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Hootsuite vs Buffer vs Sprout Social: What is the Best Social Media Management Tool?

This post is part of a series called Get Started: Social Media Guide for Small Business.
14 Helpful Social Media Management Tools for a Better Workflow
How to Track Your Social Media ROI (Get Better Results)

Social media management tools are your best friends when it comes to integrating social media into your marketing strategy. 

They can help you manage multiple profiles, track specific keywords, as well as allow you to schedule your posts in advance so you don’t have to spend hours every day coming up with content and logging into various accounts just to post updates.

We’ve previously discussed the best social media tools that help you save time and manage your social media activity: 

While that article outlines a number of the most helpful tools for social media management, today’s comprehensive guide will take a look at the top three contenders, compare their features, and provide tips and guidance to help you choose the best social media management tool for your small business. 

What is the best social media management tool
What is the best social media management tool?

Let's dive into comparing Hootsuite versus Buffer versus Sprout Social in-depth—beginning with a quick overview.

Brief Overview: Hootsuite vs Buffer vs Sprout Social

Social media management tools come in many shapes and sizes but the top three that dominate the market share today are Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social. They all have a ton of features as well as their own set of weaknesses which may influence your final decision. Let’s take a look at a brief comparison chart before diving deeper into their features.

Features

Hootsuite

Buffer

Sprout Social

Free Plan

Yes

Yes

No, but offers 30-day free trial

Pricing

From $8.99/month billed annually

$10/month Awesome Plan billed annually; $99/month Business plan

From $59/user/month

Social Media Platforms

Facebook (profile, page, group), Twitter, LinkedIn (profile, group, company), Google+ (pages only), extra profiles via third-party apps

Facebook (profile, page, group), Twitter, LinkedIn (profile, group, company), Google+ (pages only), Instagram, Pinterest (on paid plans)

Facebook (pages), Twitter, LinkedIn (profile, company), Google+ (pages only), Instagram

Analytics

Posts, followers growth, engagement, and traffic; basic analytics are free, advanced analytics are a paid feature

Likes, mentions, retweets, and clicks, follower growth

Audience growth and analysis, post engagements, trends, social media listening

Collaboration

Yes on paid plans

Yes on paid plans

Yes

Publishing

Yes and you can add an RSS feed even on the free plan

Yes, with 1 content feed on free plan, more available on paid plans

Yes

Scheduling


Yes, unlimited

Limited to 10 posts/profiles on the free plan

Yes, unlimited

Extra Features

Very customizable dashboard, bulk upload of messages on paid plans, custom shortener, multiple images in posts, content suggestions, and custom time settings

Pablo image creation platform, custom URL shortener and bit.ly integration, allows you to set different times for posting for individual days

Publish send time optimization, social CRM, unified inbox, bit.ly integration

As you can see, most of the features are similar across all three tools and vary based on the type of plan you select. However, each of the tools offers a few unique features which can make the choice more complicated.

Hootsuite: An In-Depth Look

Hootsuite
Hootsuite

Price: Free, $8.99/month for Pro Version; Business and Enterprise plans depend on the number of users.

Primary Focus: Manage all your social networks in one spot with a customizable dashboard that lets you see several feeds at once.

Pro Plan Includes:

  • Unlimited Social Profiles
  • Access for you and one team member
  • Analytics Reporting
  • Advanced Scheduling (Manual & Auto-Scheduling)
  • Monitoring Tools 
  • Publishing Tools
  • Unlimited Apps for connecting with social networks and RSS Feeds
  • Mobile Apps and a browser extension

It’s worth mentioning that users on the free plan can connect up to three social profiles and have access to most of the pro features, but they cannot add a team member and you can’t bulk schedule your messages.

What Does Hootsuite Offer?

Hootsuite is one of the oldest social media management platforms and probably the most well-known. It lets you manage Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn. 

Many other social platforms such as FourSquare, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Vimeo, and others are available via third-party apps. Some of the apps are free and some are paid, but this feature alone makes Hootsuite the most extensive social media management tool.

One of the most notable Hootsuite features is its dashboard, which is organized into a multi-column, customizable layout. Each social network has its own tab and within each tab, you can set up different streams, tailored to the account in question.

The usefulness of this feature is most apparent when used in conjunction with Twitter (and surprisingly, works equally well with Instagram). Those streams make it possible to monitor Twitter mentions, retweets, hashtags, and private messages, all side by side.

Hootsuite Streams
Hootsuite Streams

On the Pro plan, you can add one team member and assign tasks for collaboration efforts. You can also upload and schedule bulk messages at once by importing a CSV file. The free plan includes the auto-scheduling feature which will post at the best times. However, you can only auto-schedule 10 messages per day.

Hootsuite Analytics

In terms of analytics, Hootsuite offers a basic set of reports for free which can be generated using pre-created templates or custom built reports. However, more advanced reports (which can be generated with data from Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and more) can cost upwards of $50/report. 

Although they do provide value for money, the cost can quickly blow your budget and wind up being too expensive for a small business owner. On the Pro version, you get one free report each month and additional reports will come with a price tag. This is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of Hootsuite.  

Hootsuite Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Dashboard with multi-columned streams which make it easy to monitor several metrics at once.
  • Apps for connecting with other social media networks
  • Mobile apps and browser add-on to easily share content from the web

Cons:

  • Analytics reports are expensive
  • Ow.ly-Only URL Shorter - Hootsuite doesn’t integrate with third-party URL shorteners and uses their own. This can make it difficult to track your campaigns and performance outside of Hootsuite or if you import a post with a pre-shortened URL.

Buffer: An In-Depth Look

Buffer
Buffer

Price: Free, $10/month for the Awesome Plan, Business Plan starts at $99/month.

Primary Focus: Queue and schedule content with ease.

Awesome Plan Includes:

  • Up to 10 profiles (Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest)
  • Advanced post scheduling
  • Schedule retweets
  • Up to two team members
  • Basic analytics
  • No post limits

Buffer has a crisp and clean interface and makes scheduling content across various networks a breeze. It’s a relatively young platform but one that continuously adds new integrations.

What Does Buffer Offer?

Buffer is definitely not as feature-rich as Hootsuite, as it's designed primarily for easy scheduling and sharing. As such it doesn’t include powerful analytics nor does it offer robust management. You cannot reply to mentions or messages and there is no option to set up a custom dashboard to track your feed or a keyword.

However, where Buffer shines is the simplicity of message scheduling and the ability to set custom posting times which can be different for each day of the week on the Awesome Plan. Buffer also comes with Pablo, their tool which lets you create images and graphics to accompany your posts.

Buffer scheduling is super straightforward
Buffer scheduling is super straightforward.

Another feature that makes Buffer stand out is the ability to schedule pins (requires Awesome Plan) and Instagram posts as well. Bear in mind that this won’t actually post to Instagram due to their closed API, rather it will send you a notification on your phone at the designated time, reminding you to share your post.

On top of that, the Buffer button can easily be integrated into RSS readers, Twitter, Chrome, WordPress, and other tools for discovering content.

Buffer Analytics

Buffer has a very basic set of analytics that lets you track retweets, mentions, likes, and comments on your various social media posts. It also integrates with bit.ly for URL shortening which makes it easy to track the analytics outside of Buffer.

Buffer Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Easy and simple interface
  • Advanced scheduling
  • Browser extension, mobile apps, and Buffer button integrates with various other apps such as Feedly, WordPress, and more

Cons:

  • Bare-bones analytics
  • Limited features compared to Hootsuite

Sprout Social: An In-Depth Look

Sprout Social
Sprout Social

Price: Deluxe plan for $59/user/month; $99/user/month for Premium Plan; $500/month with three users for the Team plan.

Primary Focus: An all in one social media management tool that lets you schedule, publish, analyze, and engage with your audience.

Deluxe Plan Includes:

  • A full Social Inbox
  • Brand Monitoring in real-time
  • Schedule posts in advance for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
  • Social CRM Tools
  • Reporting Tools
  • Supports up to 10 profiles at once
  • Sprout Social Browser Extension
  • Mobile Apps
  • Training and support

Sprout Social is pricier than other social media management software but it also includes the most robust set of features. Their most notable feature is the Smart Inbox which lets you view all messages from your connected Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Google+ profiles in a single, unified stream.

What Does Sprout Social Offer?

Sprout Social is truly an encompassing tool that lets you publish and schedule social messages.

The Messages tab shows engagement such as mentions and tweets involving you. The Feeds tab allows you to access all your social media feeds in one spot. From there, you can add Twitter lists and your home feed and you can engage with the content by replying, retweeting, sending a direct message, and more. 

Unlike Hootsuite, Sprout Social offers a single column view. You can search for a particular hashtag and save the search but you cannot set a dedicated dashboard stream for it like you can in Hootsuite.

A look at the Sprout Social dashboard
A look at the Sprout Social dashboard.

Their ViralPost feature analyzes when your audience is most engaged to provide you with suggestions for the best times to publish your queued content. 

The Discovery tab helps you find new followers and take a closer look at those who engage with you on Twitter most frequently. You can also clean up your followers with their clean up function.

What makes Sprout Social stand out from Hootsuite and other social media profile management tools is their CRM Tools, which allow you to add custom notes and view past interactions with specific users.

One of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of ability to post to Facebook/LinkedIn groups as you can do with Buffer in Facebook groups where you are the admin.

Sprout Social, like Buffer, uses bit.ly for their URL shortening, but the drawback is that you can use only one bit.ly account for each social profile in your system.  

Sprout Social Analytics

Sprout Social offers the most comprehensive set of reporting options which allow you to generate reports of overall social media activity. Or, you can create segmented reports for individual networks, team progress reports, or even network comparison reports. Though you can't customize them to the level of Hootsuite’s reports, they do offer important data in an easily digestible form.

Sprout Social Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Robust set of features
  • Intuitive and gorgeous interface
  • Excellent customer support
  • Smart Inbox
  • Social CRM

Cons:

  • While they allow you to schedule social media updates, it’s not as advanced as Buffer’s scheduling features
  • Their pricing can stack up to be out of reach for some small business owners

How to Choose the Best Social Media Management Tool That’s Right for You

Choosing the right social media management tool is not easy but it’s definitely a necessity. The final decision rests upon several factors.

Buffer is the best choice if you’re looking for a simple and straightforward way to schedule and share content across a variety of social networks. Even if you opt for their free plan, it’s a great way to get familiar with social media management and provides you with a basic set of analytics so you can understand what needs to be tracked.

If you need something more advanced with better analytics, Sprout Social is the obvious choice. It also helps if you want a tool that lets you handle a part of your customer support through your social media accounts.

Hootsuite on the other hand is the most customizable out of the three, with options to integrate additional social media networks. If you’re a mid-to-large sized business and you can afford the price of their reports, and want to be able to easily track multiple streams on one screen, Hootsuite makes the most sense.  

Also, choosing the best social media tools is only half the equation to be successful. If you need to plan your social media strategy and align it with your business goals better, then read more of our multipart, get started guide to social media for small business

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