HootSuite Community Director Dave Olson Discusses Social Media Brand & Marketing Strategy

Written by Bonnie Boglioli...April 28, 2011

HootSuite is no stranger to those who keenly follow and use social media each day. Its intuitive social media dashboard offers users the ability to monitor and post to a plethora of social networks while tracking over 30 analytics along the way. Better yet, the platform’s unrivaled team collaboration features have won the affection of many enterprises seeking to align their social strategy with the help of multiple employees.

Widely embraced by social media strategists, marketers and brands, the social platform is rolling in the good times (just check their blog for a photo of Mr. Hoot himself enjoying a bicycle jaunt). Even amidst a few hiccups (most recently when Amazon’s cloud crash left HootSuite and other dependents tabled for 15 hours), the HootSuite staff kicks into overdrive to offer solutions with smiles to go around.

With recent acquisitions and a growing user base, we caught up with Community Director Dave Olson who took time out of his busy schedule to answer more than a few questions and provide us with an inside look into life at the Canadian company. Social users and brands take note: diversification plays a vital role for HootSuite as it should for you. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity).

STR: Dave, thanks for giving us an inside look into HootSuite. You were a HootSuite user prior to becoming its Community Director. Describe your role and what a typical day at HootSuite HQ is like. 

DO: I’ve been practicing for this job my whole life. I’ve made publications, presentations, fanzines and letters and I also enjoy teaching others how to share their creations with like-minded enthusiasts. This fits well with my role as ‘Community Wrangler’ at HootSuite, where outreach and interaction with the HootSuite community is key.

At our office in Vancouver, I oversee a diverse and international team. We tend to everything related to marketing, communications, media/public relations and customer/technical support for the social media dashboard. No day is ever the same here. We’re often liaising with our talented (and entertaining) dev teams to prepare promotional and instructional messaging for new tools and features as well as outreaching to – and conducting interviews with – media outlets and bloggers. Plus, we create educational materials to respond to unique world events. Sometimes, we have a technical conundrum to mitigate (like the recent Amazon outage) so we are broadcasting pro-active messaging over multiple channels and managing support tickets. 

With all these activities, there’s always a focus on our beloved user-base and we actively respond to comments, queries or suggestions. Of course, we use our own tool to do so.

STR: HootSuite allows organizations and individuals to tend to all of their social networking accounts on one tidy spot in the cloud. How important is social diversification in today’s world and what can organizations do to ensure they reach a wider audience?

DO: Tapping into the various social channels allows you to reach different types of audiences. For example, Twitter is a large, diverse group you really need to search out, listen to and actively engage. Facebook is all about managing relationships with those who already “Like” your brand. It’s more of a cultivation tool.

Recently, the importance of using geo-location games like Foursquare and the increasingly popular Gowalla have dramatically increased. The value of reaching a local audience that is actively searching and ready to evangelize your brand is immense.

Keep in mind, in Japan Gree and Mixi are the social networks of choice, while in The Netherlands, Hyves in the leader, so it’s important to find where your audience organically hangs out and go there to communicate with them in the manner they prefer.

STR:  Both mobile and geo-location are huge and growing, as you’re well aware. How does this transform the way we use and interact with social media and what does HootSuite offer in this area?

DO: HootSuite supports geo-located Twitter search, check-ins for Facebook Places and Foursquare on each of our mobile apps. We certainly see more geo-location on the roadmap ahead (pun intended). We encourage businesses to use geo-location activities to target local audiences and understand brand sentiment. Yelp! is a great example of connecting on-line and off-line worlds and, at a minimum, all retail businesses should be claiming and monitoring their listings.

STR:  Speaking of mobile and global, HootSuite has a variety of  smartphone apps that reach out to a global user base including one for Keitei (Japanese mobile devices). Are there other areas of the globe that HootSuite is following for growth?

DO: Absolutely. HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes was able to pioneer the Japanese localization thanks to important relationships formed while he was in the country last year. We certainly see opportunities like this in other areas, as well. Additionally, our translation project has allowed for our dashboard to be translated into several languages on both web and mobile, and we’ve got several international team members here at HQ actively outreaching to international audiences to see how they use social media.

Other countries with high mobile use include The Netherlands (which also boasts the highest penetration of Twitter and LinkedIn users) across several platforms, and Brazil which is heavy on Android phones but light on the iPhone and BlackBerry. Indonesia is a fast growing country for us and we’re exploring that area. South Korea has a voracious Internet appetite and Turkey is also growing rapidly.

STR: HootSuite’s monetization strategy incorporates multiple pay plans alongside a ‘freemium’ model. You also offer AdSense and were the first platform to partner with Twitter on its promoted tweets in timelines. Talk about your diverse business model.

DO: Diversification allows us to offer more advanced tools and functionality. We also have a subscription-based Learning Certification Program (learn.hootsuite.com) and a la carte add-on’s including Social Analytics reports, Elevated Support and so on. Plus, we’ve offset the cost for premium plans for some users with our Affiliate Program that pays a commission for referrals for HootSuite Pro plan sign-ups.

STR: You’ve certainly seen your fair share of enterprise brands and organizations that use HootSuite including The White House, Facebook and the LA Times. What are some of your favorites that exemplify a great social approach?

DO: Recently, we released a case study for Social Media Week in New York City for the New York Public Library. NYPL used HootSuite to pioneer a unique, decentralized social media team. The model allowed experts from the Library and its affiliated branches to engage directly with their community online and it won the team an award for their efforts.

We also enjoyed the story of a hospital using HootSuite & Ow.ly to live-Tweet a surgery. In general, we take a great deal of pride in seeing how remarkable organizations like the Smithsonian are using the tool we build.

STR:  On the heels of high profile ‘mis-tweets’ from a few brands, how important was the addition of a safety profile filter that minimizes embarrassing (or worse) tweets?

DO: This feature was highly requested by many of our Enterprise users. Ultimately, it gives them greater control over their social media teams and profiles. A common reluctance for large brands to engage with social media is the fear of putting their brand into the hands of others who carry profiles on their phones and laptops. This feature reduces the likelihood for human error and protects brand integrity. It’s worth noting that we think @redcross mitigated their mis-Tweet elegantly and we were very happy to help raise money in the aftermath.

STR:  HootSuite recently acquired TwitterBar, since renamed HootBar, a FireFox plugin that joins the Hootlet and Chrome apps in your plugin line-up. How important was this acquisition and the address bar plugins in general for the platform?

DO: This was an important acquisition for two reasons. Firstly, it is the first example of how we’re able to expand our functionality thanks to revenue generated from our Freemium model; and secondly, it shows how we continue to develop our business around product growth and increased usability for our community.

STR: What has HootSuite learned from and changed since its inception in 2008 in the fast-paced, evolving landscape of social media?

DO: A large part of learning is from using the tools ourselves and from listening to our users, both in blog comments and through the official HootSuite feedback channel. Most notably, we’ve learned there is no one-size-fits-all social media plan, which is why we’ve introduced a Freemium model that allows casual users to remain free and businesses to opt in to Pro or Enterprise packages with advanced features and team collaboration tools. We’ve also learned that different countries use social media in different ways with different networks, expectations and purposes.

STR: Dave, it was a pleasure hearing more about HootSuite. Thanks again!

DO: Thanks!

Dave Olson, Community/Marketing Director, can be found tweeting (of course) @daveohoots

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