The early days of Hootsuite was a wild barrage of excitement and activities including a lot of semi-related speaking gigs which were on “my own time” but often relating to experience gained while doing start-up companies including this particular social media software project.
In this example, my co-conspirator and fellow vice president (me community, and him business development) Greg Gunn went back to Greg’s hometown of Victoria, BC (where i later lived for a bit) for a “Experience Tectoria” event which ran in tandem with the fantastic Rifflandia festival (for which we received VIP passes and a fancy hotel).
There was abundant food and beer on offer during the talk, and at the end I was given a case of “bomber” bottles which, shockingly and only time ever, I had to decline as I had an opportunity to rush over to the music festival to catch my buddy Dan Mangan perform – at the time a rising star, now a solid presence, Juno-award winner and a start up founder himself.
As part of the programming, Reggie Watts also performed and had a chance to hang out with him for a “session” plus Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips came to check out the event (but sadly wasn’t at our talk – though i did say hello and later rocked out to his band’s stellar outdoor performance) – I also judged a start-up pitch panel, choosing a winner and went on to be at on their advisory board (Kiind / Giftbit).
Audio: Some years afterwards, some video clips surfaced, I extracted some audio, cleaned it up and released for educational use as Keynote Aboard a Boat.
PS Goes without saying neither Greg nor I are with Hootsuite anymore.
Tom Sawyer famously talked his gang into paying him for the privilege of whitewashinga fence while he sat by and supervised. In this talk by Dave Olson at SxSW Interactive on March 10th 2012, he shares how companies might inspire their community to crowd source projects by engaging passionate users with a mutually beneficial relationship.
This video – made from appropriately crowd-sourced photos, social posts, and other snippets + music – includes Mark Twain-period costuming, pipes, smoking jackets, board games, old-timey suitcase, mysterious envelopes, audience participation and plenty of laughs while focusing on practical tactics to rally communities with clear expectations, boundaries, rewards, and objectives and importantly – without manipulating.
3 very different project examples provide tangible advice for various campaign timelines, outcomes and audiences, and include:
* True North Media House: a long-planned (and fantastically successful), renegade self-accreditation citizen documentation project at Vancouver 2010 Olympics / Paralympics
* Phones for Fearless: a rapidly planned and deployed initiative to gather dis-used mobile phone/cameras for use by marginalized communities to tell their stories
* Hootsuite Translation: activating global cultures to speedily and accurately translate and localize a social media dashboard using a web tool… with unexpected outcomes
With Canucks’ (NHL ice hockey team) rookie Quinn Hughes looking likely to best a long-held team record for points by a defensemen, seems a good idea to share this snap of me with the strapping gent who’s record may fall (plus this is 7 years to the day as though that matters).
[update: march 12/13 – NHL season indefinitely paused so Lidster’s record may yet stand for a bit due to this shortened situation]
This oak tree of a dude is Doug Lidster, long-time NHL player and at the time of this snap (March 2013) on coaching staff of Dallas Stars, since then has had another stint coaching with Canucks and no doubt other gigs.
He graciously came out to support #Hoothockey – a charity street hockey event put together at the noted SxSW event in Austin, Texas by Hootsuite (note colleague Connor Meakin between our shoulders) and Richard Loat spear-headed Five Hole for Food campaign. March 11, 2013 for the record.
In brief, various company-sponsored teams paid admission to compete in games played in a “rink” of inflatable boards – Dallas Star sent along this great space plus various side-games, a trio of cheerleader (note: i should include that pic too!) and more. The money and 7,500 lbs of food were in-turn donated to the local food banks. Lots of fun of course and lots of “internet famous” types joined in.
I am especially proud of the community focused narrative of which I’ll share a bit here:
Investing in Community-Building Programs
But it’s important to note that freemium was just one part of our formula for user growth. Another big piece of the puzzle was investing in a fully functional community department at Hootsuite. In many startups, the community team – if there’s one at all – is treated as an extension of marketing or customer support. While their ostensible role may be “building a community” of users, they spend a lot of their time pitching products and fielding help calls.
Our community department, by contrast, didn’t have direct sales or support responsibilities. Instead, their primary mandate was to help people who already knew and loved our product connect with one another. They built out social media channels in a half-dozen key languages, enabling users around the world to share updates and learn about Hootsuite news and events. And they organized crowd-sourced translation efforts, recruiting international users to adapt our interface into local languages, everything from German and Italian to Thai and Chinese. (Amazingly, translations were volunteer-driven – motivated by love of the technology and a liberal helping of swag, i.e. stickers, t-shirts and cuddly stuffed animals inspired by our owl logo.)
Online efforts were supplemented by old-fashioned face-to-face events. In emerging markets, the community team helped users organize hundreds of free meetups (branded as “HootUps”), where people could get together and trade Hootsuite tips. Ultimately, a network of hundreds of volunteer “ambassadors” around the world took shape, enthusiastic users who spread the word about Hootsuite in their countries. Many of these ambassadors, not surprisingly, were bloggers, consultants and marketers who just so happened to have large online audiences of their own.
Cumulatively, these projects gave us entree into new markets, initiating the viral chain of adoption in other countries and spreading Hootsuite far beyond its original North American user base.
An article by Ryan Holmes talking about the tactics and methods Hootsuite used to build with small budgets and big fun including Hootups, community activities like translation project, creative swag and more…
Ryan Holmes: With literally millions of apps competing for attention, startups are finding themselves forced to pour ever greater sums into marketing efforts. But money isn’t always the answer…
But more money isn’t always the answer. In Hootsuite’s first three years, we grew our user base from zero to five million people. During that time, our marketing budget was pretty much non-existent. We turned instead to a pair of complementary, low-cost approaches to find and keep customers. It may well have made all the difference.
Freemium economics One fundamental decision made shortly after launching in 2009 was to make our social media tool a freemium service. The majority of our users — and we very quickly reached the million mark — paid nothing. They could (and still can) log in for free to view their social media accounts from one dashboard, schedule messages and see analytics. Companies that wanted beefed up functionality and extra support, paid a monthly fee, ranging from as little as $9 to $1,000 and up for large enterprises with lots of employees.
Why invest so many resources and so much bandwidth catering to millions of free users who would never account for a cent of revenue? For starters, freemium dramatically reduces the need for traditional marketing and sales efforts. Our free users — in steady, predictable numbers — became paid users. Instead of having to sell them on the merits of our product with expensive ads, we let them see for themselves. Our product became our best marketing tool and salesperson. On average more than half our paying customers, including large clients, start out as free users.
Meanwhile, our free user base fulfilled another key function: It kept us honest. Free users are fickle; they’re not locked in by a contract or any other obligations. They can, at any moment, pick up and take their “business” elsewhere. So to maintain and grow our free user base, we had to continually update our product, rolling out new features to stay ahead of the pack.
These same features helped us win and keep paying customers. While other corporate tools were years behind the social media curve, our efforts to satisfy free users meant we could offer big enterprise customers the latest technology.
Seeing value in community But the freemium approach wouldn’t have been as effective were it not for another equally important strategy: investing in a fully functional community department. In many startups, the community team, if there’s one at all, is treated as an extension of marketing or customer support. While their ostensible role may be “building a community” of users, they spend a lot of time pitching products and fielding help calls.
Our community department, by contrast, didn’t have direct sales or support responsibilities. Their primary mandate was to help people who already knew our product connect with one another. In the early days, they set up social media accounts in a half-dozen key languages, sharing updates with users around the world.
At the same time, they led a crowdsourced translation effort that saw our tool translated into more than a dozen local languages, from German and Italian to Thai and Chinese. (Amazingly, translations were volunteer-driven — motivated by love of the technology and a liberal helping of swag, i.e. stickers, T-shirts and cuddly stuffed animals inspired by our owl logo.)
Online efforts were supplemented by old-fashioned face-to-face events. In emerging markets, the community team helped users organize hundreds of free meetups (branded as “HootUps”), where people could get together and trade product tips. Ultimately, a network of hundreds of volunteer “ambassadors” around the world took shape, enthusiastic users who agreed to spread the word in their countries. Many of these ambassadors were bloggers, consultants and marketers whose own agenda of developing a large online following aligned well with ours.
Cumulatively, these projects gave us entree into new markets, initiating the viral chain of adoption in other countries and spreading our product beyond its original North American user base.
Day two or three, depending on how you count ‘em, of my 3rd quest to South by Southwest in Austin Texas… And I gotta say, it’s shaping up just fine man. You know, I’m keeping up a solid effort and fully professional about spreading the love of my job, and that’s going really well. Also very important to maximize the party and good times, and that, too, is progressing suitably well.
Despite shaking off some nasty flu and general haggardness from excess travel and in general just haven’t taking very good care of myself, and then coupled with some disorganization and long stories about things that didn’t get printed and didn’t get delivered and stuff, yeah it’s rolling along just fine.
Recap: Last night down at the Gingerman, one of my favourite beer drinking places (which has moved around the corner to a location that might even be finer than its previous, though I’m really surprised that’s even possible because that old location was just fine).
Yesterday I rallied up after my slumber and scarfed down some nasty coffee and went down to the Hideout Coffee Shop. I met up with this nice Canadian lady that I met every time that I’m down here and as soon as I walked in the door she said, “You’re here from Canada” and I’m like, “Yes I am!”
It was packed and hectic. Just like last year, I was late for these migas breakfast burritos laden with a bunch of leftover odds n ends shit: egg, cornflakes, etc. Tasty. I really needed a good proper breakfast! Where should I go? She told me some directions to this place and I thought I was going off track but then it all came together and I got some wicked blueberry pancakes at the Counter Cafe with poached eggs just the way i like em.
If you’re not careful you end up living on appetizers, which is why today I’m on a quest for a proper breakfast, so again, I am in some dire need of sustenance – need to nourish the body to nourish the soul. At the Hideout I got a big giant smoothie. It was quite charming.
Then, at the convention centre, I stood in line and got my badge! You gotta have a badge. If you don’t have a lanyard, man, you don’t belong.
Then I rallied with some buddies and we sat on the lawn drinking Sobe green tea. I had some Japanese envelopes from my papery stash — back from 1983! I was fortunate to be able to augment my stash with some more packets from a Japanese dollar store in Tinseltown. So I sat with some buddies (John and Jason) and I filled these wee dossiers with stickers, tattoos, pins and sealed my card in. It was like a bundle of diplomatic goodness. Good time doing arts and crafts in the sunshine.
Then I found a little table to setup. I was curious about a press release I had put out so checked on that while thinking about issues about privacy, elitism, notions about early adoption, etc.
Then I headed off to Mellow Johnnies — it’s a bike shop, a complete beauty. It wasn’t super fancy but it felt really comfortable. They had smoothies and maps for local riding routes. I could see how you might like living here with all the distances to ride. There’s not really mountains — not by the B.C. definition but long roads to ramble.
Anyhow, this particular meetup event at Mellow Johnny’s had to do with my professional capacity. The people/hosts knew what I was doing with day-job and knew what we were up to and we had some intelligent discourse about this particular topic.
But, my highlight was sharing these envelopes with all these people. And explaining the love and care that went into those things and they opened them up with excitement and questions. Cheap and Cheerful marketing success.
Transforming your customers into your company’s marketing team sounds crazy but just might work, especially when those customers are eager college students.
Host events like HootSuite
According to a recent survey, branded live events are the No. 1 driver of brand recommendations. These events clock in at 65 percent, beating out even a friend’s recommendation (63 percent) in importance when it comes to brand experience. Knowing this, many campus ambassador programs make events an integral part of marketing efforts in order to attract new consumers. For instance, social media metric company HootSuite empowers users and brand ambassadors to host “HootUps.” These gatherings are put together by campus ambassadors and fans of the company, and involve discussions of social media best practices and networking. The events are branded with HootSuite swag, yet they offer students real-world value and the ability to make great contacts. If your events offer consumers and customers something useful, they’ll be likely to equate your brand with providing concrete value to their lives.
After eight SXSW conferences, I’ve learned that the hard way. When my company was first getting off the ground, we were completely lost in the shuffle, despite our best efforts. In 2012, however, we had a 28-foot-long, 15,000-pound secret weapon. To stand out amid the gala parties and blow-out bashes hosted by much bigger tech companies, HootSuite decided to take to the streets. We transformed a Ford E-450 shuttle bus into possibly the world’s biggest owl, in honor of our mascot – mounting a pair of giant eyes above the windshield and affixing enormous plastic wings on the sides.
Cheesy? Yes. Effective, absolutely. By the end of the conference, our logo had been splashed across the pages of USA Today, Mashable and Inc. The conference’s highest profile attendees were clamoring to get on board and party with us. And investors whom I didn’t even know were inquiring about thecompany. In the end, it cost us around $30,000 to buy and outfit the vehicle. Considering that hosting just a single party at SXSW can cost as much, if not more, that’s an absolute steal. This year, in fact, we’re bringing HootBus back for its third ride.