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The Story of Building HootSuite University

Posted by Paul Lambert on May 7, 2013 11:00:00 AM

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You may know HootSuite as the fast-growing global leader in social media management tools. But HootSuite is also a leader in using learning as corporate strategy, with HootSuite University (HSU) at its core.

In this interview, Paul Lambert, CEO of Learndot interviews Kirsten Bailey, Director of HSU. Kirsten has built a successful certification program for users, an Enterprise onboarding program, and even leverages HSU to speed the onboarding process for new hires.

Read on to learn the history of HootSuite University, the challenges Kirsten faced, and her tips for building a successful online learning program.

How HootSuite leveraged education to accelerate their business: An Interview With Kirsten Bailey On Building Hootsuite University.

Learndot: Hi! Please introduce yourself: who you are, what you do.

KB: My name is Kirsten Bailey, I’m the director at HootSuite University.

Learndot: Could you describe the HootSuite University program?

KB: Sure. The program is an online education and certification program. Its main goal is to help businesses and individual professionals succeed with social media.

Businesses turn to HootSuite University to train their employees on the HootSuite dashboard, as well as social media. The goal is to help their teams get on the same page about the use of social media, and how they can use it to support their business initiatives.

We also have individual professionals – community managers, digital strategists, social media managers, etc – who turn to HootSuite University to become HootSuite certified, earning recognition as masters of our product, as well as the industry of social media.

Everyone who enrolls in HootSuite University not only has access to HootSuite & Social Media Courseware, but also our library of Lecture Series presentations. These webinars feature leading individuals, brands and educators within the social media space including Joe Fernandez, Gary Vaynerchuk, Dan Zarrella, and representatives from Facebook, LinkedIn, Edelman, Weber Shadwick and so on.

Learndot: How did the HootSuite University program first come about? Where did it come from? What was its original purpose?

KB: HootSuite University was born just like the HootSuite product – out of recognized need. We started seeing a lot of questions coming through our support desk. We started seeing individuals put together video tutorials on how to use our product. So we wanted to give our users one destination where they could not only go and learn how to use our product, but also get certified and showcase their social media expertise.

Learndot: Could you tell us about the benefits of running a certification program?

KB: Well we’ve seen 22,000 people enroll in HootSuite University. Of those people, more than 4,000 have become certified. All these individuals are now intimately familiar with the HootSuite Dashboard and have a clear understanding of how to use it to harness the power of social communication on behalf of themselves, their employer or their client. From what we’ve seen and gathered from conversations with our students, certification has been an excellent way of empowering our most passionate and skilled users to go out there and become ambassadors of our brand.

Learndot: Where would you like to take HootSuite University?

KB: Our primary goal is just to help our users succeed with social. From our Pro users, who are individuals and SMB’s, right up to our large Enterprise users, who have entire teams looking to get educated on social. We have a wide audience with a variety of different needs when it comes to education and training. We’re looking at building out our library of social media content to provide education to each segment of this broad audience.

Learndot: So one of your major initiatives in the next year would be content?

KB: Absolutely. Along with meeting an expressed demand by our uses, which is more detailed certifications. They want to be able to continually advance their knowledge and skills, and then share this with their audience and community, whether that be their employers, clients, coworkers or friends.

Learndot: How many certification levels do you have right now?

KB: We currently offer one level of certification, which is our product-focused HootSuite Certification.

Learndot: So you’ve got your base level of certification…people want pro, or specialties, or what are they asking for?

KB: Well they want more advanced levels of the HootSuite Certification. But we’re also looking to explore the opportunity to do more industry-focused programs, and potentially partnering with some of the major players in the social space in order to deliver that.

Learndot: What have been some of the major challenges you guys have faced in growing and scaling HootSuite University?

KB: I would say that the biggest obstacle that we’ve come across is finding the right platform that allows us the flexibility to grow and scale our education and certification program. Many learning management systems were originally created to address the higher education space. Generally speaking, these are old, bloated and clunky systems that don’t work for today’s digitally savvy web users, especially within a corporate market. I absolutely see a need for lighter, more intuitive, user-friendly, beautiful, application-type learning management systems. I think Learndot is a good example of this.

Learndot: You just touched on this, but what’s important in picking a technology solution? You mentioned interface, but does anything else come to your mind when picking a platform technology solution as criteria?

KB: Of course the user experience is important to consider, especially if your end users are paying for the educational experience. But, from an administrative perspective, you should have a very clear idea of the features you need to execute your program. For example, we absolutely needed a platform that could deliver multiple certificate-based programs, and we also needed a platform with a robust organization-management capabilities with reporting to-boot. If you list all of the features you need from an LMS, you will most likely end up with a list longer than your forearm. It’s crucial you divide this list into critical “must have’s” and “nice to haves” and be ruthless when deciding what features are actually “nice to have” versus “must have”.

Learndot: What advice would you have for someone starting from scratch who would like to build something like HootSuite University?

KB: First: identify the problem that you want to solve. Identify the problem within your own company, whether you want to decrease the amount of customer support tickets, or increase partner revenue. Then start small, experiment until you feel like you have a solid product-market fit so you know the education you’re creating resonates with your audience. This is especially important if you’re creating content in house. Content takes a long time, especially if you’re working in video. It’s a heavy investment. So it’s better to start lean and grow from there, rather than start massive and potentially waste time, money & resources.

Learndot: Any parting words of advice?

KB: I would reinforce the point to have very clear goals, very clear objectives, and a very clear idea of how you’re going to prove the success of your program. Keep it small to start. Continue to test things until you find the right fit. Get internal buy-in. Find the internal stakeholders that want to see your program succeed.

I’m always curious to learn about other people’s learning programs, so if you readers want to chat, find me on Twitter or find me on LinkedIn.

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Paul Lambert

Written by Paul Lambert

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