Social media marketing in Sweden, how are we doing?

What’s working for us—and what not working?

And how did we end up where we are today and more importantly, how do we get out of it and back on the right track?

I believe that there are a lot of frustration out there at this point — and I think I have found some answers.

The Swedish Position (No, This Is Not About Sex)

Sweden has a couple of special circumstances in terms of social media marketing. Here’s a few:

  • High levels of user engagement
  • Extreme broadband penetration
  • Relatively few inhabitants
  • Proud engineering legacy
  • Early adoption culture
  • Early liberal press tradition
  • Socialistic cultural tendencies
  • The language works as a silo

The Piracy Movement’s Cultural Impact

All put together, it’s not a coincidence that the piracy movement grew strong in Sweden. People sharing information in various formats is part of a greater societal good and using police force to stop people from sharing with each other quickly results in a libertarian resistance towards totalitarian assaults on free speech, the right to free assembly and the notion that if you don’t want your product to be spread, don’t set it free.

The clash between the old and the new arises of course when movies and music suddenly becomes information instead of physical products. The new generation of Swedes see the spreading of such information as a favor to the company rather than as theft, as the copyright lobby would like to label it. It’s like creating physical knockoffs, but as exact replicas in detail and quality and then giving them away for free. The whole legal system goes tilt.

New Business Models On The Rise

In Sweden, the copyright lobby argued that we needed to save the old business models, the pirates argued that we needed new ones. The copyright lobby argued that culture will die, the pirates argued that the the free flow of information will make culture flourish. So far, the Swedish piracy movement has been right on both counts and we now see several Swedish brands with new types of business models making headway, like:

  • Spotify
  • Voddler
  • Headweb
  • Stardoll
  • Bambuser

We can see how traditional record labels are enabling the web to find business via everything from ringtones to online merchandize shopping, where the social web gives them an effective and relatively non-expensive way of reaching their target audience, and they’re beginning to accept this trade-off instead of fighting it. And as the piracy movement have argued all along, the new generations are willing to pay either to support their favorite brands, or to gain easy access to their cultural or information needs.

The New Consumers

The new consumers don’t want to pay for online information or social commodities, but they are willing to pay for elite access, for packaging and for community. In this evolution, we can find world-leading thinkers and thought leadership in Sweden, even if it suffers from being presented from an a technocratic perspective.

Equally inspiring is the on-going Swedish discourse on journalism in the digital era. It’s tougher in Sweden than in most parts of the world, partly due to the nation’s proud free press tradition, but also since it’s so difficult to reach the volumes needed on such a small and highly engaged online market. Each household are prepared to pay X SEK for staying up to date and for cultural consumption, but not very much more than that. And the journalistic product never managed to survive without advertising (which is also closely tied to volumes) or subsidizing even before the digital advent.

Where Marketing Took A Wrong Turn

So, if you can find cutting edge thinking, actions and discourse in Sweden when it comes to these aspects of the digital shift, things have taken a wrong turn in Sweden in terms of social media marketing. At one point in history, the nation had an opportunity to grab a leading position, but ended up placing the wrong bets. And here Sweden needs to play catch-up.

What happened was that Swedish marketing got the wrong idea about online influencers. Instead of taking their influence into account for establishing strategies, companies started to ask the online influencers about how to market themselves. As a comparison, if you’re a company in the financial sector, you wouldn’t necessarily ask the editors and the journalists of Financial Times how to run your business, right? You’d want their input for sure so that you better can cater to their needs, but you wouldn’t exactly hire them to do your PR strategy.

Just because you’re a skilled and influential niche publicist, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a kickass business strategist.

The Social Media Naturals

Most of those who proved to be skilled in social media interaction and publishing grew influential followings pretty quickly in the small and well-defined Swedish language silo. I’ve singled them out as social media naturals, simply because their talents gave them an amazing recognition ratio relative to their efforts. Internationally, a common term is “A-Listers”. In most cases, their personal strategies were pretty basic; they were transparent, they allowed for their human side to shine trough and they had a lot of fun engaging actively with their shiny new followings while praising this social revolution on the web.

Unfortunately, as these social media naturals started to give advice to Swedish companies, they did so based on their own success on the web, rather than strategic merit. These were – and unfortunately still are – standard advice:

  • Be out there all the time
  • Talk everywhere
  • Share everything
  • Don’t sell
  • Be awesome
  • Be remarkable

Why did Swedish companies get these pieces of advice? Well, they got them because they turned to social media naturals and the social media naturals merely explained what had worked for them. But no-one really seemed to care whether or not “conversation marketing” was the right focus for business in general to engage in.

What to do with these social media naturals, then? For one thing, you can hire them to manage your community, because they’ve proven to be effective and engaging communicators on the social web. They have a knack for that special tonality that seem to work. You can take their advice and listen to what they have to say about your products and services, even inviting them into the development process. Or give them pre-access and exclusivity on new information, allowing for them to stay ahead of the curve. But there really is no reason to ask them to put together your social media marketing strategy, because then you’ll more than often get something that boils down to “be awesome” and “engage in conversation”.

Killing The Conversation Marketing Paradigm

The Swedish “conversation marketing” paradigm, that also reigns to some extent in other markets as well, is somewhat difficult to defend. There are very few studies that show that the investments in people engaging in conversations – just to be a part of them – actually pays off, especially if you never cared to hire community managers with a proven track record of “awesomeness”. And how much do you see these arguable successful brands casually talking with poeple online?

  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Google

Not all that much talking, right? Still, these companies are leveraging the social web really well, simply by doing two main things:

  • Listening and analyzing online reactions in-depth
  • Building long-term communities by catering to existing needs

So my question to Swedish companies, is whether they are actively listening and implementing change on basis of social media intelligence, using the social web as the ultimate focus group? Are Swedish companies now ready to start leveraging long-term and measurable community management strategies for increasing both brand value as well as increasing the lifetime value of each and every customer?

I think so, but then again, I might just be one of those talking heads, a social media natural stuck on my own modest online success. I think I can help, but ultimately it’s your decision. The only things I can say is, be careful with whose advice you buy, make sense for business in all your digital endeavors and don’t give up on digital, it really is the future.

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@collentine
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Great post challenging some common concepts people think are true about SM.

Apple are heavy users of social media. Not in the “normal way” of creating a fb and twitter account and engaging in conversations but more on an indirect and strategical level. One example: creating an Itunes app to list ‘recent purchases and favorite artists’. They are also one of the creators of the evangelist concept, which is what a lot of companies try to achieve with being on social media. Creating evangelists starts on a much higher strategic level than a FB/Twitter account though…

I did some research interviews in 2009 with a few companies about their ‘organizational learning through feedback from social media’ and one of the things the companies admitted was mostly just experimenting and letting people with a passion for it run the social media for the company. Experimentation is a start but a much slower progress than having a qualified strategic plan before.

Companies need to get over thinking about social media as a numbers game, instead of looking for what they are trying to accomplish with their use, before we can see some real progress. I can easily get a company 500 followers instantly but where’s the point if there’s no quality to those? http://collentine.com/gain-500-followers-on-twitter-instantly-quantity-or-quality

@collentine
Guest

Great post challenging some common concepts people think are true about SM.

Apple are heavy users of social media. Not in the “normal way” of creating a fb and twitter account and engaging in conversations but more on an indirect and strategical level. One example: creating an Itunes app to list ‘recent purchases and favorite artists’. They are also one of the creators of the evangelist concept, which is what a lot of companies try to achieve with being on social media. Creating evangelists starts on a much higher strategic level than a FB/Twitter account though…

I did some research interviews in 2009 with a few companies about their ‘organizational learning through feedback from social media’ and one of the things the companies admitted was mostly just experimenting and letting people with a passion for it run the social media for the company. Experimentation is a start but a much slower progress than having a qualified strategic plan before.

Companies need to get over thinking about social media as a numbers game, instead of looking for what they are trying to accomplish with their use, before we can see some real progress. I can easily get a company 500 followers instantly but where’s the point if there’s no quality to those? http://collentine.com/gain-500-followers-on-twitter-instantly-quantity-or-quality

Mattias Östmar
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Mattias Östmar

A very thought-provoking post Jerry! Intuitively I believe you are spot on regarding not mistaking the ability to attract (usually comparatively small) following and attention with a knack for monetarization. From where I look it seems that the social media naturals that have business results to show are only adding personal attentionalistic skills to existing business insights they already have attained from working in e.g. the media industry as journalists or consultants in IT or whatever. The advice they might give from that position is how such digital networking skills can empower individuals within those industries – not necessarily improve business strategies or tactics for the entire organisation.

When it comes to your examples with Apple, Google and Facebook I believe their strenghts are, just as Nils seems to be pointing out, the disruptive innovation they accomplish by NOT listening to current market opinions or reactions. However, If we put the emphasis on listening in-depth instead I believe it gets really interesting. When you fetch signals of what people value, not just what they think about product X or Y, you can gain strategic insight into the direction of your product development – and maybe even have the guts to choose a disruptive innovative approach like Apple, Facebook and Google. Or at least choose a sustaining innovative approach that get them darn batteries to last a little longer or whatever people are unhappy about. ;-)

nilsholmlov
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nilsholmlov

OK, I think I understand your argument a bit better now.

I do believe in ‘conversation marketing’, but to me that means encouraging your customers to talk _about_ you, not necessarily talking _to_ you. Getting people to talk about you is difficult of course. I don’t know how many different companies I buy products or services from on a regular basis, but it’s a lot. I can’t say that I talk about more than a handful of them …

“Be awesome” is certainly not a strategy, and I’m not even sure it qualifies as advice. It’s a bit like telling someone who wants to be the worlds fastest on 100 meters that “you have to run really fast”. Really!?

Thanks for a great post that got me thinking, and for a good conversation.

Mattias Östmar
Guest
Mattias Östmar

A very thought-provoking post Jerry! Intuitively I believe you are spot on regarding not mistaking the ability to attract (usually comparatively small) following and attention with a knack for monetarization. From where I look it seems that the social media naturals that have business results to show are only adding personal attentionalistic skills to existing business insights they already have attained from working in e.g. the media industry as journalists or consultants in IT or whatever. The advice they might give from that position is how such digital networking skills can empower individuals within those industries – not necessarily improve business strategies or tactics for the entire organisation.

When it comes to your examples with Apple, Google and Facebook I believe their strenghts are, just as Nils seems to be pointing out, the disruptive innovation they accomplish by NOT listening to current market opinions or reactions. However, If we put the emphasis on listening in-depth instead I believe it gets really interesting. When you fetch signals of what people value, not just what they think about product X or Y, you can gain strategic insight into the direction of your product development – and maybe even have the guts to choose a disruptive innovative approach like Apple, Facebook and Google. Or at least choose a sustaining innovative approach that get them darn batteries to last a little longer or whatever people are unhappy about. ;-)

nilsholmlov
Guest
nilsholmlov

Very interesting post. I have a couple of questions or challenges if you will:

I’ve been following Apple since the mid 90’s, and one thing Apple is famous for is that it doesn’t use marketing research or focus groups of any kind to design their products. Jobs’ used to like quoting Henry Ford: If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’. Other quotes by Jobs include “Customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. I honestly can’t see I’ve ever seen any sign that Apple uses what’s being said in social media  in their product development or strategy.

To some degree I think the same argument can be made for Facebook as well – Facebook would not be what it is today if they had listened to the feedback of their users. On the contrary, users have hated almost every change Facebook has ever introduced.

Google does seem to listen a bit more to feedback, especially with Google+. Whether that will help remains to be seen.

What these companies do have in common though is that they are very clear about their vision. Personally I believe that explains more about their success in social media (and elsewhere).

Another question – you challenge the conversation marketing paradigm. That flies in the face of conventional SoMe wisdom not only in Sweden but most everywhere I’d say. Could you elaborate on why you think that doesn’t work beyond that the fact that there are few studies that support it? I’m not saying you are wrong, bu the studies could simply be measuring the wrong things after all…

Again, excellent post.

nilsholmlov
Guest
nilsholmlov

Very interesting post. I have a couple of questions or challenges if you will:

I’ve been following Apple since the mid 90’s, and one thing Apple is famous for is that it doesn’t use marketing research or focus groups of any kind to design their products. Jobs’ used to like quoting Henry Ford: If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’. Other quotes by Jobs include “Customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. I honestly can’t see I’ve ever seen any sign that Apple uses what’s being said in social media  in their product development or strategy.

To some degree I think the same argument can be made for Facebook as well – Facebook would not be what it is today if they had listened to the feedback of their users. On the contrary, users have hated almost every change Facebook has ever introduced.

Google does seem to listen a bit more to feedback, especially with Google+. Whether that will help remains to be seen.

What these companies do have in common though is that they are very clear about their vision. Personally I believe that explains more about their success in social media (and elsewhere).

Another question – you challenge the conversation marketing paradigm. That flies in the face of conventional SoMe wisdom not only in Sweden but most everywhere I’d say. Could you elaborate on why you think that doesn’t work beyond that the fact that there are few studies that support it? I’m not saying you are wrong, bu the studies could simply be measuring the wrong things after all…

Again, excellent post.