TOM KEISER, CEO OF HOOTSUITE - INTERVIEW WITH WBM TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
TOM KEISER, CEO OF HOOTSUITE HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE JUDGES OF WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE'S ANNUAL AWARDS TO BE A RECIPIENT OF THE TOP 100 CEOS IN INNOVATION AWARD 2021. THIS SELECTION FOLLOWS A STRINGENT PROCESS THAT EVALUATED OVER 40,000 NOMINEES TO SELECT THE EXCLUSIVE LIST OF 100 WINNERS.
Tom joined Hootsuite as CEO in July, 2020 when founder Ryan Holmes moved into the role of Chairman of the Board. Tom has over 30 years experience as a global business and technology leader. With a proven track record of transforming companies, prioritizing to realize value and a passion for making things work better, Tom has a history of building teams and clearing a path for them to do great things. He excels at scaling a business through hyper growth, placing an equal focus on people and customer experience.
Prior to joining Hootsuite, Tom spent four years at Zendesk as COO, where he helped build the company into the $9B+ publicly traded leader it is today. Before finding his sweet spot in SaaS, Tom held top roles in both operations and IT at major retail, finance and tech companies including The Gap Inc., L Brands, Ernst & Young, and Capgemini.
Tom is a father, a husband, a traveler, an avid reader, a long serving board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters, a sports enthusiast, a fisherman and an art collector. He has a decent jump shot.
"Hootsuite pioneered the social media management space back in 2008 when businesses started to take notice of the new communication channel that was social media, and wanted to leverage its power. Since then we have continued to innovate to help navigate our customers to where social is going and I believe that’s to social commerce and social customer care."
How is Hootsuite elevating the social media space?
Hootsuite pioneered the social media management space back in 2008 when businesses started to take notice of the new communication channel that was social media, and wanted to leverage its power. Since then we have continued to innovate to help navigate our customers to where social is going and I believe that’s to social commerce and social customer care. According to eMarketer 44% of US social media users have made a purchase on a social platform in 2021. Through our acquisition of Heyday.ai, we have invested in social commerce to provide our customers with the tools they need to leverage the power of social as a commerce vehicle.
Why are Hootsuite's innovations needed at this time?
As of 2021, 1.4 million new users are joining social networks every day—or more than 16 new users every second. When you add it up, that’s more than 4.5 billion people worldwide who are now on social networks—and they are spending an average of two hours and 24 minutes per day on their favourite platforms. Social media has entirely reshaped the way we live and communicate in less than a decade. So today’s organizations face new challenges in meeting evolving consumer preferences on social media, such as keeping pace with the rapid proliferation of social media platforms, cohesively collaborating across departments on social media, extracting insights from the wealth of social data, and complying with increasingly stringent regulations surrounding data.
Hootsuite has continuously innovated and evolved amid this global adoption of social media. Our platform has grown from a social marketing tool focused on publishing and collaboration to a cloud-based, multi-tenant SaaS platform leading the way in social marketing, social commerce and social care.
Social is a public forum, a town square in many ways, where customers are connecting with brands to discover products, make purchases, and let’s face it—complain. It’s where they go to comment on the quality of a company’s customer service, good or bad but more often the latter. As network platforms begin focusing more on personalized content, 1:1 messaging and
care, customers’ habits, needs and demands will evolve.
Hootsuite has a unique perspective on social media marketing as a social management software rather than social media platform. Our customers are leveraging many of the social media and messaging networks to connect with their customers at scale, in real-time. As a SaaS company providing social media marketing, commerce, and customer care—we connect organizations, businesses, governments, and people alike with their audiences. Brands and organizations are recognizing social as the one channel where they can engage with their customer throughout the entire customer journey—from awareness to care, and Hootsuite has
the tools to help them do that.
What are some of the emerging trends you have identified?
● ROI: Delivering short-term return on investment with targeted performance marketing tactics
while building innovative digital experiences that win long-term loyalty by bringing discovery, connection, and fun, back to the customer experience.
● Silence is golden: Smart brands sit back and listen, then win with creative, original ways of fitting into the social conversation to break through the wall of indifference.
● Baby Boomers: By using smart segmentation and thoughtful representation, marketers who include baby boomers in their digital strategies can leapfrog those still stuck in stereotypes.
● Tying engagement data to identity gives advanced brands new momentum: With renewed momentum and executive attention on social media’s ability to retain critical connections with customers, now is the time to take steps—big or small—to bridge the gap between engagement and customer identity.
● Purpose: Bold brands start in the boardroom, not the front lines of social. Brands are now finding their purpose on social and becoming more purpose driven as such. With that comes the importance of authenticity and inclusivity which has become more relevant than ever before.
"The pandemic has brought to light how social media is intrinsically intertwined with how we live, work, operate, and shop. If brands and organizations want to remain relevant, they will need to digitize and meet their customers where they are - and that’s on social."
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your industry and how has Hootsuite adapted to it?
The pandemic has brought to light how social media is intrinsically intertwined with how we live, work, operate, and shop. If brands and organizations want to remain relevant, they will need to digitize and meet their customers where they are - and that’s on social.
I see social transcending the marketing department and becoming a key channel in other arts of the organization like sales and HR. It’s also the one channel that can stretch across the entire customer journey. At Hootsuite, we’re seeing the need to connect the systems of social engagement to systems of record in order to complete the end-to-end customer experience. At the beginning of the year, we acquired Sparkcentral to expand our reach into messaging apps and this summer, we acquired Heyday, a conversational AI company to support our 1:1 customer care through bots.
As a company, we have also made many changes to the way that we approach the future of work. The pandemic sparked the conversation around a distributed workforce and the importance of mental health and our people’s wellbeing.
What drives your leadership style?
I thrive on making things work better—improving speed, removing clutter and the unnecessary, and focusing on a better outcome. I seek out the problems, roadblocks, and poor performance so that I can work with my teams to come up with a solution—I find it motivating.
Life is great when everything is going well, but it isn’t necessarily energizing. Crisis and problems focus my attention, and then really solving the problem is incredibly satisfying.
"The ever changing climate of social media truly is an enormous challenge. Hootsuite connects our customers with all these platforms that each have their own objectives, and are constantly rolling out new functionality and regulations. At Hootsuite, we are always innovating to meet the needs of our customers today, but to also anticipate where it’s going."
What can we expect to see coming from Hootsuite?
The ever changing climate of social media truly is an enormous challenge. Hootsuite connects our customers with all these platforms that each have their own objectives, and are constantly rolling out new functionality and regulations. At Hootsuite, we are always innovating to meet the needs of our customers today, but to also anticipate where it’s going. We see ourselves as a conduit for businesses and brands to navigate these social platforms effectively.
Social commerce and ecommerce have accelerated rapidly over the pandemic and will be an area we continue to focus on at Hootsuite. Companies are recognizing that their customers are on social media and seeing a dramatic shift in investment and maturity on how they market on social media and conduct their social commerce. I truly believe in the power of personalized experiences and frictionless customer experience as well as building trust and relevance with customers and turning conversations into e-commerce opportunities. New businesses will continue to push the envelope and traditional companies will follow to be where the disruptors are.
Earlier this year, Hootsuite acquired Sparkcentral, a platform where businesses can interact with customers on messenger apps. Sparkcentral was able to bridge the gap and move public conversations to private conversations. We also acquired Heyday this year which has been the perfect addition into our customer care journey—seamlessly integrating chatbots and AI.
Social media and social commerce give brands the opportunity to market things in a very bespoke way. The pandemic pushed the need for a social care capability that has a different feel to traditional customer support. And in my opinion, there’s no going back.
Hootsuite had been primarily a social marketing platform. But as pioneers in the space, we know social, and we know where it’s going. It’s our job to navigate our customers there. And I believe that’s towards social care and social commerce.
"I love putting together great leadership teams —bringing together individual high performers and functional experts, and blending them into a high performing leadership team laser focused on the same challenging objectives to drive growth."
What excites you about working in this field?
I love putting together great leadership teams —bringing together individual high performers and functional experts, and blending them into a high performing leadership team laser focused on the same challenging objectives to drive growth.
I’m motivated to help our customers grow their businesses. We provide a solution that connects our customers with their customers across very diverse social platforms and messaging platforms - creating new channels for our customers to connect with their customers and to build deeper relationships across their marketing, sales, and customer service functions.
The dynamism of our space is exhilarating, it changes so fast, so you have to build agility into your processes and technology to allow your teams to quickly adjust as opportunities arise. And finally, the impact Millennials and Generation Z are having as consumers and driving where social is going makes our industry vibrant and intriguing. They turn to social media to discover brands, communicate with them, transact with them, and get timely support from them when they have concerns. According to Insider Intelligence, social commerce is already a multibillion dollar industry in the United States, having generated $27.0 billion in sales in 2020. That figure is expected to more than double by 2023, when Insider Intelligence predicts social commerce spend will reach $56.2 billion. With my background in retail, I am so intrigued by the impact social can have on that space. We used to dream of a time when we could understand the needs of our customers before they even entered our physical or virtual store. We now have that with social. But that said, I believe social as a commerce and care tool is still in its relative infancy. I’m excited to be part of it.
What technologies are set to transform business in the coming years?
I expect AI and AR in social media marketing will continue to expand. According to this Forbes piece on the Seven digital Marketing Trends for 2021, AR with respect to digital engagement is expected to rise. With Facebook owning Oculus and dozens of augmented reality patents, it is only a matter of time before digital growth experts have to learn and incorporate AR into digital engagement. This is still on the periphery but now is the time to research, learn and consider how AR could be used in current digital assets.
Accessibility and inclusive design may seem like the domain of UX designers and web developers, but social media marketers can practice it, too. Several social platforms have made recent accessibility updates—automatic captioning is available on Facebook Live and Instagram IGTV. After the inaccessible introduction of voice Tweets, Twitter established two accessibility teams and plans to roll out automated captions by early 2021. Alt-image description fields are now available across all three platforms, as well as LinkedIn.
In terms of accessibility at Hootsuite, it is something that we consider with every social post —we're always making improvements so our tool is more accessible. One example is our inclusion of Alt-text—which is a meta description of an image that allows a screen reader to describe the image aloud to blind and visually impaired users—wherever possible.
I also anticipate that social media will remain a channel to engage, listen and sell. According to our Digital 2021 Report, users increasingly want brands to interact with them through social channels. Additionally, social also provides an opportunity to listen to audiences and respond based on needs, as noted in Social Trends 2021.
What are your thoughts on diversity in your industry?
The origins of tech were very much young, white male centric—however we’ve (thankfully) seen an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion across our industry of late. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Partnerships like the ones we’ve forged with organizations like BPTN (Black Professionals in Tech Network) and Pride at Work Canada provide education as well as connections. A commitment to diversity needs to be woven into the culture of an organization, and considered across all aspects of the business.
"I think a leader needs to lean into transparent conversations with people around mental health, and create a space for vulnerability. Prioritizing self care and mental health is integral to creating a healthy culture. It’s important for leaders to lead by example—if employees are seeing their leaders taking care of themselves, they are more inclined to feel safe and empowered to do the same."
What makes a good leader?
When I look back at my career, I’ve had the chance to work with some tremendous leaders who were visionary in many ways and could spell out where things were going with fashion and retail - but at the time, they did not have to be empathetic to drive results. We are in a new time and in a different era. Many of the things that we accepted as “this is the way leadership works” just aren’t applicable any longer as this generation grows up and expects to be heard, understood and included in developing the solution. It’s a dramatically interesting change. Employees are asking hard questions that are frequently around things that require us to make changes as executive leadership and as a company, and that requires empathy.
I’d also add humility and authenticity to the characteristics of a great leader. We learn the most from failures. The bigger the failure, the more we learn. For me, a lot of the time it comes down to slowing down as a leader. If I’m uncertain about a situation and I find myself getting a lot of feedback that is contrary to what I want to do, particularly when it’s something I want to do quickly, it’s usually a sign or a trigger that I need to slow down and listen.
I also feel that a good leader believes diversity, equity and inclusion is a commitment that transcends everything you do. I would couple that with a focus on corporate social responsibility. I think a leader needs to lean into transparent conversations with people around mental health, and create a space for vulnerability. Prioritizing self care and mental health is integral to creating a healthy culture. It’s important for leaders to lead by example—if employees are seeing their leaders taking care of themselves, they are more inclined to feel safe and empowered to do the same.
The global leader in social media management: A decade ago, social media was exploding. Businesses needed a smart and efficient way to manage all their social channels in one place—so we built it. Fast forward to today, and Hootsuite is used in almost every country and territory in the world—200 and counting. Our tools are used by leading universities to teach social media in their marketing classes. And more than 200,000 paying customers use our platform to tell their stories, engage with their audiences, and build businesses with the ability it takes to run with our changing culture wherever it’s headed next. But today is just the beginning. As the networks, technologies, and cultural shifts of tomorrow continue to transform the way we live, work, and connect, Hootsuite is here to help organizations prepare for the future and embrace the opportunity that social brings.