“We tell the story of Sweden to our international audiences”

How can one present the story about Sweden as a country? Who is actually interested, and what do they want to know? Lena Allerstam is the head of the Global Communication unit at SI and is responsible for Sweden's official websites and social media channels with over 3 million followers. The unit aims to generate interest and trust in Sweden and maintains an ongoing dialogue with people from all corners of the world.

What do you know about your followers?

– We strive to reach a relatively young international audience, with the majority being up to 35 years old. Arabic-language channels have the most followers in the Middle East and North Africa, while the Russian channels have followers in Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, and Ukraine, as well as in other countries with Russian speakers. In English, we have followers from around the world, including the USA, India, Nigeria, and Germany.

How do you decide what stories to share?

– We work editorially with three topic groups within the prioritized themes of trade, sustainability and innovation, society and culture. We have editorial meetings where we collectively review what’s happening around us and keep an eye on global trends. Sometimes we receive tips from colleagues at SI working on other initiatives related to our focus areas, and who, in turn, have contacts throughout Sweden. We follow an annual plan that includes both international and specifically Swedish significant days and events, such as International Women’s Day or for Swedish minorities. Swedish seasons and traditions usually interest our followers as well.

How do you generate interest in a small country far up in the north?

– There’s so much to tell about Sweden, and there’s a great interest even though it’s a small country. Sweden stands out in several ways; the concept of ‘lagom’ probably only exists in Sweden. We can share innovations that people may not know are Swedish but make a difference in their daily lives worldwide. We communicate societal solutions and equality, and culture and sustainable design also attract interest. Many are interested in what it’s like to live and reside in Sweden. To be relevant, we must understand our target audience, their context, and what matters in their countries. It’s challenging, but we have very skilled employees with knowledge about both Sweden and the followers’ regions. This knowledge is essential to connect. You cannot shout from the inside out, then you are just a transmitter and risk becoming uninteresting.

Do you differentiate the content depending on which language you work in?

– Most posts are published in all languages, but the tone, choice of images, and text can vary. To reach our followers, we need to understand the context in which they live. There are topics perceived as provocative among some followers in our Russian and Arabic channels. This doesn’t mean we don’t publish, but we adapt the tone.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

– The media landscape has changed, and a significant challenge over the past two years has been managing influence campaigns against Sweden. It’s a massive challenge when disinformation spreads, and things escalate rapidly when something is shared on social media, gaining exponential reach. We’ve handled nearly 200,000 comments this year. In the Arabic channels, an overwhelming majority has been about Quran burnings and the influence campaign against social services.

Can digital communication contribute to increased understanding?

– Yes, that’s the flip side, the positive side. Digital communication and social media build relationships; there’s always a person on the other side of the screen that we can reach, someone who wonders, asks, or reacts. (Well, trolls do appear occasionally, but they’re relatively easy to spot and handle.) We invest a lot in  ‘community management,’ managing comment sections, which is quite unique: a country responding as a ‘friend’ on social media. Besides communicating a broad image of Sweden, we can contribute to building resilience against disinformation by answering followers’ questions, sharing facts, and linking to other authorities.