting photos and videos of the fluffy - and sometimes grumpy - lambs he tends to on his family's farm in a tiny village just outside Orebro, 160km (100 miles) from Stockholm.

He is also a part-time DJ, a student and claims he can hold his own in any tequila race.

"Many farmers don't get out that much," he says during a Skype interview just before a five-hour drive to lectures at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences near Uppsala.

"I wanted to show another picture of farming. Twitter gives you the chance to talk to people you never would have talked to otherwise and to make new friends. Some people have even been here to visit."

Tattoo tourism

The Swedish Institute and VisitSweden launched the experiment in December as part of an attempt to give a more diverse insight into a nation perhaps best known for its meatballs, flat-pack furniture and crime novels. They argue that Sweden's future prosperity depends on creating a more active exchange with other countries.

Since the project started, @sweden's follower count has shot up to almost 17,000 from about 8,000 in early December.

"It's been amazing," grins Malin Nyberg at VisitSweden's London office.

"The people that are tweeting are having a conversation with people all over the world. It's not just them sending out tweets saying 'Hey, Sweden is great!' or something like that."

A female minister in the Church of Sweden is the feed's latest "curator". Anna Froekenundrar has so far mixed biblical references with photos of a boat trip on the Baltic Sea and details about her love of pea soup.

Sweden is by no means struggling to attract tourists. Foreign visitors made almost 8 million overnight stays in 2010, up 28% from 2002. Stockholm in particular has gained from the success of Stieg Larsson's multimillion selling Millennium books, which are partly set in the city.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has just been made into a Hollywood movie, taking more than $107m (£70m) worldwide since its release in December. Fans are already flocking to Sweden to sign up for tours of the film's key locations.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo front cover
Stieg Larsson's books have given a boost to the Swedish tourist industry

But the country remains one of the most expensive places in the world and officials are aware that attracting new visitors and business is problematic at a time when much of Europe is struggling with rising living costs and high unemployment.

By using Twitter, VisitSweden says it has secured a more immediate way of engaging with people.

"It is quick to update and to share content. Anyone can follow the Curator of Sweden and the network's global reach means that the message can be received all over the world."

Democracy or publicity?

What is undoubtedly a clever publicity stunt does also appear to be the "democratic experiment" it claims to be. Tweets are not censored and are by no means all positive.

"The current Swedish welfare system is a bad joke compared to what it once was," tweeted Hasan Ramic when he took over the feed at the end of December. He is a Bosnian immigrant living in Hjulsta, a suburb of Stockholm.

"I see more black faces around here than white ones," says his profile on the Curators of Sweden website.

"I've become so used to this, that I find myself fidgeting when I'm moving in the more segregated, all white, places in the Swedish capital. I don't trust homogeneity. It strikes me as unnatural."

By day six, he tweeted: "This week, rewarding as it might have been, has resulted in some pent-up frustration that needs to be purged."

So, with each Twitter curator representing a particular profession or demographic, isn't VisitSweden worried that its project could just end up creating new stereotypes about the country?

"No I don't think there is a risk of that," insists Malin Nyberg.

"This is really showing just how many different kinds of people there are in Sweden. By doing this, people will get more interested and curious about Sweden.

"When things are not as you think they are, you get curious and you want to know more."

But with every new tweeter kept secret until the day they take over the @sweden account, those who are curious must also be patient.

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