Appeared on Just Talking Podcast with Chris to discuss Hootsuite, community building, marketing and social media globally.
As the blurb says:
“This week I’m joined by Dave Olson, VP of Community for Hootsuite. You can expect conversation about Hootsuite’s origins, Dave’s evolving role at Hootsuite, social media best practices, Hootsuite’s international expansion and owl obsessions. You can also expect expertly crafted segues, but I won’t spoil who had the best transition from one topic to another. Enjoy..”
I spoke with “Everyone Funding Start-ups” podcast, a project of GrowVC – a global marketplace for equity funding – about grassroots strategies for entrepreneurs, including how to build a community of customers and supporters, plus many adaptable “cheap and cheerful” tactics and tools used for building Hootsuite community internationally.
This week’s episode of the Grow VC Everyone Funding Startups podcast features Dave Olson (@daveohoots), VP of Community at HootSuite – the leading social media dashboard for managing social networks. Dave discusses best practices for entrepreneurs looking to create, engage and leverage their community of users and supporters. As VP of Community at a company that provides users with tools to better manage their own communities, Dave is ideally positioned to provide listeners with actionable advice in this critical area of enterprise development.
Dave also discusses HootSuite’s tremendous international growth and the advantages and challenges associated with the creation of a global community. As is often the case with HootSuite, the company turned to its community of users to to assist with these inherent challenges.
Jason Lloyd came by the Hootsuite office to interview me for CiTR’s Tweets and Tunes, his show that examines the relationship between independent musicians and social media.
Being an active participant and enthusiast of music scenes, i had many topics to riff about, including DIY promo work at HootSuite, the Tracks on Tracks project, and the impact social media has on independent music.
Social media is creating an opportunity for musicians to connect with their audience like never before, allowing everyone to be part of a conversation. The changing dynamics between artist and fan are explored, along with lots of advice and tips for musicians and their social media endeavours.
The show ends with a discussion of the Vancouver music scene, including, bands, venues, and how things have changed and evolved over the years.
One software-as-a-service that does its best to prevent workers from getting adversely affected by monitoring the goings-on revolving the company is HootSuite.
Dave Olson, HootSuite’s Vice President of Community explains that “the workload is distributed and everyone supports one another – practically and emotionally”. But there are times when the users get under the skin of those trying to bring the best service possible to them. That’s when Olson steps in.
“As a long-time practitioner, I provide mentoring to ensure workers don’t take snotty replies personally and don’t reply in haste or anger,” Olson says. “When in doubt: breathe, remember these tools didn’t exist 5 years ago, and go get a coffee and relax before replying.”
Following my talk at NxNE – following the epic Tracks on Tracks journey – i did an interview with Russ Martin for Canada.com and related media outlets (which include dozens of papers across Canada). We riffed on many of my fave topics including how we build community with culture and goodtimes.
He’s standing on the second floor of the Hyatt hotel in Toronto during NXNEi, the interactive arm of the film and music festival. A small crowd of web workers surrounds him, eager to glean advice from the community director of one of Canada’s most successful social media companies, Hootsuite.
Olson is handing out small brown envelopes. They are stamped in DIY style with an inky picture of an owl and the text, ‘you’re a hoot!’ Inside is a Hootsuite pin and an assortment of branded stickers and temporary tattoos.
It’s telling that Hootsuite’s logo is a cutesy owl character.
Based in Vancouver, Hootsuite has a laid-back, blissful vibe. While Google led the web 1.0 cohort with its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ sensibility, a more appropriate mantra for a social company like Hootsuite might be ‘Stay Awesome.’
The company hosts ‘Hootup’ meet ups where its users can hang out in real life. It also sends Cub Scout style badges and Hootsuite t-shirts to users in the mail. When big events like the Arab Spring occur, it creates infographics to depict how those stories were told on social media.
Hootsuit has hosted Hootup meetups all over the world. Photo: Hootsuite
In its four years of business Hootsuite has landed some mammoth clients. Stephen Harper’s office uses the app, as does Barack Obama’s. Via Rail, the Red Cross, the Smithsonian and The U.S. Navy are also users.
Like many apps, Hootsuite operates on a freemium model. Anyone can use Hootsuite to manage multiple social media accounts free of charge. The company’s revenue comes from Hootsuite Enterprise, a souped-up version of the app that offers a trove of analytics to show clients how effectively they’ve engaged their audience.
Hootsuite Enterprise offers a trove of analytics. Photo: Hootsuite
This model splits Hootsuite’s customer base in two. First is the mass of consumers managing personal Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Then there are businesses and government agencies that use the service to manage their public image.
Sitting in the Hyatt lobby Olson explains the two factions.
“In order for the freemium business model to work well, you need to have two unequal parts,” he says. “You need a massive free user base that’s building awareness. Then you have to have the other, smaller slice which is Enterprise and the pro users who are bringing the money to the table.”
Olson says free users make up about 96 per cent of the Hootsuite user base. “That other four per cent, a lot of them love that culture about us,” Olson says. “But when they go to their vice president or CEO and say, ‘I need budget to spend x dollars on Hootsuite Enterprise and we need to take social seriously,’ we want to make sure they have appropriate materials.”
When Hootsuite corresponds with Obama’s office or the UN, its documents still features owl cartoons. But the owls are sophisticated, their beaks poking out of business suits.
Hootsuite’s business owl. Photo: Hootsuite
As a social media platform, Hootsuite has a front row-seat to the news of the world. When a natural disaster or social revolution takes place, users flood the service.
Last spring the Egyptian government cut off access to Facebook and Twitter during political unrest. They did not, however, think to block Hootsuite. Overnight Hootsuite saw a 7,000 per cent growth in Egyptian users.
“For the next 36 hours, Hootsuite was unwittingly the voice of the revolution in Egypt,” Olson says. “Hootsuite was the only way to get a social media message out of Egypt.”
Hootsuite staffers responded directly to tweets coming out of Egypt and the company later compiled data on Eygpt’s hashtags and tweets. It posted the data as an infographic and allowed both National Geographic and the U.S. State Department to re-distribute it.
After careful consideration, Olson says, the company became involved.
“There was sort of a vague line—do we want to get politically involved in this?” Olson asks. “We knew our tool was playing a role but we were slightly unwitting participants.”
Other times, political unrest has presented Hootsuite with a sort of business Sophie’s Choice. When Occupy protesters took to the streets, they also took to social media. Front line protesters used Hootsuite to share live updates on multiple channels from multiple accounts.
But it’s not just protesters and NGOs on the service. It’s also the banks.
If Hootsuite supported the banks, it might have angered its huge user base. If it helped protesters, it risked alienating paying customers.
In the case of Occupy (and many others) Hootsuite reverted to its initial mandate: to keep the tool up and running and to make sure people are receiving help as needed.
It kept politics at arm’s length.
“We need to be able to play both sides,” Olson says. “We have Occupy Wall Street using us on one side and major banks and organizations using us on the other. We don’t want to muddy those waters with a political statement but at the same time we know when people are doing something right.”
It’s not just two sides Hootsuite has to play. It has to play them all. That’s why the company has designed over 100 owls, each with unique traits.
Hootsuite has an owl for almost every occasion. Photo: Hootsuite
Sometimes Hootsuite sees what’s happening on its service and wants to get involved. When an earthquake hit Japan last year, it was a no brainer. Hootsuite tweeted at its users to donate and made a special Japanese owl to show its support.
Other times it steps back and lets users speak for themselves.
What Hootsuite provides, aside from Hootsuite Enterprise and analytics, is the same thing all social companies do: the opportunity to share and communicate.
And Olson says that’s good.
“We think all communication—well, mostly all—is good communication,” he says. “People from the Department of Justice and Occupy can start a conversation online. I want that conversation to happen on Hootsuite if possible.”
“The more you have people talking and having a cup of tea together,” he says, “the better.”
After spieling at NXNE 2012 in Toronto with “Social Media in Revolutions and Disasters, I shared some stories and thoughts about social media – specifically for bands and their fans – in a series created by Intel.
Afterwards i shared more opinions and anecdotes to various media outlets including this video treat by Dean Broughton. Click through to view and/or read the article below.
Vancouver’s HootSuite are the darlings of SXSW, again. If it’s not the HootSuite Owl commanding crowds, it’s the massive HootBus and t-shirt-canon-firing CEO Ryan Holmes attracting attention. The social media dashboard is on an explosive growth curve and has now been adapted into 14 different languages.
When Facebook and Twitter went down at the start of the Arab Spring in Egypt last year, HootSuite was the only outlet able to provide a conduit for the people during the first 36 hours. It was a pretty powerful day for the director of marketing Dave Olson, who witnessed 7,000 per cent spike in users overnight.
He outlined how HootSuite has organically mobilized around the globe during his well-received SXSW session “Crowd Sourcing Community Projects Around the Globe Like Tom Sawyer.”