With 75 percent of high-income earning online adults using Facebook, according to Pew Research, it’s no wonder that social media is a high priority for marketers. Not only is it a high priority for marketers working inside a company, it is also a burgeoning avenue of revenue generation for freelance marketers. In fact, according to ClearVoice’s freelance pay rate study, 80% of expert freelancers are creating social media content for their clients.
The social media landscape is changing quickly too. In a few years, we’ve seen the rise and slight fall of Snapchat, we’ve seen Instagram quickly move into third place for most popular social media networks, and we’ve seen the proliferation of chatbots, making Facebook Messenger a social media tool that all marketers need to understand.Ben Beck compares two popular social media posting tools, Hootsuite and Buffer, in his annual update of his graded reviews. Which one is right for your company? Which improved more? #martechmonday #contentmarketing #martech @hootsuite Click To Tweet
Summary of Hootsuite and Buffer
I have used both Hootsuite and Buffer extensively, and have neither affiliate nor other direct ties to either of these companies. Both are excellent solutions; but, in my opinion, they appeal to different audiences. Below is a summarization of the review, with the fuller review, as well as 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 in the last year.
Logging in and getting Hootsuite set up was easy enough, though it wasn’t a remarkable experience. Instead, it felt like I was using a Microsoft-made product circa Windows 10. Despite a year passing since I originally wrote this piece, they still haven’t updated their interface, and it feels clunky.
It obviously has a lot of functionality, but isn’t all that well styled or easy to use. You’ll see from the below Hootsuite-provided screenshot that there is a lot of functionality in this product, such as the ability to add in a Freshdesk feed, though the product looks a little complicated when compared to Buffer.
Hootsuite is powerful and has added considerable functionality in the last year: better team management functions such as content approvals, improved content suggestions, and a library to store pre-approved content.
Though Hootsuite has sunset their $10/month plan, and now starts at $30/month, it continues to be more affordable than many other similar solutions. As such, I consider the price and balance of functionality the main strength of this solution.
Hootsuite’s powerful features come at 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, stale Microsoft product. Don’t take this as a Microsoft bashing, though; I’m typing this article from a Microsoft Surface Book, my favorite computer of all time. Like Microsoft products, though, Hootsuite gives you all the bells and whistles, but with a clunkier interface.
$29.99/month (annual billing) — Free solution is still offered for those with very basic needs or just wanting to kick the tires
A (3.3 out of 5 possible)
When you first log into Buffer, you’re presented with a clean user interface. It reminds me of the first time I opened a package containing an Apple product (e.g., an iPod). Super clean, minimalist interface. Light and easy instructions. The first few minutes I explored the product, however, I noticed it lacked some of the functionality I enjoyed in Hootsuite. The below screenshot, provided by Buffer, illustrates how clean and easy-to-use their product is.
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. Your scheduling, content recommendations, and reporting and analytics functions are weak in Buffer, compared to Hootsuite.
$15/month (monthly billing)
A- (3.2 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 eight criteria: which social media networks each tool can post to; the pricing; how convenient and powerful of single-view dashboards are there; the ease-of-use; what extras are available; how good they are at ad-hoc posting; how powerful the scheduled posting is; and what kind of content recommendation tools exist in the products.
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 eight categories evaluated, I weighted this one at 10 percent.
Buffer: You can post to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, App.net and Google+.
Hootsuite: You can post to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, WordPress, and Mixi — all natively integrated. You can also add on a dozen or so others, such as Instagram, Tumbler, Blogger, Reddit and Youtube. Some of those add-ons are considered premium apps, and you have to pay extra for them. Hootsuite obviously has the advantage here.
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 eight criteria: 15 percent.
Buffer: While Buffer does have some scheduling capability, it is not as robust or centrally integrated into the tool as Hootsuite’s.
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. For example, in the social share example below, you can see that Sumo Share natively integrates Buffer into their share options — something I’ve never seen for Hootsuite.
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 dialog that happens in comments or direct messages on social media and better keep them organized inside your social media management solution. Anyone that has tried to support a product or service via social media knows that each social platform has different ways of holding dialog, 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 that 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 signup 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 10 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.
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. Here are the 2018 grades 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.