Category Archives: Public speaking

The topics I speak about – the story behind them and a bit about me

I was recently asked what topics I speak about, and I thought the best way to answer was to give some context and explain why I started my journey as a professional speaker.

If you don’t have time to read the full post, the short summary is that my speaking topics tend to be on social media, leadership, and digital balance. I’m based both in Sweden and London, UK, and I speak internationally as well.

I’ve done public speaking on and off for many years. The year I trained to become a ski-instructor we did lots of public speaking, and I sort of got ‘out of my shell’ back then.

For as long as I can remember I liked teaching and sharing knowledge and experiences with others. Speaking in front of a large audience can be pretty scary, and as it is with many people, I didn’t feel it was pleasurable at all to start with.

The first time I was asked to speak as an expert was in 2009 when I was working as first social media manger/e-commerce manger/film producer at a large publisher in London. There were guests coming in from other similar companies and they wanted me to share what we were doing and what we were up to.

The next step was to educate all my colleagues about what this new thing called social media was all about, as well as what’s happening in the world when we connect online and publish heaps of information online.

Sofie Sandell speaking

Sofie Sandell giving a talk in Belgium

After this I started to talk about social media, marketing and communication for some other businesses and at Junior Chamber International (JCI).

I have some kind of flow when it comes to understanding how marketing, media and PR works and which stories will get attention. It’s hard to explain how I’ve got this skill, but it seems to have been in me for many years. Maybe I see connections and angles that others don’t?

I have plenty of experience from my engagement in JCI. This has given me the opportunity to talk about strategies, branding and leadership for JCI and other membership-based organisations. The question of why someone should care about your organisation’s mission and vision is deep and complex, and it is interesting to ponder over.

Randomness leads to more randomness. I love listening to talks live. I like networking and meeting new people. This has led me to get to know lots of people, and many of these connections have in turn invited me to talk about different topics.

Now that I have some more experience under my belt and a good visual picture of how the world of professional speaking works, I feel more confident in what kind of events I should speak at.

After I started to talk about social media, I got more into speaking about leadership and wrote a book called Digital Leadership. I also started to give talks and workshops on digital leadership and creativity, and spoke about creativity and collaboration at some events. This led me into to deliver some advanced social media training for large and complex businesses in which communication is sensitive.

To open up the topic of digital leadership to a larger audience I’ve developed a talk named Digital Inspiration, which is more inclusive than leadership. Sometimes the word ‘leadership’ puts people off.

It is natural to think about branding when you communicate online, and some of my talks have a focus on branding in the digital age. What you say about yourself is as important as what others say about you.

I’ve also taught digital marketing at a university in London for MBA students. When I worked there I was responsible for four different courses.

Some of my talks are more focused on thoughtleadership, and how you develop online content that people trust. I’ve spoken about personal branding and social media. We are more exposed when we are online, and what we say online affects our personality.

I’ve been invited to talk at conferences about design where the focus has been on our life online and the questions that people ask me after my talks. Over the years I’ve been asked the most personal questions about life online, and some of them are published in my blog under ’Social Media Q&A’.

Finally, I would like to mention that all of my talks are customised to fit the audience. I’ve spoken in front of people of all ages, from teenagers up to senior citizens. My approach of combining social media, leadership and how the world is changing can work for all kinds of people.

Sofie Speaking UCL March 2014

I’ve spoken in front of audiences from all continents. I’ve trained directors of social media for large Asian businesses based in China. I’ve worked with companies in Nigeria, as well as providing training in companies based in the Gulf area.

This week my work led me to give a talk at Volvo’s headquarters in Sweden. I spoke about digital agility and the effective use of digital tools. What I said really resonated with the audience.

There are many areas to explore for me as a speaker and digital expert. I’m open-minded, curious and I deliver talks to all kind of organisations.

We are going to share more data every year, buy new digital devices and be more concerned about our personal brand in the future.

And we are only at the beginning of discovering all the new digital devices that are going to influence us.

One last thing to mention, I’ve coached lots of people 1-2-1 helping them prepare a new talk. It’s fun and I enjoy helping people.

If you would like to work with me you can either contact any of the speaker bureaus that I work with, or you can talk to me directly.

Thanks for reading.


Sofie Sandell

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Some of my funny public speaking stories

Blue tongue
I had a period when I often felt tired after speaking. A friend, who is a singer, recommended me to drink a blue energy drink just before speaking to increase my energy. I took her advice and two minutes before I entered the stage an audience member pointed out that I had a blue tongue. Luckily, the brand I was speaking for had a blue logo, so I matched them. Always make sure you affirm and are in tune with the brands you are working with 😉

Sofie Sandell speaking

Sofie Sandell giving a talk in Belgium

Air-con problems
Last year I spoke at a design conference and was sitting in the audience waiting for my turn. The venue had no idea how to control the air-conditioning and probably set it to 10 degrees Celsius. When it was my turn and I stood up my body had turned into ice, including my face. I wanted to jump and run to get my blood moving but I was on next and there was no break between the speakers in this session. I spoke for about 25 minutes and by the end I could feel my arms again. The poor audience sitting in that cold room.

Dress issues
One early December morning I spoke at an event In London and I was speaking in a dress I’d never worn before. On stage I realised that I had it on backwards and that the collar of the dress was constantly touching my larynx. It was totally annoying and I spent a lot of time thinking that I should just leave for a moment and fix the dress.

Shopping in China
In 2014 I flew to Shanghai to speak at a big marketing conference. My luggage got lost and I had to go out shopping in Shanghai. I met up with my Chinese agent and after lunch he showed me a shopping mall.

When I entered I realised it was a boutique shopping mall, perfect if you are only looking for a Gucci bag. I asked one of the staff if she knew any other shopping malls and she wrote down the name of one in Chinese which I could show to the taxi driver. He left me outside a large shopping mall and when I entered I realised it was another luxury brand shopping mall. This made me cry. I was tired, jet-lagged and sad and just wanted to find a normal shopping centre to buy all the things I needed for my stay.

Over the next three days I was going to speak and deliver workshops and I really needed something that looked better than the dresses I had in my hand-luggage. I walked into a shop and the people working there spoke okay English and showed me the way to the big Super Brand Mall.

Thank goodness for that. I found shops to buy some of the basic things I needed. It was problematic finding something that fit. If you are not extra, extra small you’ll find it hard to find anything that fits in China. In the end I bought a blue dress which is still one of my favourites. When you have to make an effort the things you purchase are more valuable. I’m wearing the dress in the photo below 🙂

Sofie Sandell jumping on the beach

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How to create a diverse event: tips for the World Economic Forum organisers article in The Guardian

My article about how you can create a better and more diverse line up of speakers was published in The Guardian the other week.

Tired of the same male, pale and stale event panels? Here’s how to guarantee a more interesting, and diverse, line up

As a plethora of high-profile speakers board their private jets and wave goodbye to Davos, only about 20% of them will be female. This has been the norm at theWorld Economic Forum for the last few years and shows little sign of changing.

As a regular on the speaker circuit, I’ve heard all kinds of excuses as to why there are so few women on stage at these events. The most popular include: there are no female experts in the field, we tried to get a woman to speak but we asked too late – she was already busy, and in the end we didn’t have time to approach people we don’t know already.

Quite frankly, these responses are getting boring. Event producers need to start putting together panels that represent the world we work in. We need to look at running an event the same way we would any other goal in the corporate world – with a clear strategy. Here are my top tips for creating a more female-friendly event:

1) Look back at your past events to see how diverse the speakers were. How many of the experts don’t fit the stereotype of the middle-class white male speaker? This gives you a number to start with and from there a goal to aim for. If your last event line-up included only one woman, then try to aim for two this time – that’s a 100% increase. Even if it is still pretty sad. You will probably be better off trying to address the percentage of women speakers. Most events get stuck at around the 22% mark, beat that and you’re already doing better than the majority.

Read all six tips on The Guardian’s website.

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Events with only male speakers – ethical or not?

A few days ago I had a chat with a conference organiser about gender equality at the event he was organising in London. One of my LinkedIn contacts had shared the link to the event and I thought it looked interesting. Then I looked at the programme. Six male speakers featured and no women, I felt sick. I’ve nothing against men, only bad male:female ratio and ignorance.

I was pondering the idea of writing a blog post and saying that you should avoid going to this conference. Then my next thought was that I should give them a chance to tell me why they don’t have any female speakers, so I called the organiser.

– Hi, my name is Sofie Sandell, are you the one who is organising this event? I’m wondering about the speakers: why are you only featuring male speakers?

The guy on the other side of the line sounded a bit confused.

– Eh, what do you mean? And who are you?

– My name is Sofie and I just looked at your event and I see that there is no gender equality between the speakers on your main stage. I think it looks really bad for your brand. I thought instead of complaining on Twitter I should ask you directly.

– Well, you see what really matters for us is content and people, not gender.

I felt angry thoughts jumping inside my head.

– And then, by the way, we only had male speakers applying to speak at the event.
– Ok, I see. But it looks bad for your brand to only have male speakers.
– We are going to add more speakers to the programme soon, the website is not updated.
– But the event is just 30 days away, shouldn’t the programme be updated?
– I promise that we will add the female speakers soon, ok?
– Can you send me a link with the programme when it’s updated?
– Yes, will do that.

Just to be sure he got my email right I emailed the organiser, often people spell my name with ph instead of f. The question is: was he telling the truth or was he speaking bullshit? And will there be any female speakers on the main stage or only sponsored talks with women who speak in front of small groups.

Why do you attend conferences?

You attend conferences for different reasons; to gain knowledge, industry news and to meet people. Some of those you network with are freely sharing their knowledge and so do the speakers.

Two questions for you to think about: Should only male speakers and experts be able to share their knowledge? Is the content skewed towards one side of humanity if 100% of the speakers are men?

Why not more female speakers?

There are lots of arguments as to why we have this issue at some events, such as that it’s hard to find a female speaker or expert, and yes you have to approach women differently. I spoke to the event team at The Guardian in London and they said that most men they ask to speak say yes immediately, but not that many women do. Part of the solution is that you must approach women differently. I will tell you how in another post.

What ratio should be ok then?

You should aim for 50-50. You are not fixing the problem by getting one female speaker, if the other nine are men. 50% of the population will not feel welcome, and enlightened men will also feel uncomfortable.

Do you have a choice?

You have a choice. I have a choice. We have a choice – how we react to these kind of events.

  • You can call and point it out for the organiser that you think their approach is sloppy and dinosaur-istic. Changes in the world have often started with several people doing the same thing and saying out loud that something is wrong.
  • Speakers and emcees can say no thank you and tell the organiser that they are not interested in being connected with events with poor equality.
  • If you are an event sponsor you can say no too – that you would rather spend your money somewhere else and that you think it might damage your brand if they aren’t changing the ratio of speakers.
  • Or you can also pretend it’s raining and say nothing.

It’s your choice.

Stay strong and dare to have an opinion.

You can follow the comments on LinkedIn and share your view there as well.

Here is an example of a conference in the US that has poor ratio of men and women.The Chief Digital Officer Global Forum.


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The gender issue on stage

You may have noticed that we have a gender issue on stage. There are so many more male speakers out there who are making their voices heard.

This year I’ve been invited to quite a few conferences where 95% of all speakers were men. Do the organisers only have men’s numbers in their phonebooks or male connections on LinkedIn? What’s wrong here? Some of the events I’ve been invited to were in London and Londoners are picky, so I am pretty sure that more people than just me pointed out this male bias to the organisers.

I think that people go to events and conferences to get a better view of the world and there are about as many men as women in the world. Not 95 % men and 5% women.

What the speaker bookers and conference producers who have been arranging these kinds of events have been thinking of (or not thinking of) when preparing such an unequal programme is beyond comprehension.

They need to educate themselves, take a course in diversity and equality and check out equality statistics.

I recently spoke to James Bellini, a speaker and MC, and he said that when he works at an event that has low diversity he points this out to the event organiser and advises them that the event would probably be more successful if they had a better gender balance.

What speakers say on a stage challenges what’s going on in the world. Speakers open up new perspectives. Therefore, it’s fundamental that we get a chance to listen to both men and women. If this is not the case, our ‘new’ perspective will be skewed towards the male viewpoint.

I also recently had a chat with Alan Stevens, former president of both the Global Speakers Federation and the Professional Speaker Association UK, and he said that there are many great women speakers in the world and if he had a say in the speaker selection process he would push for proper representation of both men and women. If there is an event with ten speakers and only one is a woman this will not reflect well on the organiser.

Words and language matter

The audience that attends events with primarily male speakers will only get half the picture, a picture that does not accurately reflect our society. The other half of the picture is never revealed, because women are not asked to speak.

I’ve booked a lot of speakers myself and I know that men’s and women’s approaches to being on stage are different. You may have to stoke the fire a bit longer to convince a woman that she will be great on your stage. It’s good to bear that in mind when asking around for speakers.

Professional and aware speaker bookers know this. Conferences that have no gender balance might be planned by people who live in a bubble. I don’t know.

Men and women are not on an equal footing yet – and this is a democratic problem. It concerns all of us who search for new knowledge and uplifting information.

So, whose problem is it? Who shall lead the change?

I think you can do something – here are some suggestions:

1) If you are invited to a conference with very bad gender balance or too many white, middle-class, male speakers then you can tell the organisers that you think this makes your experience less valuable.

I’ve done this and it might help them in the future. Your words matter. You matter. And your opinion matters.

2) If you are invited to speak at a conference where there is low diversity among speaker (which will not reflect the whole of society) then you can point this out to the organisers.

I’ve done this as well and the response you get is often that they simply did not plan the event that well.

3) If you are the compere or MC you can demand that the organisers pull their act together and think more about how the audience will receive the content.

Lots of MCs and comperes have done this and the organisers often feeling ashamed and make a bigger effort to make the event look better from a gender perspective.

I have also educated quite a few male comperes about the issue and they all tell me that they have felt extremely uncomfortable when emceeing a male-only panel after that.

4) If you are the organiser then you can learn more about how to plan a better event. You may have to ask around for more speakers outside your network. 

TIP: If you are planning to get an expert panel together you can ask a few women first to see if they are available – then you will not be left desperately trying to find a female speaker at the eleventh hour.

Yes, I believe you can do a lot yourself to make sure we share better stories on stage, stories that are inclusive of people and do not exclude them. This can only be done by increasing diversity and equality at events.

My final thought

This year I’ve been in discussions with editors of business magazines, conference producers and video producers about their inability to include the whole of society in their work. They have produced magazines, events and videos with zero gender balance.

I’ve received a mixed bag of replies and I can clearly see that a lack of planning and bad ‘network thinking’ – who you have in your network – are contributing to the problem.

We can all do something and people in leadership positions are often open to feedback. It may be the way you share this feedback with them that makes a difference.

Most people I meet want to listen to both men and women. It’s not just me who is tired of going to conferences with zero gender equality.

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How to become a Digital Leader with JCI London

Digital leaders are using social media and technology to share their messages and interact with people. That was the core message I was sharing yesterday with the JCI London members and guests. We had a great evening and one thing we had in common was that we didn’t mind missing out on the World Cup football game. England lost so not much we could have done anyway…

Here are some things that leaders do:

  • They do things first – they are often trendsetters
  • They share their thoughts and ideas with others
  • They listen to peers, friends, customers and colleagues
  • They are constantly learning and focus on developing themselves
  • They know how innovation works.

Digital leaders have stories to share and they dare to share them online.  How many stories do you have inside you? Are you persistent enough to write every week?

Connection and empathy with others is everything. Without that you can’t inspire anyone. All leaders that we love to follow have worked on this a lot.

To lead and share opinions is sometimes painful.

Use your friends as sounding boards. Then write down your thoughts and make what you write easy to understand.

Thank you for a great evening JCI London!


Digital leader event with Sofie Sandell and JCI London

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Culture and social media observations in Kuwait and the Middle East

When I was in Kuwait in May to speak at the 3rd Arabian Social Media Forum about social media I was part of the team that saved a kitten’s life thanks to Tweet Kitten saved in Kuwait thanks to Twitter Twitter. After the conference my new Kuwaiti friend Safaa took me to a museum to show me how people used to live in Kuwait. In one of the rooms we heard a kitten stuck inside a wall. It turned out that it had jumped down into the air-conditioning system on the roof and couldn’t get out again.

The staff in the museum told us that they had tried to help it but they needed to open up the wall to get it out and to for this they needed management’s permission.

On our way back home we tweeted the museum and within a couple of days they had saved the kitten. Thanks, Twitter, for making it so easy for us to connect.

This trip was my first visit to an Arab country and I was extremely surprised by how people in Kuwait use social media.

3 social media observations 

I made three observations: People are as addicted to their smartphones in Kuwait as they are in the rest of the world; Kuwaiti people are not yet shopping online; and Instagram is at the heart of social media activity in the country. The social media network that matters most in Kuwait is thus Instagram, but Twitter is also widely used.

Shopping malls

During my stay I visited five shopping malls which all housed big brands, especially luxury brands. One of the larger malls, Grand Avenue even has an IKEA in it.

A big part of Kuwaiti social life is spent in shopping malls. You go to shopping malls to meet friends, visit restaurants, go to the cinema, shop and cool down from the heat outside. How we explore online opportunities has a lot to do with what happens in our culture and society.

Social media in Kuwait is driven by sharing photos online and I think that this activity may be connected to spending so much time in malls and the desire to share what you like to look at and what you buy. You want to show off great photos to enhance your personal brand (status). If you just bought a new handbag you want everyone to see it. When someone posts anything on Instagram in Kuwait they immediately get a pile of likes, more than I have ever seen for Instagram posts in other countries. Just search for #Kuwait #Q8 on Instagram and you’ll see the huge number of hashtags.

I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t active on Twitter and people use Twitter to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in politics. The government and all of its departments are also very active online. You can see a collection of some of this activity here.

I can also add that during the summer months it gets very hot in Kuwait, up to 50°C, so you don’t want to be anywhere that isn’t air-conditioned. When I was there the temperature was around 40°C, so I can understand why the cat wanted to chill down in the air-conditioning system, and why everyone was hanging out in shopping malls.

Online trends and style 

During my visit I researched some tourist attractions online and I was disappointed to find that the website for Kuwait Towers looks as though it was designed a decade ago. A Kuwaiti told me that this was probably the case. This sadly does not reflect well on Kuwait in terms of it being a forward-thinking and digital-savvy country. Most people I met were very quick at picking up trends and the increase in web use in the country has been huge over the last few years. I would expect to see people in Kuwait using the web in new ways in the near future.

Social media course delegates in Kuwait

I met lovely people in Kuwait and they were very kind to me. Social media has and will play an import part in how all societies move forward. One speaker, Nasser Al-Mujaibel from Kuwait University, said that people in Saudi Arabia who watch YouTube are much more open to change and new ideas than those who don’t. Could this be true worldwide? Is YouTube broadening people’s world views? Probably yes!


One thing that surprised me was the lack of e-commerce in Kuwait. At the forum I listened to Mohammad Hijazi, a social media consultant from Lebanon, and he said that people in Arab countries are still very wary of shopping online. This is connected to the fact that the World Wide Web came to this region a bit later than it did to many other countries. It takes time for people to change their shopping behaviour.

In the Middle East, if you want to buy anything from Amazon you first have to get yourself a US or UK postal address and ship your order there. Several people I met who use Amazon had a deal with DHL in which they had a US or UK PO box and DHL would pick up the package from this PO box and then deliver the Amazon order to the purchaser in Kuwait. PayPal is not widely used and to withdraw your money from a PayPal account in Kuwait you need a US bank account.

It’s like in Europe where we are still hesitating about whether we should buy anything using our mobile phones while in Japan it’s very common for people to regularly shop using their mobiles.

Instagram is probably the biggest e-commerce channel in Kuwait. Brands just add a website or a phone number under a post and then people can get in touch and buy the items being promoted.

Other speakers at the 3rd Arabian Social Media Forum were: 

  • L. S. Subramanian – Social Media as a Business Enabler
  • Abdulaziz A. Alzain – Social Media Marketing Strategies and their Importance in the Arab world
  • Ayman Itani – The Opportunities of Established Media with Real-Time Marketing  
  • Ivan Zeljkovic – Digital Video – The Death of TV Advertising?
  • Ali Rebaie – Using Big Data and Social Media to Discover Patterns and Make Smarter Decisions 
  • Nasser Al-Mujaibel – The Influence of YouTube Channels in Saudi Arabia among Users and Non-Users
  • Felita Figueredo – Creating a Strategy for Social Media to Achieve Business Objectives
  • RajaGopalan Varadan – Social Media for Collaborative Learning and Employability
  • Mohammad Hijazi – E- Commerce 
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Why I created the Pintrest board with female speakers

I started to collect female speakers on my Pintrest board two days ago and some people have asked me why I started doing it.

Female speakers Pintrest board 6 April

It all springs from an idea I got when I spoke at UCL Enterprise Society at the end of March – UCL stands for University College London. I had a long conversation with a female student and we spoke about equality and being a woman in business.

We started to speak about leadership and conferences and I mentioned the #TackaNej campaign on Twitter that started in Sweden and went global.  It’s all about men refusing to speak at conferences and participate in panels that are men only. (I was born and raised in Sweden and I’ve been in London for about 7 years now)

I think that when a conference ends up having only male speakers it’s often down to bad research. You would be able to find a broader variety of speakers if you used more of your network; you know, digging a bit deeper and asking for more recommendations. Then you would find a better mix that does represent society and how the world looks.

In Sweden there is also an organisation that collects lists in different categories which help conference organisers and others to get more equal representation called Rättviseförmedlingen – here is their website and you can read about the campaign in English:

It shows female speakers who are experts in loads of subjects; some examples are architecture, digital innovators, design, creativity, security and like one hundred more topics.

Thinking time

This week I was thinking a lot about how to create a collection of women who speak in English. There are some women only speaking agencies around, but I did not find any of the sites very user-friendly and visually easy to overview.

We as humans love when someone creates categories for us. I’ve worked as digital marketing manager and e-commerce managers and I’ve discussed and created hundreds of categories to make a website more user-friendly and easier to orientate.

I thought a lot about where to start my collection of female speakers: Shall I set up a new website? Shall I use social media? Just after the event at UCL I also spent an hour on Pintrest, and I saw some amazing collections there.

I thought to myself, maybe I can set up a new board here featuring female speakers? So there I was and started with six female speakers on Friday and now it will soon be 50 on the board as of Sunday morning.

I need more people to contribute to the Pintrest board and I will set up a board for female speakers based in North America. I am also planning one for women in tech; women who can speak about technology.

If you have any suggestions for speakers, please email me at and send the name of the speakers, short descriptions (500 characters max), and an image or YouTube video.

Many thanks


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Let’s kill the Albert Mehrabian myth about 7 %, 38% and 55% forever


I’ve been doing public speaking and management training on and off for many years. One of the most often misquoted research results I keep hearing is the ’7%, 38%, 55%’ rule. Do you know which rule I mean? It’s about words, tone and body language. I shiver whenever I hear someone mentioning and asking about it.

As someone referred to it at the event I would like to share with you how the rule came about.

It all springs from research that was done back in 1968 in the U.S. by Albert Mehrabian.

From a blog post by Toastmasters International in London you can read the following:

Mehrabian’s Human Communication research in 1968 is credited as the basis of the notion that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is voice tone and only 7% is verbal.

If you have ever thought those figures sound unrealistic, you’re not alone. In a Radio 4 interview Mehrabian said: ‘Whenever I hear that misquote or misrepresentation of my findings I cringe, because it should be so obvious to anybody who would use any amount of common sense that that’s not a correct statement.’

If you would like to listen to an interview with Mehrabian follow this link to the BBC website. The interview starts at about 23 minutes in.

The words you say matter, as does tone and body language. I would guess that a more correct analysis would be that each element is of about equal importance.

Be aware of this when sharing your knowledge about public speaking, please never use these percentages as they are totally untrue. Always do your research when quoting studies. These days nearly everyone has a smartphone and an audience can be quick to check up on the facts you are presenting.


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Social Media Q&A

Do you have any questions about life in relation to social media?

Send an email with your question to Sofie Sandell for a chance to get it published here.

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