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Hootsuite buys analytics firm Talkwalker as CEO foresees social media disruption

When Irina Novoselsky contemplates social media, she's certain the next decade won't be anything like the last because consumers increasingly allow the online world to shape nearly every aspect of their lives.
Irina Novoselsky, shown in a handout photo, is chief executive of Hootsuite, a Vancouver-based social media business. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

When Irina Novoselsky contemplates social media, she's certain the next decade won't be anything like the last because consumers increasingly allow the online world to shape nearly every aspect of their lives.

"We're big believers that social media is about to be massively disrupted," says the chief executive of Hootsuite Inc., a Vancouver-based company that makes social media management and marketing software. 

Novoselsky, who celebrated her first year in Hootsuite's top job in mid-January, is determined to not let the 16-year-old company get left behind as the industry evolves from status updates and posed shots to using consumer data to guide everything from marketing to major business decisions. 

It's partly why she brokered a deal, announced Monday, that will see Hootsuite acquire Talkwalker. The Luxembourg-based consumer intelligence company sells services that help companies assess the effectiveness and engagement around their public relations campaigns and compare their social media performance to rivals.

Hootsuite would not disclose the value and structure of the deal, but Novoselsky positioned it as a "natural progression" of the relationship forged between the two tech companies over seven years of each business offering their clients some of the other's services.

The acquisition comes as several social media platforms are facing turmoil. Many users have backed away from X, formerly known as Twitter, since billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk bought the platform amid ongoing concerns about the spread of misinformation and hate speech on the platform, which some researchers say has been on the rise under Musk. 

At the same time, TikTok is facing a U.S. ban over concerns about its Chinese ownership. 

Novoselsky brushed off concerns about TikTok's future and what a ban could mean for her company, saying "there's not a material impact for our customers" and noting many of Hootsuite's clients are on several social media platforms.

With Talkwalker and Hootsuite united, she's confident the company will be able to weather the constant evolution of platforms along with that social media disruption Novoselsky sees coming.

"What existed in the last 10 years has been very much about FOMO (fear of missing out) and 'I have to be on social media because my competitors are,'" said Novoselsky.

"The world's changing. It's no longer just about likes and shares and exposure. It's digging in beyond those likes."

Now, companies are upping their focus on capturing every bit of data they can and squeezing as much value out of those insights as possible.

"Five billion people in the world are on social media, 99 per cent of businesses are on social media and yet the No. 1 pain point that we keep hearing from our customers is 'We don't know how to tie value to what we're doing,'" said Novoselsky.

"That is a massive opportunity."

And Novoselsky, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in the late '80s with less than $300 and who has a reputation as the executive behind human resources technology firm CareerBuilder's turnaround, is ready for the challenge.

Her plan to navigate social media disruption leans heavily on the Talkwalker tie-up.

The company helps with tasks like "social listening," where companies can gather what is being said about them or their competitors online and assess how much of the conversation is either positive or negative. Talkwalker covers more than 30 social media platforms. 

It also has the ability to forecast.

"You can put in content you want to launch, you can put in data you want to drop and it will, based on analytics, tell you how it thinks it's going to do," Novoselsky says.

Such offerings have already garnered Talkwalker a strong slate of clients, which Novoselsky said are predominantly in Europe, the Middle East and Africa — areas where Hootsuite could grow.

Asked whether she foresees job cuts as she integrates the two companies, Novoselsky said, "We're not doing this for cost synergies. We are really focused on driving value for our customers."

Hootsuite has made cuts before, laying off 30 per cent of its staff as part of a global restructuring in August 2022 and then another five per cent in November 2022.  

A third round of cuts amounting to about seven per cent of staffwas announced in January 2023, when Novoselsky took over from Tom Keiser, who had succeeded founder Ryan Holmes. (Holmes stepped down in 2019, after a rumoured failed attempt to sell Hootsuite.)

Moving forward, Novoselsky's top to-do list item will be integrating Talkwalker into Hootsuite, a task she's "really excited about."

"The No. 1 focus is how (to make) this as seamless as possible for our customers so we don't miss a beat and we're continuing to innovate because the industry and the market does not stop," she says.

"It does not wait for us." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2024.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press