I wondered about HootSuite 2.0 and what drives an organization to create and invest in tools that improve upon the Twitter experience, so I reached out to Ryan Holmes, CEO of Invoke Media, the interactive agency behind HootSuite. We had an interesting discussion about HootSuite's new features, its business model, and what happens if Twitter goes the way of Friendster.
Before getting into my Q&A with Ryan, let's briefly explore HootSuite 2.0 and why it is one of the leading Twitter clients available. The new version combines the benefits of a web-based tool with the group-creating and -tracking power of TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop. This means users can sign on to any computer and access groups without any software or synchronization. It works far better than other tools I've tried with similar functionality, and the new HootSuite retains the site's attractive user interface.
In addition to Twitter user groups, HootSuite.com offers:
- Customizable interface with ability to add tabs and columns, which can contain groups, keyword tracking, searches, or Twitter profile feeds such as your home feed, Mentions (@replies), Direct Messages (both in and out), and pending, favorite, or sent tweets
- Easy maintenance of multiple Twitter accounts
- Saved searches, permitting you to track Twitter buzz in real time
- Ability to embed those searches into sites and blogs
- Scheduled Tweets
- Functional browser button (called a Hootlet) to easily tweet links as you surf
- Built-in link shortening using ow.ly
- Ability to track and graph the clicks on the links you post to Twitter (via ow.ly)
- Auto-tweeting of new items in RSS feeds, such as blog posts
- Ping.fm integration
- User management, allowing multiple people to maintain Twitter accounts.
Ryan, let's start with what HootSuite is. In a world of (seemingly) a million Twitter clients, what does the new and improved HootSuite offer that is different or better than any of the competing tools available?
HootSuite 2.0 is a solution for pro/business users and groups to make Twitter easier and better. At a high level, HootSuite is easy to use, customizable and has many rich features including:
- Team workflow
- Multiple Twitter accounts
- Tweet scheduling
- RSS/Facebook integration (via ping.fm)
- Rich analytics so users can see # of clicks in URLs by user and geographic region
- People grouping
We actually get a surprising amount of donations by our loyal users through our donations. It's in the hundreds (but not thousands) of dollars a day. We really appreciate it.
I'm guessing the PayPal donations are really not your end-game business model. I'm intrigued by the amount of investment we're seeing in Social Media tools and sites with little revenue (much less profits) evident. Can you share your plans for how HootSuite is generating or will generate revenue?
You're right, it's hard to feed a team on donations. We do have a few fantastic monetization concepts that we are looking forward to putting in place, and I am positive that we will be profitable before Twitter is.
Speaking of business models, Twitter is still far from having a reasonable, self-sustaining plan. Are there concerns about building a robust and complex tool on the foundation of a Web 2.0 system that, while popular, isn't yet sustainable? Are there risks to HootSuite that in order to execute a supportable business model, Twitter may need to alter its API or rules in a way that could undermine or invalidate portions of your own system?
If you look at historical trends, massively popular applications like Twitter don't really need to worry about monetization for quite a way out. Facebook, YouTube and others are still even working on their models. The most important thing is that it is where eyeballs are, and eventually that will be monetized. 80%ish of Twitter traffic is via 3rd party applications like HootSuite, and therefore API access is a potentially lucrative revenue stream for Twitter. That being said, however, they will really have to tread lightly if they try to monetize there because they don't want to risk decreasing that 80% of traffic.
Let's talk about HootSuite 2.0, the new version that offers users the ability to set up Twitter groups, save sets of keyword alerts, and monitor other real-time Twitter queries. How did your team go about determining what new features were needed for this major upgrade to HootSuite?
For our 2.0 release, we got feedback from a lot of sources--our users, our advisory businesses, and our team. Our 1.0 release focused on getting our core team/corporate functionality out to users. Our 2.0 release focuses on power users and the sticky features they need. Our team looked at the things that kept them from going off of our dashboard and added them in using the easy simple style our users love.
One thing that drew me to HootSuite was its clean interface and intuitive usability (something that can be sorely lacking in many other Social Media tools and sites I've sampled.) Can you share a bit about your design, usability, and testing process for the new version of HootSuite?
Thank you. We often get positive feedback on the nice usability of HootSuite. I really have to hand this one to our team who painstakingly built this out. Their attention to detail and craftsmanship is fantastic. The parent company of HootSuite is Invoke (http://www.invokemedia.com/). We have been building tools in the Web space since 2000, and I think that the cloud is the BEST platform for this type of application. I think that the length of time our team has been together is another factor in how we can build HootSuite out so well.
What are your goals for this new version of HootSuite? How will you and your team know you've achieved what you set out to achieve with HootSuite 2.0?
Our goal with HootSuite 2.0 is to make the BEST tool for power users and teams. If we make something that is addictively sticky, it will ultimately result in increased user base. Our users have been our best advocates, so I am optimistic that they will help us get the word out.
Let's end with a big, hairy, audacious question: Twitter may not be king of the hill forever. We've seen popular Social Media sites flame out (SixDegrees, Friendster, and now MySpace), so what is your vision for what's next for Social Media and how HootSuite will evolve to reflect and exploit changes in Social Media?
Great question. Twitter was revolutionary because it made everyone realize that realtime is important. It re-invigorated this area of web, and right now there is a Wild West mentality again. At this point there are something like 11 realtime search startups, which is pretty amazing. Twitter has a huge store of realtime data and I am very sure that all of these realtime search properties want access to the firehose (business opportunity). I don't think Twitter is the next Friendster, but if it is, there will be iterations like MySpace and Facebook to polish the concept further. As a dashboard, HootSuite will be there to provide outbound microblogging to whatever platforms arise.
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed the interview and are curious about HootSuite 2.0. As readers of Experience: The Blog know from past posts, I am not a fan of paid posts. This blog post was not made in exchange for any compensation of any sort. I'm a fan of HootSuite (75% of my Tweets come from this client, according to TwitterAnalyzer), and I wanted to share some enthusiasm and experience with the tool. If I can answer any questions about HootSuite, please let me know.