When Sweden allowed private individuals to run its official Twitter account for a week at a time, one guy tweeted about masturbation and a woman steered
the account "right off a social media cliff
" with her tweets about Hitler, Jews, and Down
Time magazine called @Sweden an occasional "embarrassment and PR hazard," and
Forbes asked, "Why did Sweden
hand its national twitter account
over to a troll?"
So it wasn't an ideal time for the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing to turn over its Twitter account to a series of citizens for a week each. But the Green Mountain folks forged ahead. And their
social media courage won them an avalanche of good publicity and social media impressions, starting with The New York Times.
"We saw the potential and believe Vermont and Vermonters can, excuse the pun, handle it, with good-natured dialogue, shared experiences and fun,
inspiring banter," says Jen Butson, communications director for the department.
"Twitter is a public forum, and @ThisisVT is another way for our small state to have a voice. Why not be totally
Vermont's success a model
The experiment is in its fourth week, and Vermont's success so far offers a model for organizations considering such a Twitter campaign. While Vermont
doesn't edit the tweets, it first checks out its candidates' biographies and what they have tweeted in the past.
"So we're not picking at the lottery," Butson says. "We are vetting these people who have a voice on behalf of Vermont."
@ThisisVT's profile includes a link to a form people can fill out to nominate themselves or a favorite tweeter.
Butson's office asks people if they will be willing to tweet a dozen times a day for seven days; if they can provide dynamic, Vermont-oriented musings; and
if they feel comfortable corresponding with people in the Twittersphere.
As for the code of conduct, Butson tells people, "Please don't tweet something that you won't feel comfortable telling your neighbor's 12-year-old child,
or your great-grandma. The rest is up to you. Happy tweeting."
A flood of media mentions
Once they are chosen, they can write what they want, without editing by the state.
The media mentions flooded in. Mashable, which noted that "Sweden Twitter experiment goes painfully awry," gave Vermont a nod. It said the plan was to
"turn the state's most socially savvy residents into digital ambassadors with the
hope of bringing in tourists or those looking for a new home."
and an ABC affiliate joined in, along with many other media around the
The first week's tweets were those of an ad man, who offered cheerful reflections along with moodier glimpses of Vermont life.
He attached a photo and wrote, "Home of a neighbor hermit who was a picker, collector, inventor of things. He died under his tractor this past winter."
The second week featured a bookbinder, who offered glimpses of the state's cultural scene.
In the pilot's seat last week was Ed Shepard, who described himself as "Founder: Fablelab. Live: VT. Travel: Often. Love: Books, immersive storytelling,
making still&motion pics, all maple."
'My dog Wiggum'
He tweeted photos of ice cream cones and his dog Wiggum. Cattle have made appearances in his and others' tweets, with Shepard writing Thursday, "Sometimes
when I pass a field of cows (which is a real thing here in #VT) and I'm craving a burger I whisper "#YOLO [you only live once], cows."
While @ThisIsVT hasn't attracted Lady Gaga-like levels of followers (1,510 at press time), it is growing respectably. But numbers aren't the point, since
the account has sparked mainstream and social media across the country to talk about the Green Mountain State.
People have been telling state and local officials in Seattle, Boston, and the Midwest that they ought to try the same thing, Butson says.
'Of course Vermont would be the first'
"What's really cool is that people are commending us," she says. "They say, 'Of course Vermont would be the first one to do this.'"
doesn't seem likely to die from lack of interest. Three years' worth of Vermonters have raised their hands to volunteer or have been nominated, Butson
"We've got farmers," she says. "We've got park rangers. We've got professors. We've got musicians. It's across the whole spectrum. It's so cool."
Shepard, last week's tweeter, has joked about things that tourism promoters might not wish to emphasize, such as merchants who palm off Canadian change. He
recently tweeted, "People have literally asked me if #VT is in Canada."
But have there been any tweets that cause Vermont officials to cringe?
"Not yet," Butson says. "There have been some that I've really had a good chuckle over because I have never been able to say them. I love it."
is a staff writer for Ragan.com.