On February 15, 2011, a Red Cross employee – obviously having a lot of fun – accidentally broadcasted this tweet from @RedCross rather than her personal account. (See the full story on CNN.) But what VP Community Dave Olson was most alarmed about was the little HootSuite marker: the rogue tweet had been sent using his startup’s social media dashboard.
So HootSuite flew into action: they donated to the Red Cross, encouraged others to donate, and sent a care package with a beer koozie to the mistweeter. Soon, with support from Dogfish Head, breweries were offering a free pint of beer for customers who donated a pint of blood to the Red Cross, rallying around the hashtag #gettngslizzerd. And HootSuite quickly launched tools for secure profiles – an extra step to confirm that you want to tweet to a protected account. What could have been a fiasco turned into a PR boon for 3 companies.
Time and time again, HootSuite has adroitly avoided missteps and faux pas while capitalizing on pivotal moments. That same February, while the Arab Spring ignited in Egypt and Facebook and Twitter seemed blocked, protesters and media signed up for HootSuite to get the message out. As press coverage soared, HootSuite released a timely infographic on popular hashtags and tweets about the Arab Spring. They were soon getting calls about it from the US Department of State, National Geographic, and Voice of America.
The following month, HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes was scheduled to present on a SXSW panel called Big in Japan. Less than 3 days before the panel, Japan was struck by the record-breaking earthquake and tsunami.
“The show must go on, in some way or another. We couldn’t just go there and say, ‘Let’s all cuddle up and cry,’” recalls Olson. So HootSuite set up a breakfast with the panelists to make sure everyone’s family was safe, and started the panel with a moment of silence. Afterward, they held a discussion for those concerned about Japan. HootSuite tweeted to urge attendees to donate, and SXSWers ended up contributing over $125,000. Meanwhile, HootSuite employees in Japan – the first market they had localized for – used their language skills to help stranded locals and connect them with embassies.
And HootSuite was still a small team. Though they’ve now grown to 180, they only had around 20 employees when Amazon Web Services crashed one month later, bringing HootSuite (and many other sites) along with it. But the HootSuite blog was still up, and they used it to alert customers of the situation and share news coverage from around the web. Throughout, says Olson, they refrained from “throwing Amazon under the bus.” Once service was restored, HootSuite wrote a blog post about how they’d prevent a similar problem in the future, and issued a $50 credit available to their 1.6 million customers.
From humiliating tweets to chaotic revolutions to tragedies big and small, HootSuite has kept its cool and remained genuine. But how?
“I want to build this company one hug at a time, one relationship at a time – of course it’s not quite possible anymore but we still take that same ethos and same attitude,” says Olson.
“We really try to be egoless. We’re all in it together. We’re all just owls. … Having this egoless, hustle, underdog culture – there's something really ingrained in our DNA about we don’t take anything for granted. We don’t compete against people; we compete against ourselves – we’re always raising the bar for ourselves.”
It’s a tough lesson to implement, but this is what it looks like in the trenches.