Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Error Page Error: How Hootsuite Missed the Mark on Effective Marketing Communications

I use Hootsuite daily. 

You likely know that Hootsuite is a useful social media dashboard application.  It helps manage client’s multiple social networks from one website.

Specifically, I spend a few hours each week writing relevant Tweets of interest, and scheduling updates to my client’s Twitter account, as explained in previous blog postings.

You might also know that late last week, Hootsuite was one of the applications that was affected by a severe service outage.  Hootsuite crashed for almost a full business day.

How Did The Crash Happen?
I’m over-simplifying here, but here’s how I understand it. Hootsuite is one of several applications that use Amazon web services and databases to provide “cloud computing” capability so users can log onto the applications from the cloud. 

There was a total, unforeseen failure of Amazon's web services and database functionality (not the Amazon site itself, but their web services). Unfortunately all recovery or fail-safe strategies crashed as well.

Other popular websites and services that went dark that day were Reddit and Foursquare. They were crippled or outright disabled well into the early afternoon.

A Marketing Communications Challenge
My concern in this post is a little more mundane, but relates to marketing communications.  

Hour after hour, as I tried to unsuccessfully log in to Hootsuite, what was displayed was very snarky error page.  (pasted above). 

More than snarky, it was downright rude.  As the error page said in multiple languages:   “Owls need a break sometimes, too. We’ll be back in action, but in the meantime go outside and flap your wings around, you may find that flying aint’ very easy.”

Granted, after about five or so hours a more professional and “Kinder” error page was displayed, but this one really missed the mark.

Missed Opportunity for Positive Branding

The error page bugged me every time it was displayed.  

It created a certain perception about Hootsuite's service and brand.

Even though it wasn’t a critical situation by any means (nobody died), I lost a few hours worth of work since the outage resulted in losing 4 or 5 days worth of Tweets scheduled in advance.

So here’s to paying attention to content on an error page.  Seeing a directive to “go outside and flap your wings around” set quite a negative and dismissive tone, and wasn’t an effective use of positive branding or marketing communications.


  1. Hello Julie,

    Thanks for spending the time to share your thoughts. The page you referenced was designed and written for our occasionally downtime for new releases. It was displayed as soon as the outage occurred.

    Once we realized the scope of the Amazon situation, we quickly created and replaced the page with one relating the severity of the outage and provided details in a more professional tone.

    Additionally. within a short period of time, we published a blog post detailing the situation as well as posted numerous Twitter updates to keep user expectations inline with the reality.


    Finally, we posted a blog post related what happened, how we came back online, and what we're doing to improve moving forward.


    We feel these actions more than make up for the casual tone of the error page.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. We take all our messaging seriously and are always working towards perfection.


  2. Thank you, Dave, for taking the time to respond. Yes it sounds like a timing issue, and indeed, the second error page was much more informative and relevant. That whole ordeal must have been quite a challenge, but it looks like many lessons were learned during that outage. Thanks again for your comment!