Friday, July 31, 2009

Interview with Ryan Holmes on HootSuite 2.0 and Twitter Business Models

I've been a big fan of HootSuite for some time, and today the Twitter management tool made a huge leap forward with great new functionality that makes it worth a look, no matter which Twitter client you currently use. Even before today's improvements, HootSuite was one of the top Twitter clients and one of the two Twitter management tools used by the White House.

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, 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
  • Ability to track and graph the clicks on the links you post to Twitter (via
  • Auto-tweeting of new items in RSS feeds, such as blog posts
  • integration
  • User management, allowing multiple people to maintain Twitter accounts.
You can get a better idea of how all these great new features work in the HootSuite video below. After the video, you'll find my interview with Ryan Holmes, CEO of the company behind HootSuite. We touched on topics ranging from the new HootSuite to the wisdom of creating business models built upon Twitter, which itself has yet to determine its model for profitability. I hope you enjoy the interview and will check out the new and improved HootSuite.

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
  • Rich analytics so users can see # of clicks in URLs by user and geographic region
  • People grouping currently features a "Support HootSuite" button to permit users to donate to HootSuite (which I've done, I might add.) Do you get much financial support from this?

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 ( 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.


Tony said...

Your interview was very well done, but you let him off the hook on business models in HootSuite's future. I agree its a great site and v2.0 has a lot of neat features. We use Hootsuite sometimes, but lately have been trying out TwAitter ( Its a toss up between which we like better at the moment.



Brian said...

I'd be interested in their plans for displaying the short link on Treos. While there's a lot of appropriate praise for the things HootSuite has done well, their latest revamp illustrates some of the challenges in delivering an end-to-end experience.

Since the relaunch, the short links have stopped working on the Treo platform. While the Palm might not have as many users as the iPhone, it's still a significant smartphone platform. For commercial uses, I'm concerned if all Palm users are unable to view HootSuite short links on their mobile phone.

I'm sure there are other platforms with similar usability issues as well. I've worked to address the issue with HootSuite via GetSatisfaction and their Twitter account, including the collection of screenshots and version numbers for Blazer, the Treo browser.

Perhaps HootSuite is reading the tea leaves and believes that Palm usage will decline over time and ultimately disappear. In the meantime, there will continue to be a minority of businesses that won't be able to realize the full potential of Twitter until their vendors assume stewardship of the total user experience.

Caitlin said...

Great interview! I'm a HootSuite user for a year now. It makes my life so much easier because I have several accounts that I use for personal and business. I'm using the HootSuite for BB and I think it's just amazing!