Sure It's Bankrupt, but Iceland Has Killer Social Media Skills

Last Updated Sep 2, 2010 2:01 PM EDT

When I think about Iceland-and I find myself thinking about Iceland surprisingly often-what comes to mind is the world's first bankrupt country. Oh, I also think about volcanoes, and shutting down the flight lanes of Western Europe. And now and then I think about Bjork.

I don't think about Iceland as an example of social media best practices. But it is.

Things have changed for the Vikings since the Iceland economy crashed in the winter of 2008/2009, sparking riots against the banks and the government. Since then, Iceland has a new Prime Minister, Johanna Siguroardottir, who, at 67, is the world's first openly gay woman head of government.

Not only has she brought a large measure of comfort and stability to a country in chaos, but she has ushered in a new openness to business and the world based on community, sustainability and Iceland's island location as a gateway to the EU. And that involves embracing social media. Check out Iceland's simple yet charming first person Web site, Iceland Wants To Be Your Friend, by the Icelandic Tourist Board, and created by the Icelandic digital agency Takk Takk. The site invites you into its culture by means of connecting on its social platforms:

This remarkably well coordinated and designed suite of social media tools is an invitation to travelers, business folk and marketers alike. It's also a lesson in the aesthetic value of consistency, simplicity and friendliness.

Any business, large or small, could follow the logic behind Iceland's approach with profit. Coordination of message, style, tone and coverage are critical to any integrated communications approach. This is especially true in social media: the voice of the brand can't vary from one medium to another. In its social media programs, Iceland has captured an authentic voice, charming, direct, thankfully lacking in hyperbole (as so many other countries embrace,) inviting and clear. This voice is consistent in all its communications, imagery, music and messaging. Will it attract visitors and business? It's certainly convinced me to book a flight for my next holiday.

I love the way the The Icelandic Tourist Board site invites conversation-the heart of any community experience:

Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend is an initiative of the Icelandic Tourist Board, which means that it's a very, very, very serious thing indeed. It is loved and cared for by many good people at Takk Takk, using brains and fancy machines. If you want to, you can tell Iceland a story. Just email where a really nice person who helps Iceland with its email will read it and maybe even reply to it, if he or she isn't too busy with something terribly important. Are you still reading this small print? Wow, you must really like Iceland (and have good eyesight). You deserve a nice surprise.

The "nice surprise" turns out to be a download of Icelandic music by Olafur Arnalds, who is described as a former heavy-metal drummer, now making quiet music to make your life better. That's Iceland in a nutshell: a former high flying financial haven, now fallen, opening itself up to a quieter, more traditional, lifestyle. And in the process, making itself into a hipper, fresher example for the world to follow, and to invite the world in.

Monocle, the hip London-based international affairs publication, featured Iceland in its April issue, "New Road Ahead," as a country with a new identity, a work in progress. "Instead of focusing on the political malaise caused by the collapse of its economy, Iceland's close-knit and talented community-led by a new, grounded prime minister-is returning to old values, and reworking them into new opportunities." The use of social media as a country's outreach for tourism, new business, and investment is simply the application of new communications platforms built on traditional values of community and openness.

Imagine what would happen if Iceland extended its open social media approach beyond tourism to all aspects of its economy, adopting an "open country" strategy to its recovery, growth and development. Within ministries, open platform blogs could report on economic progress. Projects from within the country and abroad could be solicited on a crowd-sourced model-recommend a new initiative, get 1,000 people to give it the thumbs up, and the ministry will conduct a feasibility review. The much tarnished banking sector could make societal and economic amends by setting up Kevo-like small business loans to help local entrepreneurs get started.

Following the country's recovery and journey forward on its social media platforms will be an adventure for anyone interested in how the old becomes new and tradition yields to the cutting edge of community building. If we're lucky, maybe Prime Minister Siguroardottir will begin tweeting about her own personal style of leadership.

  • Niland Mortimer

    Niland Mortimer is the chief marketing officer of Socialarc, Inc., a Bay Area social-media marketing firm. He's had a 25-year career in global marketing and advertising, with broad international experience in global brand management, web and online user experience, social media, global strategy development and implementation, interactive and direct marketing, customer relationship management, and advertising-agency management and business development. He teaches MBA-level marketing at the University of San Francisco and in fall 2010 will begin teaching open branding at Stanford University.