31 of the past 44 curators of the @sweden Twitter account met at a central Stockholm harbour on Friday afternoon, many meeting for the first time offline, then headed off onto the waters of Stockholm’s archipelago for a “next-step” workshop at an art museum.
The purpose of the event was to provide a chance for the curators to meet, but also for the organizers to learn from the curators’ experiences in the hopes of moving forward.
“We’re giving them the opportunity to share what they know and what they have picked up from the experience,” said Frida Roberts, head of communications at the Swedish Institute (SI) which co-runs the account with Visit Sweden and PR-agency Volontaire.
“These guys are the only people in the world who know what it takes to manage the @sweden account, and I think there’s a lot of courage in that. These are some gutsy people.”
Gutsy indeed. The weekly curator has the responsibility of showcasing Sweden to followers in over 120 countries, totaling over 65,000 people.
The substantial follower count is in no small part due to Sonja Abrahamsson, better known to some as @hejsonja, the woman who took on US television personality and comedian Stephen Colbert when he demanded control of the account in his “ArtificialSwedener” campaign.
With the follower figure growing from 33,000 to 62,000 during her week as @sweden, Abrahamsson was proud that the account wasn’t handed to the comedian after her week in charge.
“I’m very glad that Colbert didn’t get to be @sweden,” she said, to murmurs of agreement from other curators nearby.
“He was making bad jokes about Sweden, and there was nothing clever about his approach. He was just using all the normal stereotypes.”
Abrahamsson jumped to the attention of Colbert when she used the account to ponder “whats the fuzz with jews” followed by her musings on the Jewish community, her breasts, and a series of unusual food descriptions.
But being plastered across US television for several nights has done little to change her life back in Sweden.
“I don’t feel like any kind of celebrity. Life goes on as normal,” she said.
Normal, plus an additional 6,000 followers on her own private Twitter account.
Meanwhile, for those interested in curating the account, the secret is to simply be yourself, according to Tommy Sollén, the Social Media Manager at Visit Sweden and panel member in the decision process.
“We look for individuals who are passionate. This is a long-term initiative, and while some weeks it may look as if someone is being too specific about a subject, we actually really welcome that,” he said.
“You have to see the broader picture, and it all comes together to give a very wide and varied account of Sweden.”
While it’s hard to determine whether the “passions” of the curators’ offline personas matches their online habits, one thing is for sure – the curators see themselves as very Swedish indeed.
When asked to pose for a “fun” group picture of all 31 curators together, one yelled back “We’re Swedish, we don’t have fun!” to a cheer from the crowd.
Among that crowd was the first person who took the helm, Jack Werner, a writer who made headlines worldwide for mentioning his masturbation habits.
“I think I was only given the account because they wanted someone to make a fool of themselves, and they knew I would,” Werner chuckled.
Responding to a question about how to survive the Swedish cold, Werner had tweeted:
“I guess I’m drinking a lot of coffee, lighting my face up with my laptop and hanging out w friends. Oh and, you know, masturbation.”
“That tweet was a one-off, but it was funny and that’s the most important thing. I still hear about it today,” he said.
However, Werner doesn’t believe the idea of the account being democratic isn’t completely accurate.
“It’s not truly a fair representation of Sweden; it’s only a fair representation about vocal and active Tweeters. Wait until the firestorm that will come when someone starts tweeting about something like immigration – that’ll be the real test.”
Conversely, Joakim Jardenberg, or @Jocke, a self-proclaimed “business angel” and tech expert, had the experience of his own spell as @sweden being shaped by a major news event in Sweden.
“I actually planned to tweet a lot about IT and wanted to promote great Swedish inventions like Spotify and Skype, but then Princess Estelle was born, and that all went overboard,” he said.
“I tweeted a lot about that little baby, and it was great to get the responses from a very different set of followers than I have on my normal account.”
But besides Estelle, Jardenberg also took the chance to let readers dictate his live video blogging through Stockholm.
“The whole idea behind the account is brilliant; it’s the ultimate example of democracy. The fact that the organizers made a stand against Stephen Colbert proved that it’s no publicity stunt either. We’re here to prove something and we have the courage to do it.”
Meanwhile, this week’s curator, Christian Bruun, is enjoying his turn behind the wheel and hopes to turn up the heat before his time comes to an end on Sunday.
“I’ve been having a great deal of fun and the interaction is excellent, but there are strict rules that are tough to follow. I wish I could be more vulgar for example, that can be really funny,” he said.
“But there’s still three days left, so I have plenty of time. With this account, you never know exactly what to expect.”
Following the workshop, a live web chat hosted via Bambuser is scheduled for 5.45pm, where people can pose questions to the team and the curators and learn more about the initiative.