In an effort to get ''Canberra-bashing'' off the national pastime list, Australia's capital is this weekend opening its doors to 250 ''human brochures'' who have been chosen based on their social media presence to judge the city on its merits.
With success of the project hinging on its transparency, Australian Capital Tourism director Ian Hill said yesterday the idea was to show what Canberra had to offer, with no added incentives to get a good review.
''This is stuff that people can do any day of the year, so we're certainly not manufacturing any experiences, we're just putting out best foot forward,'' he said. ''We're hosting them, but it's very much about the humans and not about us.''
Soon after arriving at their lodgings, the twittershpere once again lit up, as the ''humans'' commented on the first landmarks conquered, cafes sampled, and any animals rescued along the way.
Social media expert Laurel Papworth said it was a ''brave, honest'' campaign, which could be pivotal for social media marketing in Australia.
''It's a very interesting mass social media experience, using social media as broadcast,'' she said.
She said transparency and treating the bloggers and tweeters with respect was crucial to success.
''The danger is that tourism providers in Canberra get to find out what people really think about the city,'' she said. ''The good, the bad and ugly will be there, but it's worth the risk to know.''
Tom Voiro, the owner of the global social media marketing company Voirol Consulting, said this kind of social media campaign worked best when there was confidence in the product and the set-up was transparent. ''What's important is not to try and influence bloggers, that's when things usually go wrong,'' he said.
Mr Hill said that of the 500 ''humans'' chosen, most were picked from the 31,000 applicants, while a few with exceptional social media presences were personally invited.
Rebecca Murphy, 30, a blogger who had been selected to sample Canberra's arts and culture scene, said her opinion would not be affected because she had not paid for the trip.
''I don't think people will be afraid to say what they think, even nit-picking the small things,'' she
said. ''That's what makes it more human.''
After arriving at her hotel, Theodora Chan posted a Facebook comment about her surprise at only two hours of complimentary internet usage being allocated to each room. This was almost immediately followed by an Australian Capital Tourism response inviting her to see reception about the problem.
The owner-manager of Rubicon, a restaurant that the Food and Wine group would visit during the trip, said he has prepared a five-course degustation menu that showcases local wines, but was the equivalent of what other diners received.
''We've pretty much taken a combo of the special, and the other four courses are from the menu,'' he explained.
Over the next two days, the 250 ''humans'' will be escorted around Canberra, sightseeing and tasting local produce, in the hope they will broadcast pro-Canberra reviews.
''It's the first or two big grand finals, that's what it feels like,'' Mr Hill said.