“Biggest reach isn’t always the best choice”

The blogosphere is maturing, but blogs are far from dead. That’s the message of Joakim Nyström from Swedish agency Bloggbyrån. He has created a model for identifying driving forces in blogs and characterised 12 different types of blogs. We had a chat with him.

Hi Joakim. Tell our readers a bit about you.
I’m Joakim Nyström, developer and designer at Bloggbyrån, a Sweden-based digital PR agency. I’m also involved in the strategic work. We help our customers in making decisions on how to engage with social media.

A developer and designer that also works with strategy…
Hehe yes I have quite a broad background. When we started Bloggbyrån me and my fellow colleagues jointly developed the strategies for our first clients, and somehow I kept working with that. But since I also have the coding skills it would be a shame not use them right?! 🙂

With the name Bloggbyrån you emphasize your focus on the blogosphere. How is this reflected in your day-to-day work?
Well, we help companies to spread buzz about issues or products and to raise opinions. We do that by building long term relationships with bloggers. Basically, we are friends with bloggers – much more than most companies. Which is why they come to us when they want to connect with bloggers.

Bloggers can be a challenge to handle, since they usually are very outspoken and not shy on publishing criticism. How do you make sure you keep your good relations with them while helping your clients to reach their (commercial) goals?
By respecting bloggers and educating our clients on how to interact with bloggers and what to avoid. We teach companies on ethical and social rules that are consensus in the blogosphere. We are a bit like a friendly host at a party who introduces people to each other.

Do you get the impression that in 2012, most companies feel confident when dealing with social media?
It varies, but usually there are at least a few people within each organisation that have the required skills and experience.

Some people claim that blogs are dying. What’s your take on that?
The blogosphere is maturing rather than dying. Early on we saw an explosion of blogs because we didn’t have the big social networks to connect and interact. Nowadays, bloggers are more focused and more professional. They might publish less blog posts but when they do, they work harder with that content and their relations. The link recommendations and quick thoughts are being published via Facebook and Twitter. All the ideas and input from those channels is then being transformed into blog posts, often in a well thought-through way. Less quantity but more quality. I think that’s a great trend.

Are blogs underestimated?
Maybe. The good thing with blogs is that you can focus more on long tail content. Blog posts are more permanent than the content posted on social networks, and companies are realising that.

You came up with a model that you call „blog compass“. What’s up with that?
One of the biggest challenges for companies is to figure out which blog is useful in which situation. I tried to develop an abstract model to identify driving forces in blogs. I found three main forces where one is usually more dominant than the other two: awareness/fame, connectivity, niche. Furthermore, I characterised 12 different blog types. You can have a look at the blog compass here.

Would the blog compass have looked differently a few years ago?
There was less connectivity I guess, but now the networks have exploded and blogs and bloggers are using different platforms to connect with each other and with the audience. In the past there was more focus on awareness and niche.

Where would you put the big US tech blogs or The Huffington Post?
I would put them somewhere in between awareness and niche. They are more like educating blogs, more like business media or newspapers. Information that we can benefit from but which perhaps is not always the most entertaining to read.

How do you use the model internally?
We use it as part of our argumentation towards the clients about why we are turning to a specific blog or why we use a specific strategy. Biggest reach isn’t always the best choice. Better is to find a niche, to build better relationships and to find a more engaged crowd. It’s recommended to look at the different types of capital that can be gained during the interaction with blogs: awareness, social capital and knowledge capital. The blog compass helps to understand that and to figure out which blogs to approach.

Are there companies that you wouldn’t recommend to reach out to the blogosphere?
Yes, companies that have dirt to hide should first clean that up. We usually tell our clients that we can direct attention but we can’t take responsibility about how people react.

Tomas Wennström talks about the future of Sweden Social Web Camp

If you live in Sweden and work in the Internet or media sectory chances are high that you have heard about Sweden Social Web Camp – SSWC – a popular yearly gathering of social media enthusiasts (of course supported by Twingly) on and island in the archipelago of Blekinge, a landscape in the south of Sweden. Next year, the unconference will celebrate its fifth birthday. We asked Tomas Wennström, one of the two founders, a couple of questions about the background of SSWC and future plans.

Hi Tomas. What Is SSWC?
SSWC is an unconference started by me and my partner Kristin Heinonen back in 2009. The initial idea was to gather readers and listeners of our blog and podcast What’s Next at a country house, have some beers and discuss web trends. So we blogged about that plan. The amount of people announcing in the comments they’d like to join rose quickly, which made us realize that we would need to find a bigger venue. We finally chose the small island Tjäro in the archipelago of Blekinge, a landscape in the south of Sweden. During the first SSWC in 2009, 280 people showed up. Mostly those we knew in one way or another, or their friends.

Considering it’s a yearly event I assume organizing SSWC is not your full time job?
No not at all. It’s a hobby and just for fun. Kristin and I work with it in our spare time, with the help of many volunteers. My day job is to run the Swedish web startup vackertväder.se together with my brother, and I have been doing some other web projects before.

Next year, SSWC will celebrate its 5th birthday. How has the event changed since its beginning?
We have been careful with growing SSWC to not destroy the original charme. But of course, with 450 attendees in 2012, it was close to twice the size as in 2009. Furthermore, social media itself has become mainstream. Four years ago, the SSWC crowd felt a bit misunderstood and there was a slight “We against the world” vibe. Now, social media is accepted in society and business, and many people work within the field and earn money with it. That change of the industry is naturally reflected in the topics discussed at SSWC. That also has led to an increased awareness about SSWC in the media and business world. But I hope that the event still has the same feel of familiarity for the participants as in the first year, and our main goal is still for everybody to have a great time.

What are the biggest challenges with organizing SSWC?
Mainly the logistics. Since Tjärö is an island everyone needs to be brought there with the ferry. And there is only a limited number of beds available. Many of the attendees sleep in tents, which is not everyone’s prefered choice of accommodation. But this year we were able to increase the number of beds with big boats that people could sleep on, and the tourism company owning the island told us that increasing the number of SSWC participants would be logistically possible. The question is of course if we want to do that, considering that we really like to keep the special feel and intimacy.

Do you have plans to use the SSWC brand in other way’s than for the yearly summer event?
We have been discussing a winter event in Stockholm, since many of the attendees live there. But we haven’t made any decisions yet. And since we run the whole thing in our spare time and just became parents, the amount of work we can invest is limited. But in this regards, the unconference concept is perfect, because lots of the content is taken care of by the participants. Thankfully, we have great help with the installation of the Wifi network as well – as you can imagine, that’s a very important aspect for that kind of conference (you can read more about SSWC Wifi logistics in this Swedish article)

So far, SSWC has been mainly directed at the local Swedish social media crowd. Will you keep it that way?
Of course even social web enthusiast from abroad are welcome, and we usually have some attendees from the other Nordic countries. But true, since most of our communication and the talks and discussions are in Swedish, coming here without knowledge of the Swedish language might limit the SSWC experience for some, although I think even English speaking participants will get a lot out of SSWC. If there is a clear need, we could definitely have more talks in English.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being the inventor of SSWC?
To meet all the interesting people that are coming and to be able to provide a platform, a meeting place for the participants which they can fill with content and their creativity.

Tell us about a special SSWC moment that you definitely won’t forget.
There are of course many, but one particular was this year’s burning of a sheep on the last evening of SSWC – of course not a real one, but one made of wood built by the attendees. I had this idea as an analogy to what they do at Burning Man festival in the US, and two days later we set a collectively constructed wooden sheep on fire and sent it to the sea. This showed how creative people at SSWC are.

Burning a wooden sheep (photo by Tobias Bjorkgren)

Tickets usually sell out very quickly. What’s your advice to people who really want to attend?
Sign up for our email newsletter which notifies you when the tickets are released. And then it’s recommended to have your credit card in one hand and your mouse in the other, especially if you want to book housing. The beds are usually sold out in 3-4 minutes.

Do you think there will be a SSWC in 2020?
It’s not unlikely. We have by “accident” started an event that people love. So even if Kristin and I for some reason wouldn’t be able to organize it anymore, possibly somebody else would take over and continue. I’m not sure though if that name will remain forever. In 2020, “social web” will by then be a pretty old expression.

Interview with Sofia Mirjamsdotter about social media, #prataomdet and more

Every day millions of tweets discuss all kind of topics. But some aspects of people’s personal lives are still less visible in the public online debate. Sofia Mirjamsdotter is a well known Swedish journalist and blogger who helped to make people on Twitter talk about what they didn’t dare to talk about before: negative sexual experiences when boundaries were violated. We had a chat with Sofia.

Please tell our readers a bit about yourself, what your background is and what you do for a living?
I am a journalist, 40 years old and a mother of three. I’m also a web nerd who discovered the Internet in the mid 90s, when I started to hang out on forums and discussion boards. I began to blog in 2005. Three years later I launched a blog with the main focus on media, and that one later got an award. Right after that I quit my job and decided to make a living from public speaking and educating journalists, but also administrative authorities on Internet and social media. Today my income comes from both speaking and writing.

Photo by Pelle Sten (CC BY 2.0)

On your blog you mention that people sometimes get very angry at you. Why is that? Are you actively looking for trouble?
I try to create change and I use the tools that I have. I like to write, so I choose to publish my thoughts and opinions if I find them important and if I believe that I can make a difference. My goal is not to provoke, but to engage others on issues and to make them think about them.

What are the most discussed topics in the Swedish blogosphere and Twitter sphere?
Difficult question. I guess people discuss what’s on the news agenda, mostly. Politics, culture, sports, media and things like that. And there is also a huge group of teenagers who discuss fashion and stuff that doesn’t really interest me.

Would you say that bloggers in Sweden get well along and that they know how to debate controversial topics without starting to fight or to get offensive?
Yes! In general, absolutely! There is a feeling of unity and being one community, even across groups with different views on politics and society. Naturally you have permanent conflicts, and especially among the younger ones those can get very intense and hard to look at sometimes. But in the political blogosphere it is not uncommon that bloggers from different parties or from different sides of the political spectrum together stand up for important causes, like the freedom of the Internet or the fight against xenophobia and racism.

Last year you were chosen as the winner of a big Swedish journalism award together with Johanna Koljonen for the campaign #prataomdet. Can you tell us more about the background?
It started with a regular Twitter conversation. Johanna sparked a debate on Twitter about bad sexual experiences from when one was younger and which in retrospect might be considered an assault. During the conversation it became clear that many people find it hard to speak about that in public. But me and some others started to publish our experiences and all of a sudden the Swedish Twitter sphere exploded with personal accounts on negative sexual experiences and situations when boundaries were violated. All tweets included the hashtag #prataomdet (talk about it). The result was a website, a book, several appearances on tv and radio, lectures and even a stage play as well as public hearings where sex was discussed in public. Recently I met a guy who didn’t participate in #prataomdet but who had heard about it and who suddenly remembered an incident when he had sex with a girl who didn’t want to but didn’t protest enough. He called her several years later to apologize. That was great to hear!

Do you think it was pure luck that this topic became big after the initial Twitter conversation, or is it something that you think one could repeat with any other engaging topic if one pulls the right triggers?
I think it was luck. There was no plan to make this become a huge hype. Even though there might be some learnings here how to start a viral campaign on Twitter I think in the end it depends on people’s individual engagement, and that’s hard to predict. In this special case people simply had a big need to talk about that topic. The media attention we got afterwards was probably in part due to the fact that #prataomdet was the first “initiative” of its kind.

Do you think #prataomdet will have a permanent impact on how sensitive or tabooed topics are being discussed online?
Maybe. There were follow-ups like for example #homoriot where homesexual users talked about their experiences and the attacks they are confronted with. So maybe the answer is “yes”.

You said in the beginning that you are a web nerd. What will happen next in the digital world?
I can’t really answer that because I’m bad at predicting and I prefer to live in the here and now. The evolution of the digital world is progressing at such a fast pace – one year before Twitter nobody could imagine Twitter. So I guess what happens in the future is something we hardly are able to predict today.