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Hootsuite’s VP of talent takes social media to the next level.
Ambrosia Humphrey’s passion and drive are hard to miss—especially for the CEO with whom she had to share a desk when she began working at social media management company Hootsuite.
Humphrey, now vice president of talent at the Vancouver-based company, says she and CEO Ryan Holmes both have “disruptive” personalities and like finding new ways to do things.
Humphrey convinced Holmes of the importance of human resources, and, in the three years since she’s been on board, the company’s staff size has exploded—from 20 employees to 525. Now hiring at a rate of 10 people per week, the company continues to expand.
Humphrey says she and Holmes “built a very intuitive relationship” during the days when staffing was tight and desks were a shared commodity. “We’re seeing the payoff now because we’re scaling so fast.”
Vice President of Talent at Hootsuite
Hometown: Campbell River, a fishing village in British Columbia that may have more salmon than people.
Not her day job: Founder of a concert fundraiser called #singitfwd to benefit a children’s arts and meal program.
Passionate pursuits: “I have an innate passion for disruptive technologies, storytellers, data, employer branding and entrepreneurial approaches. I nerd out on these topics a lot.”
Proud moment: When the recent uprising in Egypt led to a partial social media blackout, Hootsuite was able to keep working.
Business philosophy: “You can be competitive and collaborative at the same time.”
Find and follow her: Twitter, @hambrody; LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/in/ambrosiahumphrey.
Hootsuite blog: http://blog.hootsuite.com.
Hootsuite offers online dashboards in 15 languages to help companies manage and analyze their social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus and others. The company offers a range of options to its customers, from free individual dashboards to large enterprise systems.
Humphrey maintains that companies, like hers, in hypergrowth mode need checks and balances and a scalable system. “You pay exponentially when you take shortcuts,” she says. “If you have the wrong manager, they hire a team of 10 wrong people.”
Naturally, Hootsuite has folded social media into its HR efforts for recruiting, onboarding, recognition, performance management and brand management. The company uses the private social network Yammer for internal communications and a social platform called 7Geese for performance management. (See “Performance Management Gets Social” on p. 34.)
The effect of social media on Humphrey’s own workplace is undeniable.
Shortly after Steve Johnson, Hootsuite’s chief revenue officer, joined the company as its 26th employee in 2011, Humphrey decided to hold a recruiting fair, with just five days to plan. Johnson was worried they’d have an empty room, but Humphrey kicked her social media machine into high gear and the place was packed.
Johnson admires Humphrey’s willingness to toss out old HR playbooks, noting that her decisions are usually based on intensive research. He also cites her as someone to whom employees feel they can open up—he’s been known to find out things about people on his own team from her.
“It’s super refreshing to find someone who has the combination of high standards, openness, inquisitiveness, hustle and just hard work,” Johnson says.
Lars Schmidt, a friend of Humphrey’s and founder of Amplify Talent, an employer brand and recruiting consulting company in Reston, Va., describes Humphrey as a “natural connector.” The two met through a friend who thought the two “social media nerds” might have a lot in common. Schmidt was hosting a party at the conference and festival South by Southwest one year and invited Humphrey. He was worried that she had arrived before him and wouldn’t know anyone at the event. Instead, when he got there, he found her surrounded by people and deep in conversation.
Train, Then Trust
Humphrey is a realist about the fact that it’s not possible to control exactly how and when each employee will use social media. She has built an HR team of 15, and her group is vastly outnumbered by employees with multiple social media accounts of their own. Each staff member receives some social media training and is then trusted to act responsibly.
“We’re a social organization,” Humphrey says. “In my reality, if people aren’t happy, they tweet about it. That’s a PR problem. I would rather have an ongoing dialogue with people. There’s no need to be disgruntled and push it out somewhere else.”
She strives to make every HR initiative transparent so that employees don’t share their grievances with the rest of the world, 140 characters at a time.
Training begins with social media certification through Hootsuite University, which educates individuals on what social media can do to help them in their job, how it can affect their careers and how it can provide product training.
Humphrey follows the mantra “tweet love not war” and sees herself as an ambassador of her company. Employees are encouraged to use the hashtag #hootsuitelife to present their perspectives on what it’s like to work at the company. Postings include photos of rooftop meetings, links to media rankings of Hootsuite as a top workplace and employee kudos to each other. Together, the postings give people a feel for the quirkiness of life at the company.
Schmidt sees #hootsuitelife as a perfect example of how Humphrey is willing to take risks that other HR leaders won’t. “It’s about empowering your employees,” he says. “All employees have the opportunity to be great brand ambassadors.”
Minister of Culture
Culture is one of Humphrey’s top priorities, and Hootsuite’s social media efforts are part of a larger commitment to transparency. Humphrey cites “Ask Me Anything” all-staff meetings with the CEO, “hackathons” where staff assemble to tackle problems (they teamed up to create a recruitment video one day), and a “working out loud” philosophy where people like to show their work and get feedback.
In a company blog, Humphrey pointed out that transparency fueled by social media can give companies the same kind of feedback from employees that they find to be so valuable when it comes from customers. “Thanks to social media, feedback no longer needs to be a horoscope delivered too late; it’s about active listening for both employee and organizational empowerment and alignment,” she wrote.
Her focus on culture was borne of a two-year stint working for a London-based company that conducted education programs for African government ministers. She facilitated the courses, traveling to Nigeria, Botswana and South Africa. During her travels, she learned how much culture could vary from place to place and how that affected what happened there. “It was really eye-opening, and it developed how I looked at things,” she says.
Humphrey grew up in a small Canadian fishing village hours north of Vancouver. She earned an undergraduate degree in education and art from Simon Fraser University, but once she graduated and began looking for teaching jobs, there were none to be found. A friend helped her get a job in learning and development at a video game company, Slant Six Games in Vancouver. It was a small company, so she learned everything from recruiting to payroll.
From there, she moved to the fashion retailer Aritzia. While the company was growing quickly, it was already a well-established business, and she wanted the challenge of building something new. She joined tech startup Hootsuite in 2011.
While much of the tech world is clustered farther south in Silicon Valley, Humphrey believes that having a culture of collaboration can help the Canadian-based company attract talent.
“We want to build a billion-dollar organization and give back to the community we grew up in,” she says.
Like many people, Humphrey has found that social media can sometimes blur the lines between one’s personal and professional lives. After she fell in love with a musician, Humphrey decided to get involved in an arts education and meal program for foster children and other kids in difficult circumstances. The couple founded an annual concert called #singitfwd to raise money for the program, and this year’s show featured a special surprise: Humphrey’s boyfriend proposed.
Having her engagement make the local evening news and trend locally on Twitter was a touch mortifying, she admits—even for someone known to love transparency and social media.
Tamara Lytle is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.
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