Rotation Curation: A PrimerPosted: January 5, 2013
Rotation curation accounts have been popping up all over Twitter in the past year, but rotation curation is still a term that many people are unfamiliar with, although they may have heard of @sweden, the Twitter account which started the trend in December 2011. @sweden is the Twitter face of the groundbreaking People of Sweden project, conceived by the Swedish Institute and government tourism agency Visit Sweden.
Put simply – rotation curation is a way of using Twitter in which a regularly changing roster of guests take turns (usually a week in duration) tweeting from the same Twitter account. The Twitter account ‘rotates’ between the different guests, who are selected or ‘curated’ by the owner or manager of the account. It sounds very simple, and it is. But rotation curation is also a wonderful tool for bringing a range of people together to have a focused conversation about a place (like @sweden), or an issue or cause (I’ll give examples of these later). It’s not dissimilar to inviting a constant steam of new guests onto a talk show, who bring their own fanbase (or in Twitter’s case, followers) along for the ride.
As you can see, the curator managing the rotation curation project exercises control over who is chosen to tweet – it is not a free-for-all. But once the account owner has selected their guest, it is customary that the guest is entrusted with control of the account for their tenure as guest tweeter. This results in a Twitter account which features a new and different voice each week, offering genuine conversation, ideas and opinions. The appeal of rotation curation lies in the freedom given to tweeters – it promises real people tweeting, uncensored – it’s not scripted, approved or edited by an editor or a corporate PR person.
How did rotation curation start?
The People of Sweden project began with the goal of boosting the nation’s tourism by busting stereotypes of Sweden held by potential overseas visitors. They did this by launching @sweden, a Twitter account which features a different Swede tweeting each week. It has become a globally watched and awarded Twitter project, with over 67,000 followers.
The New York Times wrote a lovely article about @sweden (Swedes’ Twitter Voice: Anyone, Saying (Blush) Almost Anything) in June 2012:
If there is anything to be learned from the @sweden experiment, a government initiative that entrusts the country’s Twitter account to a new citizen every seven days, it is that there is no such thing as a typical Swede.
One @Sweden posted photographs of his Christmas moose hunt. Another tartly criticized the foreign secretary, Carl Bildt. Another declared that she would like to be making love, so to speak, right that very second. Another, a Muslim lawyer, discussed the ubiquity of the name Muhammad among immigrants and joked that if anyone forgot the names of her six brothers, Muhammad would do fine.
Of course, with the freedom to tweet comes the potential for gaffes, and @sweden’s had at least one doozy. I’ll cover that a bit later!
Within a month of @sweden launching, people around the world had jumped on the bandwagon and started their own rotation curation projects, including @PeopleofLeeds, @WeAreAustralia and @TWkUSA (Tweet Week USA) which all began in January 2011. While many are location-based projects such as @WeMelbourne (which I founded in August 2012), there are also themed or cause-related rotation curation accounts, such as @TWkLGBTQ, which shares the life experiences of LGBTQ people around the globe, and the Australian account @IndigenousX, a project showcasing indigenous Australian voices and promoting Indigenous Excellence.
Who runs rotation curation accounts?
A few rotation curation projects, like @sweden and the UK’s Northumberland Tourism account @VisitNland, are official accounts run by government bodies, but most others including @WeMelbourne have been set up by people who just wanted to bring rotation curation to their location or area of interest. There is an extensive list of over 70 rotation curation accounts, including their chronology and official/unofficial status at the Rotation Curation blog.
How are guests chosen?
Great curation (or management) of rotation curation accounts – which includes, but is not limited to, choosing great guest tweeters – takes full advantage of rotation curation’s blend of preplanned and spontaneous elements. Guests can be carefully selected and deliberately given slots at particular times – but then in most cases, they have full freedom to say and do what they like with the account. So unlike corporate Twitter accounts which strive for a uniform company voice, each week’s guest brings their own voice, tone, and views to the account. If it is working properly, the guest next week will sound quite different to the guest you heard last week.
How guests are chosen depends on the rotation curation project in question. I understand from the NYT article linked above that @sweden guests must be nominated (they can’t volunteer themselves) and they are vetted, or interviewed, by a panel of three people, including the PR agency which helped set up the project. Many country rotation curation projects, including @WeAreAustralia accept volunteer curators. My project, @WeMelbourne, features guests I’ve invited as well as volunteers.
My editorial ‘slant’ as curator of @WeMelbourne is to try to make it a platform for as diverse a group of Melburnians as possible, and to err on the side of airing minority opinions, rather than voices and opinions which already get a lot of airtime in the mainstream media. For example, to counterbalance the overwhelming focus on horse racing and gambling around our famous horserace, the Melbourne Cup in November 2012, I choose a tweeter I knew was not interested in horseracing for that week. Next week, the @WeMelbourne guest will be a single mother living on government benefits. I sought her out because Australians are currently hotly debating our Federal Government’s decision to scrap the Single Parent Pension and move single parents onto the (much lower paid) unemployment benefit. While many politicians and journalists are talking hypothetically about how this policy decision will affect people, I decided to invite a single mother who receives the Single Parent Pension to tweet from @WeMelbourne to share insights into what her life is really like.
Racism in rotation curation
The @sweden racism incident mentioned above shows that, as with any media opportunity involving humans, sometimes even a guest you vetted says something you might wish they hadn’t. In fact, racism has cropped up as a problem for a few rotation curation accounts – in December 2012 the @PeopleofCanada curators opted to remove a guest tweeter for “violating the rules on being a curator, namely, in the “no isms” category”, and followed up with an apology and explanation for the removal on the project’s Tumblr. The @WeAreAustralia account has also had a couple of incidents of racism. The Racist People on Twitter project archived a @WeAreAustralia tweet which said “Some people call me racist. I’m not. But I do live in Hurstville and I think it’s turning into a bit of an Asian ghetto.” (This tweet prompted some complaints and challenges by @WeAustralia followers and a blog rebuttal, by Richard Chirgwin).
EDITED TO ADD: (11 January – Former @WeAreAustralia tweeter @TheCatCantina has clarified that the Hurstville tweet quoted above was one of theirs, and provided a link to their blog response about the incident, Multiculturalism and Me.)
I also recall seeing an anti-immigrant tweet from a different guest tweeter along the lines of ‘if you come to this country you should learn the language and fit in’ but I’m afraid I didn’t favourite the tweet so can’t link to it. I should note that the @WeAreAustralia account curator stepped in to tweet from the account in December (during the tenure of a later guest) to address the earlier racism incident tweeting “Yes, I’ll be doing more in future weeks to screen the quality of our tweeters, now there are enough volunteers for it to be viable.”
Of course, controversy can sometimes give rise to decent discussion of issues, and later @WeAreAustralia guest tweeter Luke used the account to made numerous anti-racist tweets, including: “Australia treats its minorities poorly. Indigenous Australians, the homeless, the poor, refugees – all fall by the wayside at some stage.” and “current [refugee] policy reflects the fear of what I hope is a proportionally smaller percentage of Australians of our country being ‘overrun’ by ‘outsiders’.
Are uncensored tweets a risk or a drawcard?
Anything to do with live to air media (including the internet) always carries a risk of someone making a gaffe or ‘going rogue’. The officials behind the Sweden account must have had some nervous moments. The very first @sweden guest listed masturbating as one of his hobbies. Six months later in June 2012, @sweden made the international news (including the Wall Steet Journal) after a guest posted inane, ignorant and racist tweets ( including: ‘Whats the fuzz with jews?’ and ‘Where I come from there is no jews. I guess its a religion. But why were the nazis talking about races? Was it a blood-thing (for them)?’). A Forbes blogger asked ” Why Did Sweden Hand Its National Twitter Account Over To A Troll?” but noted that Swedish official behind the account “expressed no consternation over the controversial tweets, reiterating their opposition to censorship, quoting Tommy Sollén, Social Media Manager at VisitSweden as telling the Wall Street Journal “It’s very important for us to let everyone take a unique viewpoint.”
The racism incident, and the decision made by Swedish officials not to censor the tweets, helped prove its commitment to the project as the voice of the Swedish people, and, interestingly, seems to have helped uphold Sweden’s image as “progressive, democratic and creative” – values identified by one of the project stewards. The controversy doesn’t seem to have harmed the project – the week after the incident American comedian Stephen Colbert started Operation Artificial Swedener, a campaign to be a guest @sweden tweeter (sadly, as a non-Swede he was ineligible). And the account has doubled its audience in the six months since the racism incident (it now has over 67,000 followers). By way of contrast, the Swedish Institute itself has only 6,500 followers for its ‘official’ Twitter account, Swedense – clearly people are more interested in hearing about Sweden directly from Swedish people, rather than an official account. It’s clear, in this case, that the benefit of giving real people a platform to speak about Sweden has outweighed the risks. Rotation curation is unique because it is a platform for real tweets from real people.
What are the rules for guest tweeters?
Many rotation curation accounts have rules which guests are required to abide by, often precluding criminal behaviour as well as racist, sexist or other -ist statements. As mentioned above, both @PeopleofCanada and @WeAreAustralia have signalled they are getting more strict on this issue. @WeAreCanada have amended their tweeter guidelines in line with Canada’s anti-hate speech laws, and signalled they will remove future tweeters and tweets which contravene those laws.
@WeMelbourne’s has a rule that tweets must not be sponsored (paid) – there is no cash for comment allowed. This rule was created to assure followers that all tweets are genuine, including any reviews or mentions of restaurants and cafes (because Melburnians talk about such things a lot!).
What is the future of rotation curation?
I can say as a founder of a rotation curation project that as awareness of rotation curation projects has grown, there’s been considerable interest from people wanting to tweet on behalf of their city or country. As I said in my blog post announcing @WeMelbourne, I started it because I was enjoying following @sweden and other accounts, and really wished there was one for Melbourne that I could tweet from. There wasn’t, so I started it! I have a list of volunteers booking out the next few months, and I’ve also amassed a similar sized list of volunteers for my next (state-based) rotation curation project, which will launch in the next couple of weeks. I’ve been thrilled to have a State Premier agree to tweet, as well as one of Australia’s leading Artistic Directors. (I can’t wait to announce them formally!)
But while location-based projects are where it started, I think the next phase of rotation curation has the potential to be even more exciting. I believe accounts like @IndigenousX (Australian Indigenous tweeters) and @TWkLGBTQ (global lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer tweeters) point the way towards rotation curation as a potential tool for advocacy on behalf of social groups and cause-based communities.
I also see potential for organisations (both corporate and non profit, especially charities and causes) to use rotation curation. Large institutions like universities, and geographically disributed organisations, such as international charities, could use rotation curation to provide a single platform to unite and showcase their people and their work, in the voices of their people. I hope that we’ll see a lot more of such institutions using rotation curation to bring genuine voices to their previously corporate-driven communications. In fact, I’ll be announcing a few projects like this very soon – watch this space!