Expatriates are about to enter virtual space by launching their own online social network, SwissCommunity, on Saturday.
The platform will allow the nearly 700,000 Swiss Abroad to contact each other, exchange information and strengthen ties with their country of origin.
SwissCommunity is designed as an exclusive worldwide club of expatriates and will officially be inaugurated at the annual congress of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), which takes place in St Gallen this year.
The project is the brainchild of the OSA, which dedicated two years of intensive work to it and undertook in-depth marketing analysis.
Ariane Rustichelli, SwissCommunity project manager and OSA spokeswoman, says a great deal of enthusiasm and professional skills were necessary for the huge effort. But setting up a direct dialogue is a worthwhile investment in the future.
“It allows us to reach out to an extraordinary number of expatriates around the world and the communication will no longer be a one-way street,” Rustichelli says.
She is confident that the launch will be “the beginning of a great adventure”.
Rustichelli says the reaction during the project phase of SwissCommunity was very encouraging and the platform responds to a real need among expatriates.
“There is an obvious interest to be in contact with other expatriates. Either to be at the disposal of Switzerland or because they hope Switzerland takes an interest in them,” Rustichelli explains.
SwissCommunity makes it possible to keep in touch with friends and family at home, maintain links with the canton of origin and to stay up-to-date on what’s going on in Switzerland.
One of the assets of the platform is that participants can “choose when and how much time they want to spend on it”, points out Rustichelli.
“It is organised as an exclusive club which fulfills all the specific needs of the Swiss Abroad. No other expatriate community has such a sophisticated platform,” she adds.
Chat and information
SwissCommunity is divided up into a section which is generally accessible and a section called My Network which is reserved for members only.
The free chat section is subject to strict rules and is moderated by the OSA. Abuse can lead to exclusion of participants who make racist comments or try to use the platform for political or religious propaganda, organisers warn.
The information section lists addresses of Swiss societies and clubs around the world. They can use SwissCommunity to publish their events calendars.
Users will also find the addresses of all the Swiss embassies and consulates. The section includes political, economic and tourist information about Switzerland and individual cantons.
The News section features articles from Swiss Review - the magazine of the Swiss Abroad - and swissinfo.ch. This chapter also allows readers to follow the activities of the OSA, the federal authorities and the cantons.
SwissCommunity is being seen as an instrument to boost the profile of the Swiss Abroad and highlight their role as “ambassadors”.
The platform is ideal for swift and coordinated mass mobilisation providing the expatriate community with a key tool for political activities.
But Rustichelli is wary of turning the platform into a simple political instrument. She says a balance is needed between the different features.
“SwissCommunity is a means to bring closer the expatriate community and to increase its awareness. It is also an instrument for the OSA, but not for other institutions and parties,” she notes.
Rustichelli says any discussion forum will be moderated by swissinfo.ch, which together with Switzerland Tourism is a partner in SwissCommunity.
She hopes to win partners who will help finance an Italian-language version of the platform. So far SwissCommunity is available in German, French – “two of three official languages of the OSA - and English, the language of the internet”, Rustichelli says.
The idea is to adapt the platform to new needs. Rustichelli says there will be regular surveys to learn about the expectations of the Swiss Abroad community.
Sonia Fenazzi, swissinfo.ch (adapted from Italian by Urs Geiser)
The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) was founded in 1916 to defend the interests of the expatriate community and provide advice.
The Council of the Swiss Abroad, which has about 140 seats, represents the interests of the community with the federal authorities. The assembly meets twice a year in Switzerland for day-long sessions.
The autumn session takes place ahead of the annual congress of the Swiss Abroad.
This year’s congress, to be attended by about 500 delegates, takes place in the eastern city of St Gallen.
In 2009 just under 685,000 Swiss citizens lived abroad, mainly in neighbouring France and Germany. There is also a sizeable Swiss community in North America.
About 130,000 expats have registered to take part in votes and elections in Switzerland.
The free online platform was set up by the OSA to respond to the needs of the Swiss expatriate community and to offer a direct link to their home country.
All Swiss living abroad and Swiss citizens with an interest in the expatriate community can register and become members of an exclusive club.
New members have to supply information which allows the OSA to identify users and prevent abuse. They have to accept the terms and conditions. The OSA reserves the right to exclude members who break the rules.
The OSA says it complies with Swiss data protection legislation to ensure the private sphere of users. Personal information of members will not be passed on to others.
OSA’s strategic partners for SwissCommunity are the internet agency, Mediaparx, Switzerland Tourism and swissinfo.ch.