What your company can learn from Sweden Social Web Camp

OK, this will be a long post so bare with me. The topic for today is marketing.

And customer service.

And R&D.

Oh, and also some words about recruiting.

What the heck, it’s actually about the future of business. Period.

I told you it will be a long post…

But let’s start at the beginning. First let me explain what Sweden Social Web Camp (SSWC) is.

SSWC is an “unconference” taking place in August on an island in the Blekinge archipelago in Sweden. Blekinge is sometimes called the appendix of Sweden – as in a small place no one really knows what it’s good for – but if there’s one thing that’s great about Blekinge it’s the archipelago. It’s beautiful, especially in the summer time.

The theme of the conference is (unsurprisingly) the social web in different flavours and contexts.

This year, the second year of SSWC, roughly 400 people participated in the unconference on the tiny island of Tjärö. Most of them were camping – as in tents – while sheep and other creatures roamed the island. (Hey, it’s a camp, isn’t it?)


Camping. No sheep. Photo by Gitta Wilén.

There are no big names on the speaker list (in fact, there’s no speaker list at all – there’s not even a schedule!) and it all takes place during a weekend. So, what brings 400 entrepreneurs, journalists, PR-people, bloggers and hackers to a small island somewhere between Nowhere and Faraway to spend a weekend sleeping in a tent?

The answer to this question holds the key to what business will be like in the 21st century.

Exciting, huh? Before we go on please take a moment to read my blog post from last years SSWC. That will explain a little more details on how an unconference actually works.

No, seriously, read it.

OK, so now you understand that an unconference is all about participation. The organizers of the unconference only set the stage, it’s the participants that creates the play as they are there. They become both the speakers and the audience and in many cases the line is blurred as a speech turns in to a conversation.

The interesting consequence of this is that the value for the participants is higher than it would be if they only came to listen to a Big Name Speaker sharing her knowledge while at the same time the monetary cost is lower since Big Name Speakers are expensive.

How can the value be higher? At a traditional knowledge conference with Big Speakers there can be hundreds or thousands of people with overlapping interests, skill sets, insights, experiences. They all share a common interest, otherwise they wouldn’t be there – and yet there is no way for them to pool each others knowledge base. They all come to passively listen to one or a few heavy weighters in knowledge – but the sum total of untapped knowledge in the room far surpasses the knowledge of even the best speaker.

An unconference acknowledges this fact and builds the entire meeting around it with the goal to maximise interconnections between participants.

So now you have two different models.

1. A (traditional) knowledge conference that tries to maximize value through the knowledge radiated from the stages. Keywords are: broadcast, authoritative, passive, expensive (the best speakers are the most expensive),

2. A participatory (un)conference that tries to maximize value by leveraging interconnections in the crowd. Keywords are: conversation, open, active and low cost (blocking people out with a high price can even lower the value for the participants).

When something can create higher value at a lower price compared to what came before that’s a sure sign of disruption happening.

And that is why you need to learn from SSWC.

Because you can do participatory marketing. It’s called social media.

Because you can do participatory R&D. It’s called open source. And open innovation.

Because you can do participatory customer service. It’s called a community.

This all means higher value, lower price – if done right. Disruption, remember? And if you can do all that, so can your competitors.

Now you must ask yourself one question. A very important question. Namely this one:

Do you want to be the only one in your business executing your strategy with something that provides lower value at a higher price?

Do you think you will survive if you do that? Seriously?

Now, you may argue that in some markets broadcast, authoritative, passive and expensive actually works – and yes, you may be right. Some parts of your business may not be affected by competitors that are open, participatory, agile and costs less. But some parts of your business will be affected. And, here’s the catch: you don’t know which parts!


Kristin Heinonen and the remains of Mr Krax (long story…).

You should also know that going this route is not easy. What Tomas & Kristin have done with SSWC may look easy, but it’s the result of years of active participation and community building. Also, neither of them planned to start the best social media conference in Sweden, it just happened that way.


Tomas Wennström, Campfixer.

As a big company you carry a heavy burden: your history. Your customers are most likely not your friends or fans. You don’t have an active community. You don’t have a voice on the web. Probably, you’ve treated your customers as an expense (once they’ve made the first purchase) instead of an asset. You’ve been doing the broadcast, authoritative, passive and expensive way for so long that it’s part of your DNA and your culture.

This must change.

This has to change.

Or you will perish.

How’s that for a lesson from Tjärö?

(I couldn’t attend this year because of the birth of my daughter. To her, all this talk about participating and opening up will be the most natural thing in the world. She will require it. She will expect it. Your company can still change. Do it. Now.)

Follow me on Twitter.


2 Comments on “What your company can learn from Sweden Social Web Camp”

  1. I think this new world has some new dilemmas:
    – how to get the experience of the people who’ve participated in many conversations into play without creating a new sender receiver situation.
    – sometimes participation lessens the value for the customer. How do you balance service and participation?

  2. Erik Starck says:

    Matteus, yes good questions. The last one also touches on the subject of the pro vs the amateur.


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