Interviewed by Peter H. Stone ISSUE 82, WINTER 1981
In the end all books are written for your friends. The problem after writing One Hundred Years of Solitude was that now I no longer know whom of the millions of readers I am writing for; this upsets and inhibits me. It’s like a million eyes are looking at you and you don’t really know what they think.
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.
Mr. Olson also shared some cool extras with us, like this Chinese pronunciation guidean enthusiastic employee made and an introduction video in Chinese (embedded below). I’m sure not everyone at the company is learning Chinese, but this is still a nice, friendly touch that shows the folks at HootSuite are really working to communicate with Chinese users on their terms. Here’s hoping that HootSuite can move even further into the Chinese market (and that that pronunciation video will stop people from pronouncing weibo like “way-bow”)!
Since launching almost 4 years years ago, HootSuite’s goal was to make our social media management system available to as many people as possible.
With this in mind, we monitor conversations about HootSuite and reach out to markets in which we see rapid organic growth. Afterwards we work to localize these unique markets. We started with Japan, then Spanish speaking countries, around Europe and then onwards into other Asian markets like Indonesia.
We knew the Chinese market was important but wanted to make sure we avoided missteps that we observed from other companies. We also knew that HootSuite is blocked by association in China because our core product includes access to Twitter and Facebook.
HootSuite is very cognizant that Chinese social media users have different networks, different needs, habits and culture along with different language. In addition we know there is more than one Chinese market with different expectations around China’s provinces including communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan/Taipei, Singapore and the huge ex-pat community such as in our home city of Vancouver.
We also learned that despite the difference, people using Chinese social networks share some of the same needs as users in the West, which are: sharing content across networks, managing multiple online profiles, and help listening, responding to, and analyzing their online interactions.
We’ve learned a lot from localizing elsewhere, and are hoping to use these lessons in bringing HootSuite to Chinese users. We want to tread lightly, and listen attentively.
As such, we are taking a diplomatic and educational approach to build community, share knowledge and deliver on expectations. Eventually we can build a business case as well.
What are you doing to get into the China market already?
Along with adding Sina Weibo support, we translated HootSuite’s web and mobile social media dashboard into Traditional Chinese and released it on October 8th in order to start the conversation with social media enthusiasts in Hong Kong, Taiwan/Taipei, etc.
However, before starting the translation project, we held a Chinese Localization Symposium in which we invited a cross section of Chinese social media users to discuss the linguistic, cultural and logistical challenges. The event was a success and we followed it up with a fun translathon with Chinese themed decorations, music, food, tea and more!
Now, with the Traditional Chinese version launched, we’re underway with working on the Simplified Chinese version. We’ve also started developing a Chinese specific branding as well, to share our name and culture in Chinese characters.
We aim to keep things pretty grassroots, talking with people through our @HootSuite_CN and Sina Weibo accounts to see what is working, what isn’t, and what they want to see in the future.
Building relationships with users is our biggest priority.
What comes next and what are your long term plans?
Next up is getting our Simplified Chinese translation released by the end of the year. We will also increase Sina Weibo integration features, and are exploring integrations with other Chinese social networks like Renren and other Tencent properties. A lot of our next steps will be based on what we hear from conversations with our Chinese users.
We also hope to find quality social media industry events for our CEO Ryan Holmes to speak at and share our culture and story.
Long term plans are based on the feedback and reaction from these initial steps. Obviously, there are challenges facing foreign companies wanting to operate in Mainland China – especially technology companies like HootSuite – so we’ll stay focused on finding ways to get HootSuite in the hands of as many users as possible, perhaps with a China-specific version.
What are you finding the differences are between your Chinese and international users? Between weibo and twitter users?
First off, Chinese users can say a lot more in 140 characters!
Social media has broad appeal, regardless of which network you are using. The desire to connect with people, to broadcast, listen, and share, spans cultures.
Social media usage patterns and attitudes for Chinese specifically – and international in general – is a topic we spend lots of time researching. Getting a finger on the pulse of those differences is something we hope conversations with our users will produce.
For example: Weibo has a focus on media-rich content like photos and videos, as well as things like emoji. Comments and ‘likes’ on posts also helps keep the conversation going.
Overall, feature differences between networks reflect and/or inform usage patterns, so there are definitely some differences between Sina Weibo and Twitter users. We’ve embraced the differences in Twitter usage between North America and countries like Japan and Indonesia, so we’ll continue listening to the Chinese users for guidance.
Mr. Olson also shared some cool extras with us, like this Chinese pronunciation guide an enthusiastic employee made and an introduction video in Chinese (embedded below). I’m sure not everyone at the company is learning Chinese, but this is still a nice, friendly touch that shows the folks at HootSuite are really working to communicate with Chinese users on their terms. Here’s hoping that HootSuite can move even further into the Chinese market (and that that pronunciation video will stop people from pronouncing weibo like “way-bow”)!
Techvibes broke some big news yesterday (Oct. 24, 2012)
But it wasn’t the page views, retweets, and Likes that blew us away. It was the comments on our article.
Shortly after publishing our piece confirming a slew of layoffs at New Brunswick’s Radian6 readers started weighing in with their two cents, job offers, and best wishes. Surprisingly most of the best wishes were from competitors in the social marketing and analytics space.
As Ian Gertler so eloquently said, “the incredible level of respect and professional admiration in these comments is refreshing.” Here’s a sample:
HootSuite’s Dave Olson: “As VP Community at HootSuite, i am rather sad to see this. Radian 6 – from the other coast of Canada than us – we’re a noble competitor and industry light. Regardless of Salesforce’s plans with R6 (and yes they are a competitor to us), it’s simply sad to see diligent community builders cut loose. In my (biased) opinion, cultivating community and sparking internal culture are critical roles which simply can not be outsourced, ignored or underestimated. Best wishes to all who received the dreaded news today.”
Sysomos Community Manager Sheldon Levine: “While these guys have been and are a competitor to my company, Sysomos, I got to know a lot of the R6 team over the past few years and I was a bit upset to hear this news. Just because our companies are competitors doesn’t mean that I couldn’t be friends with some of these people, and it’s tough to see great people lose their jobs. I won’t say anymore about this, other than I wish all of these former employees the best of luck in the future and that any of them can feel free to reach out to me to talk any time.”
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.”
The 2012 Olympics in London are being touted by some as the world’s “first social Games.” While some question just how social they’ll actually be, there’s no doubt that networks such as Facebook, Twitter andYouTube will play an unprecedented role in how information is disseminated from London, and how the global sports conversation is driven during July and August.
Why the big shift? It’s simple: Four years is an eternity in Internet time and since the last Summer Olympics in 2008, social media has exploded.
Web use in general has grown rapidly, too. In 2008, there were about 1.5 billion Internet users globally, according to the International Telecommunications Union, making up about 23% of the world’s total population. By this summer’s games, that number will have swelled to about 2.3 billion users making up about a third of the world’s total population.
Summer Olympics feature some of the most popular international sports — including soccer, basketball, swimming, and track and field — so that’s sure to fuel the global buzz as well. For more context on just how and why social media will reshape this year’s Olympics in relation to 2008, we thought it’d be interesting to take a quick look at a few of the world’s most popular networks and how they compare then and now.
2008: A tweet in August of 2008 from then-Facebook executive and eventual Path co-founder Dave Moringleefully celebrated Facebook breaking the 100 million-user threshold. 2008 was also marked by reports around the web of Facebook — gasp! — passing MySpace in popularity. The social network debuted its now omnipresent chat feature that year as well.
Today: Facebook claims more than 900 million users, is fast becoming a portal to the web at large for many and is a publicly traded company. Its founder Mark Zuckerberg is a global celebrity.
2008: 2008 saw explosive growth for Twitter, and it still finished the year with about 6 million registered users who sent about 300,000 tweets per day. The social network and its users were still very much finding their way, as evidenced by this official blog post explaining @replies. In 2009, Minnesota Timberwolves forwardKevin Love would tweet that the team’s coach had been let go, breaking the story and causing some in the sports world to speculate that maybe, just maybe, the service could change how news was delivered and consumed.
Today: Twitter currently claims more than 500 million users who collectively send some 400 million tweetseach and every day. Sports news regularly breaks on the network, it’s become a prime marketing channel for athletes and much of the London 2012 conversation among media and fans is sure to take place there.
2008: By fall of 2008, YouTube users were uploading 10 hours of video to the site per minute. The site had emerged as the go-to destination for web video and had been acquired by Google two years prior. It also launched its mobile site, pre-roll ads and 720p HD option in 2008. But that success was nothing compared to what the site would look like four years later.
Today: Iconic Olympic moments are sure to go viral and become immortalized on YouTube seemingly as they happen this summer, and it’s easy to see why. The company says it receives over 800 million unique visits per month. Those visitors watch more than 3 billion hours of video per month and upload 72 hours of new video content per minute. Five hundred years’ worth of YouTube video are watched on Facebook every day and more than 700 YouTube videos get shared on Twitter each minute.
What It All Means
Just looking at the the three most ubiquitous social networks reveals a sporting scene and world at large that have been transformed by social media since the last Summer Olympics. And that doesn’t take into account services like Pinterest, Foursquare and Google+ — none of which even existed in 2008. This summer, expect news to break, social sharing records to fall and moments to live on as never possible before thanks to social media. And to think — this will all pale in comparison to what 2016 has in store.
Cool Under Pressure: How HootSuite Responded to Embarrassing Tweets, Crashing Servers, and the Japanese Earthquake
On February 15, 2011, a Red Cross employee – obviously having a lot of fun – accidentally broadcasted this tweet from @RedCross rather than her personal account. (See the full story on CNN.) But what VP Community Dave Olson was most alarmed about was the little HootSuite marker: the rogue tweet had been sent using his startup’s social media dashboard.
So HootSuite flew into action: they donated to the Red Cross, encouraged others to donate, and sent a care package with a beer koozie to the mistweeter. Soon, with support from Dogfish Head, breweries were offering a free pint of beer for customers who donated a pint of blood to the Red Cross, rallying around the hashtag #gettngslizzerd. And HootSuite quickly launched tools for secure profiles – an extra step to confirm that you want to tweet to a protected account. What could have been a fiasco turned into a PR boon for 3 companies.
Time and time again, HootSuite has adroitly avoided missteps and faux pas while capitalizing on pivotal moments. That same February, while the Arab Spring ignited in Egypt and Facebook and Twitter seemed blocked, protesters and media signed up for HootSuite to get the message out. As press coverage soared, HootSuite released a timely infographic on popular hashtags and tweets about the Arab Spring. They were soon getting calls about it from the US Department of State, National Geographic, and Voice of America.
The following month, HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes was scheduled to present on a SXSW panel called Big in Japan. Less than 3 days before the panel, Japan was struck by the record-breaking earthquake and tsunami.
“The show must go on, in some way or another. We couldn’t just go there and say, ‘Let’s all cuddle up and cry,’” recalls Olson. So HootSuite set up a breakfast with the panelists to make sure everyone’s family was safe, and started the panel with a moment of silence. Afterward, they held a discussion for those concerned about Japan. HootSuite tweeted to urge attendees to donate, and SXSWers ended up contributing over $125,000. Meanwhile, HootSuite employees in Japan – the first market they had localized for – used their language skills to help stranded locals and connect them with embassies.
I met with VP Community Dave Olson at HootSuite’s Vancouver headquarters
And HootSuite was still a small team. Though they’ve now grown to 180, they only had around 20 employees when Amazon Web Services crashed one month later, bringing HootSuite (and many other sites) along with it. But the HootSuite blog was still up, and they used it to alert customers of the situation and share news coverage from around the web. Throughout, says Olson, they refrained from “throwing Amazon under the bus.” Once service was restored, HootSuite wrote a blog post about how they’d prevent a similar problem in the future, and issued a $50 credit available to their 1.6 million customers.
From humiliating tweets to chaotic revolutions to tragedies big and small, HootSuite has kept its cool and remained genuine. But how?
“I want to build this company one hug at a time, one relationship at a time – of course it’s not quite possible anymore but we still take that same ethos and same attitude,” says Olson.
“We really try to be egoless. We’re all in it together. We’re all just owls. … Having this egoless, hustle, underdog culture – there’s something really ingrained in our DNA about we don’t take anything for granted. We don’t compete against people; we compete against ourselves – we’re always raising the bar for ourselves.”
It’s a tough lesson to implement, but this is what it looks like in the trenches.