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.