The Swedish tourist board has been in the news this week for opening up their Twitter account to Swedish citizens.  They're handing over the account to a fresh Swede each week, giving them free rein to say and do whatever they want.  They believe that letting the Swedish people represent their nation on Twitter will do a much better job of portraying the country than the official tourism agency ever could.

So far it's been a great success.  I spoke with Jack Wermer, the first Swede to have the account, about his week earlier today and he was overjoyed by the kindness and interest shown in both the account and Sweden from around the world.

Here's the thing though, how many companies would feel happy doing such a thing?

I still believe that in many companies social media is seen as something that is either a complete waste of time, or something that should be feared due to the possibility of saying the wrong thing.  In many the best they do is hand over social media to the marketing team and leave it at that.  Very few truely embrace social media to become social organisations.

I'll overlook that for a second however because I want this post to focus on using social media for just those traditional means.  I'm talking about reaching out to customers and other stakeholders via social media, but I'm going to talk about doing it better and in a more social way.  For you see if this responsibility is stuck with the marketing team or the PR team it can become very sanitized and boring.  Many companies now talk about their employees as their greatest asset.  With social media now you have the chance to prove it.

@sweden did just that.  They knew that their citizens are the best advert for their country, so they used social media to turn them into ambassadors for their nation.

“No one owns the brand of Sweden more than its people. With this initiative we let them show their Sweden to the world,” says Thomas Brühl, CEO of VisitSweden

Turning employees into ambassadors

It's just the same for you and your employees.  Your brand doesn't exist in a silo deep within the marketing team.  Your brand is your people.  They're the ones that deliver great customer service.  They're the ones that build great products.  They are your brand.  Here are a few steps you can take to follow the @sweden approach and turn your people into brand ambassadors for your organisation.

  1. Identify your brand ambassadors – How many of your employees have a real passion for what you do?  You're looking for people here that are already using social media to talk about the kind of things you do.  They might tweet about it, blog about it, share photos or videos about it.  It's much harder to generate excitement than it is to tap into what already exists.  You want to find people that tick all of these boxes:
    - They love what you do
    - They have strong networks to tap into
    - They trust you, and you trust them to behave well
  2. Be selective – Once you have a group of people that are already excited about what you do it's time to whittle them down to a select group.  After all, not all of them will have suitable social media profiles for you to be driving customers to.  You want to find people whose profile is:
    - clean
    - professional
    - polite
    These could be from your communications or senior management team, but they could also be people with strong technical knowledge.  Remember that passion and love of social media is as important as status though.
  3. Give them guidance – This shouldn't be too prescriptive but they should know what you expect from them.  I personally like the Zappos social media policy
    "Be real and use your best judgement."
    The reality is however that this stage will depend largely on the culture of your own organisation.  Take a look at your company's culture, and use that to inform your social media policy.
  4. Give them content – You'll need to give people great content to share.  To do this internal communication needs to be excellent so that your ambassadors know what is happening.  They're a key audience so give them access first so they know what exceptional things are going on in their organisation.
  5. Measure – Finally, you have to measure how you're doing, whether people are subscribing, whether they're clicking through and interacting with the content your ambassadors are putting out.  So make sure you measure progress and tweek things accordingly.  There isn't a one size fits all strategy for this so experimentation will be required.

The @sweden idea is a great example of how companies, and in this case entire nations, are opening up.  The social cat is very much out of the bag and people will expect you to be more open with it.