On a blisteringly cold January day last year, Swiss Ambassador to the United States Martin Dahinden joined five climate change experts at the foot of the Matterhorn in Zermatt. Sitting around a handcrafted table – an important feature in this scene – the group discussed the rapidly changing environment and brainstormed ways to reduce the impact of climate change. Their conversation was captured on Facebook Live and other video platforms, and shared across the embassy’s social media network.
This was the dramatic beginning of the #SwissTouch adventure.
Swiss Touch is a powerful public diplomacy campaign driven by Switzerland’s embassy and consular network in the United States. Multiple channels and platforms are designed to promote Swiss innovation and creativity and connect the Alpine country to America: a series of events held in unusual places around the US; a group of Swiss and American ‘Ambassadors’ who are experts on a variety of global issues; and a multi-platform social media campaign documenting everything that happens under the umbrella of the programme.
Switzerland is no stranger to innovation and creativity. Lacking in natural resources, the country was transformed through enterprise, research, and knowledge. It now consistently tops the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Global Innovation Index, and ranks a close second in The Soft Power 30 enterprise sub-index. It makes sense for the Swiss Government to leverage this obvious strength as a public diplomacy tool.
It is the handcrafted table that elevates Swiss Touch by linking the online and offline. The table provides a physical platform for exchanging ideas and building relationships. It has been designed to disassemble and travel easily, allowing the campaign to visit all 50 US states. It also serves a more symbolic purpose. Made of Swiss ash tree and incorporating advanced digital elements, the table embodies Switzerland’s balance of tradition and innovation â€“ a core theme of Swiss Touch. Finally, the table anchors the digital campaign. As we wonder where the table will appear next, the social media team can be creative with sustaining engagement before the next destination is revealed.
This is what makes this campaign particularly powerful: social media transforms the Swiss Touch’s physical network into a much wider digital network. Rather than a simple public diplomacy campaign designed to build high-level relationships in closed rooms, Swiss Touch is eager to get everyone involved. The website and social media channels capture everything, from the mundane (transporting and assembling the table), to the spectacular (travelling to the depths of the Nevada desert). The campaign also benefits from Switzerland’s wide diplomatic presence in the US. From East to West coast, Switzerland’s offices are proactively using Facebook and other channels to drive the project forward and build relationships â€“ both off and online.
Not long after descending the Matterhorn, the Swiss Touch table travelled to New York City for an event on combatting terrorism. We then saw it move to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for an ‘Ask Anything’ session with the Ambassador. Months later, it arrived on the banks of San Francisco Bay where stakeholders convened to discuss humanitarian protection in the digital age. Most recently, the Swiss Touch team arrived at Nevada’s Seven Magic Mountains. These destinations couldn’t be more removed from the Matterhorn. And this is precisely the point of the campaign; to introduce Switzerland’s tradition and innovation to an entirely different landscape and audience.
One year into the campaign, Swiss Touch had visited six cities, hosted 17 events, invited 100 stakeholders to the table, and caused a digital stir.
Interestingly – and perhaps tellingly – Swiss Touch launched just three days before the inauguration of President Donald Trump. As Trump continues to espouse his ‘America First’ agenda, dismissing the idea of cooperation, Switzerland’s diplomatic community remains undeterred in their efforts to build relationships with Americans. Swiss Touch is an almost perfect symbol for opposing Trump’s withdrawal from the international community, and a comforting message to Americans who still believe in globalisation and multilateralism.
Swiss Touch is by no means a small public diplomacy campaign. This is a large scale, resource heavy, labour intensive project. But the results speak for themselves. Swiss Touch has introduced the world to its wealth of creativity and innovation. It has brought to the fore many pressing global issues, and benefited from the combined expertise of two major nations. It has built an impressive network and following – both physical and online. And most importantly, it has demonstrated the power of digital in transforming a great campaign into something spectacular.