Hjörtur Smárason is the owner and director of Scope Communications, a marketing consultancy in Reykjavik, Iceland. He published his latest book, The Marketer’s Magic Chest, for free online. In the lead up to the 2008 presidential election, he helped create IfTheWorldCouldVote to show how the rest of the world would vote in the election (not so shockingly, the results were very blue).

Smárason has worked in Iceland’s advertising and marketing industry for over a decade, but his knowledge of social media (and the recent Icelandic economic collapse) have made @Hjortur something of a Twitter celebrity.
Speaking at the 140 Character Conference last week, Smárason outlined how he became a Twitter character. Econsultancy caught
up with him to discuss the merits of giving away free content and getting Fidel Castro on Twitter.

When did you start using Twitter?
I started tweeting in April 2008. When I signed up, I was actually frustrated that someone had beat me to my username, hjortur. It’s not a common name and only found in Iceland. I hadn’t heard of any Icelanders who had signed up. And when I came to think of it, I couldn’t imagine who other than myself would have signed up for that user name, so I tried to sign in – and bingo! It was my user name. I had signed up a year earlier but just never used it.

What made you a Twitter addict?
The value. When I started, I added thought leaders and
experts in SEO and social media and all of a sudden I was learning more
than ever. Being isolated here in Iceland, I didn’t have many
opportunities to meet with my network for the small talk, the things
that you talk about at conferences or the office, but not on blogs. I
found this more personal connection on twitter – the water cooler

Why are you distributing your book for free?
I believe the best way to fight the recession is to help people realize how they can adapt to changed circumstances, spot the opportunities out there (and there are actually more opportunities now than ever), and grab them. Keeping companies and families from bankruptcy softens the recession and the tragedies that inevitably follow it. At first I was going to sell the book, but then I decided to distribute it for free so it could benefit more people. That’s my contribution to fight the recession.

Do you think you lost money on your book or earned more business?
can’t lose money on the book as it didn’t cost me money, only some
work. It has earned me speaking gigs and played a role in getting me
new clients.

Is Twitter/social media making the world smaller?
No doubt about that. Though we have been able to communicate with people across the world before, whether through letters, radio, phone or email, what’s different now is that I can follow people and what’s happening to them in real time, on my screen or phone, without any complicated or expensive instruments. Knowing what’s going on in someone’s life at this very moment on the other side of the planet, brings people much closer together, no matter where in the world they are.

How did the economic conditions in Iceland change your role in online marketing, if at all?
Before the economic collapse, I had put a lot of effort into educating businesses on the possibilities in online marketing. But there wasn’t much interest, as the old methods were still working. Now when people don’t have the same budget for ad spending, they are turning to alternative marketing methods – and online marketing has more interest. I’m speaking more often and running courses more frequently now and I have become a well-known authority in the field.

What has your biggest online marketing success been?
IfTheWorldCouldVote.com. It was actually a pet project which me
and two of my friends were running. We had no money to spend on
publicity or marketing but with the use of social media to spread the
word we managed to get almost 900.000 people from 213 countries to vote
on the site in only a few weeks.

What’s the most important rule for marketing in a downturn?
Don’t stop marketing. Even if you have to stop advertising, don’t stop marketing. There are so many alternative ways that only need creativity and effort, instead of money, that can be even more effective than traditional marketing methods.

Why do trivial tweets matter?
Because they are what makes twitter so personal, the tweets that give us the feeling we really know people, the tweets that show us behind the mask and bring us closer together.

Where do you think Twitter is going?

Twitter has grown at an amazing pace in the last months, and even though many newcomers have not started using it yet, I believe it has the ability to grow much more before “the bubble bursts.” This is the start of real time media and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. It is not until Fidel Castro, who is known for his daylong speeches, is expressing himself in 140 characters that I feel I can be certain twitter can grow no more.