Invoke Media / HootSuite

Today everyone and their dogs are tweeting, with about 50 million tweets daily, and even the most conservative corporations recognize that social networking has revolutionized the way we do business. But way back in 2006, with early adopters often hearing crickets chirping, Ryan Holmes, president of Vancouver-based brand management agency Invoke Media, knew there was gold in the Twittersphere’s hills. But to get those solid results, his clients – which include Wells Fargo and the Gap – needed picks, shovels and hard hats: free tools that would help marketing managers find, filter, track and statistically analyze tweets. Exploiting Twitter’s open platform, which allows third-party developers to play around within the site’s architecture, Holmes launched a free app called HootSuite in December 2008. This software survival kit helps businesses manage an otherwise daunting barrage of Twitter messages and respond with their own messaging campaigns, as well as track whether those tweets bring traffic to corporate websites and other social media sites. HootSuite’s dashboard design is a streamlined, customizable cockpit that controls an airport’s worth of traffic. You don’t have to speak computer code to organize and sort messages from multiple social media sites, target the most active users such as journalists and popular bloggers, create sophisticated messages with uploaded files and images, and track readers’ clicks to gauge whether your message is effective. Within six months of launching, HootSuite was the app of choice for 100,000 tweeters, and a year later it had received numerous awards. The company has adapted it for LinkedIn, WordPress and Facebook’s estimated 350 million users, as well as a mobile app for iPhone. HootSuite now has 400,000 users including Disney, Fox, the U.S. Army and Dell, along with thousands of individuals from power-bloggers to amateurs. “Today everyone is a media channel,” says Holmes, who starts each day groping for his iPhone and uses words like “truthiness” and “stickiness” when describing effective social media brands and technologies. “Corporations need tools to deal with that constant stream of information quickly.” Of course, like Twitter and Facebook, HootSuite is feeling the pressure to monetize. Until recently it was bankrolled by Invoke Media, which Holmes co-founded in 2000, but this past January HootSuite became an independent company. That’s when HootSuite received $1.9 million in financing from venture-capital firms including Hearst Interactive and Blumberg Capital (Holmes became the new company’s CEO, while maintaining his stake and position with Invoke). HootSuite aims to turn a profit by mid-2010, with new apps and mobile partnerships in the pipeline and plans to charge corporate users a nominal fee. “Hootsuite will still be the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get a grip on disruptive mass communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook,” says investor David Blumberg, the 50-year-old managing partner of Blumberg Capital and a specialist in social media technologies, who compares his pre-HootSuite Twitter experiences to “drinking from a fire hose.” By contrast, “Hootsuite filters that torrent of information and makes it useful whether you’re an individual or a corporation.” Tools like Twitter have levelled the playing field, says Blumberg, who notes that as the debate on social media’s stickiness percolates, the pace and clout of online communities accelerates. “Younger generations live and swim in this soup. It has smashed traditional hierarchies. Corporations can’t hide out like dictators. They have to dive in.” Whether brands sink or swim, HootSuite is clearly riding the wave.