In today's #MarTechMonday post, Ben Beck compares two popular social media posting tools, Hootsuite and Buffer. Which one is right for your company? Keep reading.
With 77 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.
What is a wonder, however, is when I’m at an event for marketers and find that those I’m talking with don’t use any social media posting tools. I’ll hear that they’ve heard of Hootsuite and Buffer… but, they aren’t sure how they’re different or which one they should use.
Summary of Hootsuite and Buffer
I have used both Hootsuite and Buffer extensively, and have neither affiliate nor other direct ties to 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.
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. It obviously had a lot of functionality but wasn’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. I attend a fair amount of marketing conferences, and I’m always surprised when I’m talking with marketers from huge companies — where they have a half dozen dedicated social media marketers — and they tell me they’re using Hootsuite. It is surprising because of how affordable it is; don’t big enterprises always pay more for software than they need to? That said, the features in Hootsuite are robust.
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.
$9.99/month (annual billing) or $14.99/month (monthly billing)
A (3.57 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 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.
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.
$10/month (monthly billing)
B+ (3.08 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:
- 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 14 percent.
- Buffer allows you to post to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, App.net and Google+
- Hootsuite allows you to 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.
- Ease-of-use is also a very important criterion. 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 and Hootsuite are both easy to use and don’t have a very sharp learning curve to become a power user. That said, Buffer is a little 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.
- 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 and so I weighted it most heavily of all eight criteria: 18 percent.
- The advantage here goes to Hootsuite, which has very powerful scheduling functionality. This is the true defining criterion of Hootsuite vs. all other social media management solutions.
- While Buffer does have some scheduling capability, it is not as robust or centrally integrated into the tool as Hootsuite’s is.
- Ad-hoc posting, as mentioned above, 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 15 percent.
- 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 also 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 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.
- Reporting and dashboard views are important to 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 10 percent.
- 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.
- 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.
- Content recommendations can be important to a budding social media manager, who is still learning the industry they are working in. 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 weighting this criterion at 10 percent.
- Hootsuite wins this category. Hootsuite does an OK job with content recommendations, but not great. But…
- Buffer doesn’t have content recommendations. They did at one time, but have pulled support for this functionality. Their reasoning is a good one: offering content recommendations wasn’t true to their purpose and mission.
- 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 8 percent weight.
- Hootsuite does an excellent job of sticking to its core product and not branching out. In this scenario, however, that’s a drawback.
- Buffer wins this criterion because of Pablo. 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.
- Pricing is also a criterion we evaluated, though social media management solutions are so competitively priced, in comparison to other marketing solutions, so 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, which social media tool do I recommend?
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 grades for the two:
I use both of these tools religiously. I have a paid Hootsuite account and a free Buffer account, 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 loan ranger for my company’s social media efforts, it’s OK to get a little more sophisticated.
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.
What social media marketing tool do you use, and why? Let us know in the comments.