HootSuite CEO: We’re Buying Seesmic For The Users, Not The Tech [Interview]

TechCrunch first reported earlier today that enterprise social media platform HootSuite is buying another social media platform, Seesmic. That fact has now been confirmed by HootSuite itself. Ryan Holmes, the CEO, has given us some more color on the deal, and we’ve found out some other details as well along the way.

The companies are not disclosing the price, but we have been told it will be based on how well HootSuite manages to convert Seesmic users on to its own product. Holmes tells me it’s buying the company mainly as a customer play, not primarily a technology play, unlike many of HootSuite’s past acquisitions.

HootSuite currently has 4.5 million business users but it does not disclose how many of them are paying — but clearly the company wants to drive up the number in the latter category, and Holmes says that among those using Seesmic today are some key brands it hopes will migrate to HootSuite. No details on how many enterprise customers Seesmic actually has at the moment, however: Holmes says they’re still trying to work that out.

That’s for the enterprise users Seesmic has. But it also has a good proportion of consumers among its estimated 30,000-40,000 unique monthly visitors. Those, Holmes says, will be given the option of going either to Twitter or Facebook for their future social media needs. “If someone is a casual user of Seesmic, go this way [e.g. to Twitter]. If you are an SME we are happy to help you out” is how he describes the choice.

Part of that, he says, is because of Twitter’s new approach to its API and encouraging less usage of consumer me-too Twitter apps; but mainly it’s because HootSuite is more focused on business users. “We’ve always been very focused on the enterprise,” he says.

HootSuite is still trying to work out what will happen with Seesmic’s existing operation. The only thing confirmed so far is that Loic LeMeur, the founder of Seesmic, will be staying on with the company to “help with transition and advisory work.”

HootSuite is based in Vancouver, Canada, while Seesmic is currently in San Francisco. HootSuite is still trying to work out whether it will use that as a lever to build up its presence in the Bay Area — HootSuite had already been planning to expand there before this deal — or whether it will look to migrate what is left of Seesmic to Canada.

I also asked Holmes a bit about future acquisitions, whether it sees itself potentially under threat from Twitter as it grows and becomes a more powerful platform beyond just consumers, and whether HootSuite is getting many offers itself…

On the Twitter threat, he is sanguine. “We think of ourselves as a social media Switzerland,” he says. “We sit between Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and 30 other social networks. And I don’t think we will see those social media properties butt up against what we are doing because they don’t really want to acknowledge the existence of the others.” Which they would have to do if they bought HootSuite and assumed control of that business of “workflow and analytics across those networks and all the pain points around that.”

On being an acquisition target, we should watch this space. “We’ve seen a lot of acquisitions of these lately, and we have had some folks approach us, and the offers are getting more and more tempting as everyone starts to see how important social media has become for enterprises,” he says. “Every software company on the planet now needs to have a product that speaks to social. And in a way we are one of the last big ones that is available and independent.” But he adds: “I’m not focused on that right now, just focused on building a business and seeing what comes of that. But the next few months will be an interesting time.”

On buying more talent and technology, it looks like there may be more to fill holes in what HootSuite already offers. “We are still looking at creating most comprehensive solution for people and helping them manage their social presence. As a young company there is a culture of fast paced engineering and agile development here.” But he also acknowledged that there are gaps at HootSuite, such as complex technology around sentiment analysis. “So that means either a partnership, or an acquisition, or hiring someone who can help us do that.”