November 1, 2014

Brian Halligan of Hubspot: Thoughts on the Future of Social Media

Ever have a great idea that turned into something big? So big that a component of it broke The Guinness Book of World Records?  Brian Halligan and the folks at HubSpot did.  And they broke the world record for the largest amount of registrants and attendees at an online webinar – 33,000 to be exact.  So what does a company like this think about the new and old players in the world of social media?  Tune in as Brian shares his thoughts and insights on the matter with Brent Leary.

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Small Business Trends: Could you have imagined, six years ago when you started, that you would have 6,000 customers, 300+ employees, multiple acqusitions and investors like Google and Salesforce?

Brian Halligan: Even the blind squirrel finds a nut.  We found one and we had a very good idea as it turns out. We saw a big shift in the way humans were living, buying and shopping.  The basic idea was that marketing needed to change to adjust to that, so it worked out great.  It feels like we are in the second inning of the game with a lot more work to do.

Small Business Trends: Do you guys get 45,000 leads each month?

Brian Halligan: That is true.  And 99% of them are inbound leads. We create lots of content and each piece is like a magnet that pulls in leads.  It is still going incredibly well.  The stuff we produced four or five years ago is still pulling in leads today.  We turned our website into a hub on the internet essentially.

Small Business Trends: Which webinar has driven the most registrations?

Brian Halligan: We broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest webinar ever.  I do not have the exact numbers, but I think we had 30K+ registrants and 20K+ attendees.  I think the title was “The Science of Social Media.”

Small Business Trends: When you think about where we are today, how companies are leveraging social media, is it where you thought we’d be?

Brian Halligan: It is. When we first started HubSpot social media was starting to go.  But it was more like Digg and Reddit and sites like that.  Now it has evolved to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Pinterest.  A whole new of cast of characters. But it is the way we thought.

We saw this shift in behavior from all the leverage being in the vendor’s hands, to the shift into the customer’s hands and potential customer’s hands. The customers were talking to each other and that is one thing that we did see. We certainly did not predict Twitter, we didn’t predict Pinterest.  But we predicted this wave of change in behavior and it happened sooner than we thought.

Small Business Trends: How is Pinterest changing things?  Is it along the same lines as what Facebook was like two or three years ago?  Or is it a flash in the pan?

Brian Halligan: The truth is, I don’t have any idea. I thought I could predict this stuff.  But you know, the thing that is fascinating about these social media sites is you study in business school about network effects.  You would assume that a business like Facebook, where they get all of these users and the value of the system increases with the number of users.  They have all of that locked in, there is no way that thing falls, but it could fall. I mean, Friendster fell, Myspace fell. Twitter came out of nowhere, and Pinterest came out of nowhere.

The barriers to entry on these things are lower than we think.  I have been shocked. The thing that does not shock me is the Facebook rise. The thing that shocked me was the rise of Twitter and Pinterest.  Because I thought people were just doing it in Facebook.  But it turns out, there is room for lots of other social networks in people’s lives. It is absolutely fascinating what is going on.

Small Business Trends: What do you think about Google+?

Brian Halligan: My take is, I don’t think Google Plus is going to make it over the long haul.  What is interesting about these social networks is sometimes they cross the chasm, entering into mainstream users lives. Digg and Reddit didn’t go mainstream. Facebook did.  Twitter is really starting to. I just don’t think Google+ is going to make that leap. It is too similar to Facebook.  Whereas Twitter and Pinterest are quite different.

The fascinating thing about Google+ is how Google search results are starting to really use Google+ data.  Then you look at Bing search results, using Facebook and Twitter data. If Microsoft plays it’s cards right, that is going to really enhance the search results of Bing. It will be interesting to see how that develops over time.

Small Business Trends: What do you think about Microsoft’s role in the future of social?

Brian Halligan: I am not super bullish. It does not feel they have the momentum or the talent to really put a dent in the universe. It feels like a very mature business, like GE, that kicks up a lot of cash, kicks up dividends.  But I am just not that bullish on them doing something really cool.

Small Business Trends: What about Amazon?

Brian Halligan: They just have really big, big ambitions. They are super patient and they make huge bets and they execute them so well. I think they are very, very interesting.  I would not count Bezos out of any game he is so, so smart. It is a fascinating company.

Small Business Trends: Recently, you held your first analyst day. Why is it time to start embracing the analyst/thought leaders/influencer community in a more formalized process?

Brian Halligan: When we started HubSpot, it was about helping businesses get leads.  It worked. Then our customers started saying they needed help in converting leads into customers.  How do you do segmentation?  Nurturing?  How do you get smarter about that stuff? So we bought a company that did that really well and we just announced it a couple of weeks ago.

It turns out that lead management functionality is very valuable to mid-size and larger companies.  It turns out that those companies listen to analysts like you Brent. So we said, let’s invite Brent and his pals from Forrester and all of the different analyst firms out to tell them about it.

This interview is part of our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click the right arrow on the gray player below. You can also see more interviews in our interview series.

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Brent Leary


Brent Leary Brent Leary is a Partner at CRM Essentials and organizer of the Social Business Atlanta conference. Brent serves on the advisory board of The University of Toronto CRM Center of Excellence, writes the Social CRM column for Inc.com's technology site, and blogs at Brent's Social CRM Blog.

2 Reactions

  1. Good interview. These interviews from time to time are extremely informative because the highlight very successful people and their learned opinions.

    Thanks

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