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Hootsuite's Next Play: Ads and E-Commerce

Hootsuite is building products to help brands determine when to show you ads or sell you goods.


Hootsuite and CEO Ryan Holmes have been busy since the company hit the $1 billion valuation mark in September.

They’re locking down executives for a new Latin America office. They’re beta testing a voice tool that lets customers connect with brands without publicly sharing their phone numbers. They’re also “hiring like crazy,” he said.

On top of it all, Hootsuite, which helps brands manage multiple social media accounts and campaigns from the same dashboard, is trying to get ahead of what Holmes believes will soon be a major trend: Buying via social.

Holmes predicts that 2015 will be the year social networks really buy into selling physical goods, and he wants in on the action. Both Facebook and Twitter are working on “Buy” buttons to help retailers sell products, and eventually, Holmes thinks Hootsuite can be the brains behind the operation, telling retailers when to promote certain products, and on which social network.

“This is aspirational,” said Holmes of a possible e-commerce tool. “Thinking about what we do for organic messages, the scheduling of messages, the analytics behind the effect of messages — can that be applied to an e-commerce world? There could be an opportunity for the management of product.”

For example, a retailer might want to push a certain product on Twitter in the morning, and a totally different product on Facebook that afternoon to maximize reach, he explained. Hootsuite would help them make those decisions.

Before graduating to actual goods, though, Hootsuite is starting with similar recommendations for advertisements. The company started beta testing a new ad management tool in October that uses engagement data to determine which time of day and on which network a brand should send its ad content.

Not only that, but Hootsuite customers can now buy ads on both Facebook and Twitter through the platform, said Holmes. Is Hootsuite becoming an ad network? He wouldn’t describe it that way, but it certainly sounds like it.

“It helps simplify ad buying,” he said of the tool, which Hootsuite will launch in early 2015. “And hopefully at some point [we’ll be] a single source where you can buy and deploy your ads.”

Hootsuite relies on API cooperation from social networks like Twitter and Facebook for tools like this, but Holmes said relying on other companies like that isn’t a concern. Hootsuite has been working directly with Twitter for over a year and the relationship is strong, he said. (Twitter angered developers after cracking down on third parties using its API a few years back.)

And while it doesn’t appear that there are other tools for analyzing specific product sales the way Holmes envisions it, companies like Salesforce and Kenshoo offer their own social advertising products and dashboards, which should provide competition.

Still, Hootsuite is growing quickly, and already has more than 10 million users (up from seven million in August 2013). The company raised $60 million two months back in what may be its last funding round as a private company. Holmes said there is still interest from investors, and there’s a chance they may raise money again, but a Hootsuite IPO isn’t too far off — about 18 to 24 months, he said.

“I think if we are effectively able to build out our vision on the product, we’ll become a multibillion-dollar business.”

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