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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Vancouver’s Hootsuite helping business harness social media

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver April 26-May 2, 2011 issue #1122 High Tech Office column

Last year, businesspeople were wondering about this social media thing and whether it had any place at work. This year, the wondering is more how to use social media effectively as a business tool.

Part of the answer is to make use of a social media dashboard – software to allow users to work simultaneously with multiple networks, to see what users on social media are saying about them, their competitors and their products and to help analyze the results of social media marketing campaigns.

Social media dashboard Hootsuite is produced near the north foot of Main Street. I recently met with the company’s CEO, Ryan Holmes.

According to Holmes, Hootsuite began in 2008 as a tool used internally by local social media marketing agency Invoke. The company spun off on its own in January 2010. Hootsuite has grown to about 50 employees from an initial seven. According to Holmes, its user base of 1.5 million, which is up 50% in the last three months, has recently become “cash flow positive.”

Web-based, with iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry apps, Hootsuite can be run within standard browsers. Users sign on for one of three versions: free, pro and enterprise.

The free version – which Holmes said accounts for 97% of accounts – allows a single user to manage up to five social media accounts. The pro version can be used to manage an unlimited number of social networks and includes more sophisticated reporting and analytic tools. Pricing starts at $6 per month, which allows users to add one additional team member; add $15 per month for each additional team member.

A big jump in price to $1,499 per month gets enterprise-level features.

After creating a Hootsuite account, you’ll be prompted to give permission to add social networks; as you add each, a new tab opens up showing that network. On the Twitter tab, for instance, you’ll see your “home feed,” another column lists mentions of you by other Twitter users – whether you follow them or not. You can add additional Twitter features or searches as desired.

Users can also add new tabs, mixing and matching content from multiple networks at once. Just being able to see multiple social networks at the same time like this is worthwhile. You can post to your networks, retweet, “like,” comment, etc., as usual. You can also schedule your messages for future delivery and set them to be delivered simultaneously to multiple networks. Long links are easily shortened.

Currently, Hootsuite allows only users to manage Twitter contacts – people following you and people you follow. While useful, it would be helpful to have the same information for other social networks.

Nicely, new users receive daily emails offering get-started tips.

A recent PC Magazine review noted “Hootsuite’s analytics are what really set it apart from competitors … [those analytics] are very innovative, very customizable, and can be very expensive.”

With my free account, for instance, a basic Twitter report was free; most other report templates required upgrading to a paid account.
For individual active social media users, the free Hootsuite version is useful for users of multiple networks. Business users wanting to add analysis and reporting need to be prepared to pay for the privilege.

Hootsuite counts U.S. President Barack Obama (or his staff) and IBM among its 1.5 million users; locally, users include Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, the Opus Hotel and Blenz Coffee. Blenz president George Moen told me that he uses it personally and for Blenz to manage its social media strategy. He believes his use of Hootsuite is one of the reasons that he is one of the most-followed Canadian CEOs and feels it has played a critical role in how Blenz manages its daily communications and prize giveaways. He concluded, “To say I am a fan is an understatement.”

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