With 75 percent of high-income-earning online adults using Facebook and YouTube, according to Pew Research, it’s no wonder that social media is a key ingredient in many marketing campaigns. Not only is social media a high priority for internal marketers, but it has also become a priority for agencies and even marketing freelancers and independent consultants.
In fact, according to ClearVoice’s freelance pay rate study, 80% of expert freelancers are creating social media content for their clients.
Social media itself is a living organism — growing, changing and evolving all the time. In 2019 alone, we’ve seen many changes to today’s top social media platforms, including Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, SnapChat and many others.Ben Beck compares two popular social media tools, @Hootsuite and @Buffer, in his annual update of his graded reviews. Which one is right for your company? Which improved more? #martechmonday #contentmarketing Click To Tweet
Summary of Hootsuite and Buffer
Hootsuite and Buffer continue to lead the market as top social media management tools. I have used both Hootsuite and Buffer extensively, and have neither affiliate nor other direct ties to either of these companies. Both continue to be excellent solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses, agencies and freelancers; however, in my opinion, they appeal to different audiences.
In this article, I have included a summarized review of both Hootsuite and Buffer, and also included the grading for each criterion. I’ve also included the grading rubric from March 2017 when I first wrote this article, pre-refresh, so that you can see how things have changed over the years.
The process and experience of logging in and setting up a Hootsuite account has come a long way. When I first wrote this article, this process and experience reminded me of a Microsoft-made product circa Windows 10. Although the user interface is still far from perfect, it is a significant improvement from 2017.
Hootsuite definitely has a lot of functionality, but it can take the user a minute or two to realize and understand what he or she is looking at. Hootsuite’s navigation has also come a long way. It is now clear and apparent on how to create a new post when, in years past, users had to hunt for how to do this.
Hootsuite is powerful and has added considerable functionality in the last year: better team management functions such as content approvals, team assignments and the ability to integrate with other third-party apps.
Hootsuite does continue to offer its free plan, but functionality is limited. In my experience, most users need a paid version, which starts at $29/month, which includes up to 10 social media profiles, unlimited scheduling and one user. For larger teams, Hootsuite costs $129/month, which includes everything in the Professional plan, 20 social media profiles, unlimited scheduling and up to three users.
Again, when compared with other tools, including Buffer, I still believe that the price and balance of functionality is the core strength of this solution.
As we mentioned above, although Hootsuite offers a number of helpful and valuable features and functionality, most of them come with a cost.
Instead of feeling like you’re working with a svelte Apple product, you’re stuck working with an antiquated-feeling user interface — much like an old, pre-Surface Book, stale Microsoft product.
Don’t take this as a Microsoft bashing, though; I’m updating this article from a Microsoft Surface Book, my favorite computer of all time. Microsoft has come a long way over the years with the release of nice new hardware, and as they bring their software up to date… and so too has Hootsuite begun to improve their product, ushering in new user interfaces in pieces of their software. Like Microsoft products, though, Hootsuite gives you all the bells and whistles, but with a clunkier interface, that still feels disjointed despite their recent efforts.
$29.99/month (annual billing) — Free solution is still offered for those with very basic needs or just wanting to kick the tires.
A (3.35 out of 5 possible)
Buffer has completely refreshed the look of its user interface. In my opinion, Buffer always had a clear user interface, but they continue to make improvements. As a result, Buffer is super easy to set up an account and begin using immediately — and the easy, clean, straightforward user interface is what helps this experience.
However, after a few minutes of exploring and using Buffer, I immediately see what Buffer lacks and what Hootsuite offers.
Buffer rules in the ease-of-use criterion. It is a slick product, with a clean and easy-to-use interface. It also shines with Pablo, an easy-to-use graphic creation tool.
In addition to this ease-of-use, Buffer also boasts an active development team which, in the last year, has released a completely new product called Reply, and is poised to release another, called Analyze.
What you gain with ease-of-use, you often give up in feature set. This is true for Buffer. The scheduling, content recommendations and reporting and analytics functions have come a long way in Buffer, however, that still can’t compare to those of Hootsuite.
$15/month (monthly billing)
A (3.3 out of 5 possible)
Hootsuite vs. Buffer: Grades and ranking
In stack ranking and judging these two excellent social media posting solutions, I used the following eleven criteria:
- Which social media networks each tool can post to
- Overall ease-of-use
- Scheduled posting functionality
- Ad hoc posting options
- Conversation management
- Reporting and dashboard views
- Quality of content recommendations
- Content library
- What product extras are there
- What reporting features are available and their level of accuracy
Here’s how the two stack up, with an overall grading matrix below:
1. Widest coverage on social media accounts
This is one of the most important aspects of social media marketing, and one aspect business marketing professionals will be evaluating the most — where they can get their messages posted to.
Thus, of the eleven categories evaluated, I weighted this one at 5 percent, knocking off three points of weight from last year as both tools are relatively on par for the major social media networks.
Buffer: You can post to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Hootsuite: You can post to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest — all natively integrated. You can also add on a dozen or so others. Some of those add-ons are considered premium apps, and you have to pay extra for them. Hootsuite obviously has the advantage here, though Buffer also hits all the main networks.
You’ll spend a lot of time in your social media management solution, and it should be a joyful experience. I weighted this criterion at 15 percent.
Buffer: All things considered, Buffer is a bit more simple and much cleaner-looking in its layout; and thus, Buffer wins this category. In the below screenshot, from Buffer, you can see how visually appealing and easy to use Buffer is.
Hootsuite: Like Buffer, Hootsuite is easy to use and doesn’t have a very sharp learning curve to become a power-user.
3. Scheduled posting
Scheduled posting is one of the main reasons marketers turn to social media management solutions. Unless you belong to a larger organization with dedicated social media marketers, you’ll really need scheduled posting, as it allows you to appear like you are very active on social media when in reality you are logging in just a few times a week and scheduling your posts out.
Of course, social media does need some fluency, so I recommend a mix of scheduled and ad-hoc posting. That said, this is a very important criterion. I weighted it most heavily of all eleven criteria, except ease of use: 15 percent.
Buffer: While Buffer does have some scheduling capability, it is not as robust or centrally integrated into the tool as Hootsuite’s. That said, when Instagram started rolling out the ability to schedule posts (beta rolled out in late 2016 with more widespread API availability through 2017 to early 2018), Buffer was one of the first social media tools to allow you to schedule to Instagram.
They had the schedule functionality well before Hootsuite, and so we’ve moved Buffer up from a 2 out of 5 to a 3 out of 5, just a tad behind Hootsuite’s 4 out of 5 ranking on schedule posting functionality.
Hootsuite: The advantage here goes to Hootsuite, which has very powerful scheduling functionality. This is the true defining criterion of Hootsuite versus all other social media management solutions.
4. Ad hoc posting
As mentioned above, ad-hoc posting is important to making an account more responsive to breaking news. Ad-hoc posting allows a social media marketing professional to post items on the fly, adding more immediacy to their social media presence. I classify this as being a more important judging criterion, so I weighted this at 10 percent.
Buffer: The advantage here goes to Buffer. Both Hootsuite and Buffer have Chrome plugins that allow you to post content directly from your browser, as you are consuming content. However, Buffer makes it super easy. You don’t need to select a day/time you want the social post to go live. Instead, you simply click to post it and Buffer will put it in line where it thinks is best.
Hootsuite: Hootsuite allows you to post from a Chrome plugin and has a feature where you can disable the manual scheduling (similar to Buffer). However, Buffer does it so much better that many of the “social share” plugins for blogs that have a native “share via Buffer” button integrated into them.
5. Conversation management
An area that both tools have somewhat facilitated over the years, conversion management has become a hot “must-have” feature in the last few years. Conversation management allows you to take the back and forth dialogue that happens in comments or direct messages on social media and better keep them organized inside your social media management solution.
Anyone who has tried to support a product or service via social media knows that each social platform has different ways of holding dialogue, and the actual back and forth can be difficult to monitor and manage in a timely manner.
Buffer takes the win for conversation management, as I explain below. I’ve weighed this criterion at 10 percent.
Buffer: Buffer has entered the customer-service space with Buffer Reply, a tool dedicated to helping businesses better manage the back and forth communication that happens on social media. It is a very robust tool, and departs, in a way, from the simplicity of Buffer’s publishing tool.
That said, if you are supporting a product or service via social channels, then you probably understand the need for a more robust tool, something that allows you to make internal notes on a conversation, assign dialogs to team members, push certain content to third-party tools (CRMs, Slack, etc.) and allow for support specific reporting.
Buffer does all of these things with Reply. The pricing of Reply starts at $50/month, again a departure from the way things used to be with Buffer (a low-cost plan at $15/month). Good customer service is something that is intentional, though, and Buffer has built a sufficiently robust product and priced it accordingly.
Hootsuite: Hootsuite offers some conversation management functionality in its platform that allows you to do what Buffer does, though it isn’t as graceful or as thoughtfully built out. Here’s a page where Hootsuite outlines some of this functionality.
I’ve talked to customer support people that have tried to use Hootsuite, and they continue to have frustrations with the way the platform is built, in regards to providing support on social channels.
source: Buffer Reply
6. Reporting and dashboard views
For business users, accountability for time and money spent on marketing is a must, and good reporting and easy-to-use dashboard views come into play here.
As important as reporting is, I’ve worked in many organizations where social media accountability wasn’t as high as it should be. I think it is a shame, but it’s a reality too. Thus, I’ve weighted this criterion only at 5 percent.
Buffer: With Buffer, you need to click on each network to view them individually. There’s no strong dashboard presence. Also, reporting with Buffer isn’t as feature-rich as Hootsuite.
Hootsuite: Hootsuite wins on this one, simply because you can see multiple social media networks all in the same view. Hootsuite also delivers more powerful reporting functionality, as can be seen in the below analytics screenshot from their website.
7. Content recommendations
Content recommendations can be important to a budding social media manager, who is still learning an industry. If you’re not sure what you can post, content recommendations will show you some potential posts that may be relevant to your audience.
While these are important and could be widely leveraged by most business users, most still don’t know how to use them. As such, I’m weighing this criterion at 10 percent.
Buffer: Although Buffer did have content recommendations at one time, they have pulled support for this functionality. Their reasoning is a good one: offering content recommendations wasn’t true to their purpose and mission.
Hootsuite: Hootsuite wins this category. Hootsuite does an OK job with content recommendations, but not great.
8. Content library
A content library for saving new post ideas and propagating them to your internal team is more important than ever, as companies become more sophisticated with their use of social media and as your business needs to continue to evolve to remain relevant.
Both platforms provide mechanisms to discover new content, but only one of these tools has a robust content library option that allows you to save time with pre-approved content that your internal teams can post from. Because this functionality is a great wishlist item but is similar to the content recommendation that Hootsuite has had for some time, I’ve weighed this criterion at just 5 percent.
Buffer: Buffer lacks a content library and content cloud integrations (unlike Hootsuite), making it a less attractive tool to medium to larger companies that need to scale their social media efforts.
Hootsuite: Over the last year, Hootsuite has stepped up their game in this area. Their content library functionality allows you to curate content and save it into an area of the tool that can be easily searched. Additionally, you can tag content to make it more findable, and then you can view usage stats to see how the library content is being leveraged.
While this functionality is reserved for those who pay for their business or enterprise package, cloud content integrations (available to all package tiers) also further differentiate Hootsuite from Buffer.
With cloud content, you can access content stored in all the main online cloud file services (Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.), to pull in new post ideas for your marketing team. Because of these two components, Hootsuite wins the battle for curating content.
9. Product extras
Product extras are a nice to have. I’m not talking core features here. On the contrary, I’m talking completely separate tools.
While I normally advocate for a company to focus on their core strength and not spread themselves too thinly across multiple product lines, in the case of Buffer, they’ve done an excellent job of offering up a new product that offers a great add-on functionality to their base product. I give this judging criterion 10 percent weight.
Buffer: Because of Pablo, Buffer wins this criterion. I’m not talking painters here, though I’m guessing the name of this product does hail from the famous painter Pablo Picasso. With this tool, Buffer offers a new product that enables you to create visually stunning graphics in seconds.
Pablo isn’t a full-on infographic creation tool, but it does allow you to make quick and easy graphics for social media sharing. In addition, Buffer is creating a new Analyze tool, that it claims will revolutionize the way that social media managers capture meaningful data on the performance of their postings. It is still in alpha, but you can sign up for early beta access when it is ready.
Hootsuite: Although Hootsuite does an excellent job of sticking to its core product and not branching out, in this scenario, however, that’s a drawback.
Pricing is also a criterion we evaluated. Though social media management solutions are so competitively priced, in comparison to other marketing solutions, it doesn’t seem to be as large of a concern for marketing professionals. As such, I’ve weighed this at just 5 percent.
Both Hootsuite and Buffer are about the same. They use the freemium model, and their free versions really are quite good by themselves. Their feature full versions intro at around $10/month. They also have business accounts where you can have multiple users, and they too are priced very similarly. No clear advantage holder in pricing.
11. Reporting Features and Data Accuracy
In today’s digital age of “big data,” any freelance writer, content marketer or agency wants to see data related to social media posts. Visibility into this data allows marketers to determine which posts yield the most engagement, which allows them to adjust their social media strategies accordingly. Therefore, using a social media tool with these capabilities is a must.
Both Hootsuite and Buffer require a paid subscription to their tools in order to access analytics. However, when looking at the data accuracy of both tools, it appears that Hootsuite is considerably more accurate. Hootsuite provides data in real-time whereas Buffer provides a broad view of engagement statistics across multiple social media accounts.
Although Buffer still provides those must-have insights for freelance marketers and entrepreneurs, for larger companies and teams that really want to boost their ROI from their social media efforts, Hootsuite will likely provide the data they are looking for.
I’ve weighed this at 10 percent.
So, do I recommend Buffer or Hootsuite?
Again, both of these social media management solutions are excellent. For the business user, however, they do stack up a little differently depending on your needs.
If you’re a small firm, looking for ease of use, Buffer is likely your best option. If you’re running a lot of customer support through your social media channels, then Buffer is also the best bet for you, with its Reply conversation management functionality.
However, if you’re a bigger firm and want to integrate more third-party apps, or garner publishing ideas and leverage post scheduling, then Hootsuite is likely best for you.
In the 2017 and 2018 versions of this article, we graded Hootsuite a little higher than Buffer, and it still maintains a slight edge. Due to Buffer’s innovation (e.g. being first, by a long shot, to introduce Instagram scheduling) and all-around excellence they’ve closed the gap considerably. Both platforms are so close in scoring now that we’ve ranked them both as A grade.
We feel that you’ll be well served by either, though we do encourage you to scroll to the very bottom of the article to see which types of companies we recommend to use each different platform.
Here is the upgraded 2019 grading of Hootsuite vs Buffer:
If you’d like to see the progression in the grading, here is how the 2018 scores stacked up for Hootsuite vs. Buffer:
For your reference, below are the grades we ran in 2017, comparing Hootsuite and Buffer. You can see that in the last year Buffer has closed the gap some with newer functionality is has developed, but Hootsuite still has a slight edge.
I use both of these tools religiously. I have both paid Hootsuite and Buffer accounts, and I use them interchangeably. I use Hootsuite more for reporting, content recommendations and scheduling posts. I use Buffer for everyday ad-hoc posts. As I see content I like, I can simply click the Buffer button in my Chrome browser window and easily share the content I was reading.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend this to most professional marketers, mainly because managing multiple tools can be burdensome, and business users should build best practices around a single product. In my case, where I’m a lone ranger for my company’s social media efforts, it’s OK to get a little more sophisticated.
Hootsuite vs. Buffer: Top takeaways
For medium to enterprise users, I recommend Hootsuite. It is a very robust solution that covers more ground than Buffer.
For small business users, I recommend Buffer. It is a slick tool that allows you to do what you generally need to do, and it is such a joy to work with.
For customer support teams, I recommend Buffer. With the new Reply solution, Buffer takes the lead in enabling customer support teams to provide support via social media channels.