There are a number of social media management tools out there. While many dashboards contain similar features or functions, each trends toward serving a particular market and set of needs in a niche.
There are three main platforms to use: Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social. Let’s take a look at the features, benefits, pros, and cons of each service so you can determine which would provide the best fit for you and your brand.
Hone Social Media Listening Skills with Hootsuite
Hootsuite has been around in the industry the longest and is often the go-to management tool for social media platforms. It’s a robust social media monitoring dashboard — and “monitoring” is the key word to keep in mind. Hootsuite specializes in allowing you to listen in on conversations.
You can filter tweets by searching for specific keywords or hashtags. This lets you focus in on what you really want to hear as you can create different streams (which function like RSS feeds, only aggregated from social followers and accounts).
This is great for keeping on top of the latest trending news in your industry, brainstorming content ideas, or for monitoring mentions of your business. It allows you to jump into the conversation easily, too.
And it doesn’t just apply to Twitter, either (although Hootsuite does feel geared toward that network with the ability to use hashtags and @mentions). You can create streams for your other social media accounts if you’re also active on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Plus.
Another listening feature: you can monitor social conversations in up to 55 languages with Hootsuite, which is extremely valuable if your company is international. You can also target your searches to certain areas of the globe. (Geotargeting works really well for local businesses).
Powerful Scheduling Tools
Hootsuite makes scheduling out social content extremely easy. Batching your updates — or creating many updates at once and then dispersing them across social media — is an efficient way to manage your accounts
Hootsuite also offers an AutoSchedule option for posting at optimal times. And if you prefer scheduling times yourself, you can use Hootsuite’s calendar feature to see all scheduled content at a glance.
You can also integrate several different apps with Hootsuite, such as Evernote, Instagram, or YouTube. This makes sharing content from other platforms much easier, rather than going back and forth between tabs and copying and pasting a bunch of links.
Some of the apps are paid and some are free, but they each have the potential to add some nice functionality depending on your unique needs.
Ready for Teams
Hootsuite is also great for a company or brand who needs more than just a single social media manager. You can create individual teams within the dashboard, chat with other members, assign tasks and responses, and assign permissions.
(This is only available with a Pro account.)
Although Hootsuite makes it easy for an entire team to access the dashboard and work together, it’s also a great option for individuals working as freelancers or solo biz owners and wanting to do more with social media.
Hootsuite offers 3 account plans:
- A free account for personal use: allows 3 social media profiles, basic app integrations, and basic analytics reports.
- A pro account for advanced or professional use: only $10 per month and allows you to have 50 social media profiles and up to 9 team members
- Enterprise accounts are for large organizations or corporations. Pricing is not listed for this option.
Hootsuite is a very robust and affordable option for anyone looking to monitor their social media usage a bit further. It excels at monitoring trends and conversations with its stream features, and enables users to schedule posts into the future.
But it’s also bulky, a little more complicated, and time-intensive. While feature-rich, there’s a learning curve to picking up and best using all the functionality Hootsuite offers. (And that functionality may not really be necessary for all users.)
Keep It Simple with Buffer
Buffer makes curating content from across the web as social media posts fast and easy. It’s the right tool for anyone looking for a simple, straightforward way to schedule posts on social.
Buffer allows you to take control and be consistent with your updates. Its main functionality is in scheduling posts ahead of time.
You design pre-set times for updates to be published. Whenever you Buffer a post to share, it lines up in your queue and is set to publish at the next pre-determined time.
Share from Around the Web
Buffer offers convenient extensions for both Chrome and Safari than enable you to share almost any content you find across the web. You can share posts, pages, images, videos, and more by clicking the Buffer icon (either within the content or on your browser tab).
Buffer then loads the content into your queue with the rest of your updates.
In addition, this dashboard integrates with a number of other apps. These can further serve to simplify your social media usage and allow you to automate everything.
More Control Over Scheduling a Steady Stream of Content
If in the past you’ve used a tool like Twitterfeed to pick up and share content from sources you find relevant, important, or valuable for your audience — and found that it created a tendency to overload your followers with updates and posts — Buffer may be a new solution.
It maintains the same sort of simplicity, but provides more control. You can still import feeds (via Feedly), but posts won’t be pushed out when new content is detected — only at those predetermined times you set.
You can be sure that your updates will be spaced out over the course of the day, posting at optimal times thanks to posts being held in the queue.
Options for Links to Track Impressions and Clicks
Another convenient thing about Buffer is that when you copy and paste a link in the “what do you want to share?” box, it automatically shortens the link for you based on the settings you choose. You can use buff.ly, bit.ly, or j.mp links.
With Hootsuite, you’re stuck with ow.ly unless you pay for the Enterprise plan. Being able to use your own bit.ly account is great if you’re looking to keep tabs on your clicks and analytics.
Basic Reporting Tools
Speaking of analytics, you get a basic insight into the performance of a limited number of your individual posts on the free plan. With paid plans, you can see a bit more information and data to evalute what updates hit the mark and which ones didn’t perform as well.
With a basic plan (free), you’ll only be allowed to queue 10 updates and have 3 social media profiles.
Upgrading to Buffer’s Awesome Plan for $10/month (or $102/yr) provides you with a queue of 200 posts and allows you to use 12 social profiles along with 2 team members.
Need more? Business plans offer larger queues and the ability to connect more accounts and team members:
- Small: $50/month, 5 team members, and 25 accounts
- Medium: $100/month, 10 team members, and 50 accounts
- Large: $250/month, 25 team members, and 150 accounts
Buffer specializes in providing a way to schedule social media content in a simple, efficient way. This means less time tinkering with settings and trying to get your timing just right with the content you share with followers — and more time engaging with them.
This is a perfect dashboard for anyone seeking to keep it simple. But it’s not much of a monitoring dashboard.
You can’t track conversations or keep up with multiple streams. While it makes “talking” on social media easy, listening is almost impossible if you’re only using Buffer.
Sprout Social is the most expensive and the most robust social media dashboard of the three options profiled here. It involves some serious monitoring, statistics, and analytics and is best for businesses running large social profiles as a major part of their overall marketing strategy.
This dashboard offers in-depth reports that are free with any of their plans, which is great if you’re looking for intense analysis and ability to evaluate every last details for serious social media campaigns.
Emphasis on Listening and Monitoring
Sprout Social is actually similar to Hootsuite all around, except it’s more visually-oriented — and has a cleaner, more intuitive interface.
Like Hootsuite, Sprout Social lets you monitor hashtags and topics on Twitter, with the goal of being able to target potential customers.
The dashboard also features the “smart inbox,” an aggregate of your updates from all social media accounts. This lessens the chance you’ll miss anything, and is invaluable if you’re a business trying to respond to inquires and concerns.
Sprout Social has really great collaboration features for teams.
The main dashboard indicates if another team member views or replies to messages and interactions. And there’s a team content calendar so members can work together to schedule updates.
The dashboard integrates with Zendesk, too, so you can create support tickets in your account to delegate important tasks to other team members.
Sprout Social also boasts an in-app CRM for your team to work with. Add notes and other contact information to user profiles, or view past interactions with individual followers.
Ability to Schedule
Sprout Social allows you to queue posts, schedule them, upload updates as drafts for others to review, and curate content from the built-in RSS reader.
Take a hands-off approach if you want: Sprout Social has a “ViralPost” feature that schedules updates to go out based on analytics, when they will reach the most people.
Sprout Social does offer a free trial for companies looking to take the platform for a test drive. Their plans start at $59 per user, per month.
This is the best option for businesses or social media management firms that handle social media accounts for multiple clients. Sprout Social offers the most functionality in the cleanest interface and provides plenty of extras that allow teams to work efficiently and followers to enjoy a great experience with the accounts they interact with.
An individual or even a small business of a few people won’t get the value out of this dashboard for the cost.
What’s the Right Social Media Monitoring Dashboard for You?
Buffer is an excellent option for those just starting to develop a more serious social media presence. It allows for easy, fast scheduling of a variety of content and provides you with a way to create a consistent stream of interesting, engaging posts without much effort.
But Buffer can’t monitor trends or various streams on social media. It’s all about the ability to schedule content — although it perfoms exceedingly well in this regard, it is a bit one-dimensional.
Hootsuite is extremely valuable for its ability to listen and monitor activity on social media platforms, especially Twitter. Social media is like any other type of communication: you should listen more than you speak. Hootsuite allows you to do this across multiple networks and accounts.
But it’s clunky and scheduling content at the right times can be more time-intensive. It offers a range of functionality that might be unnecessary for the casual user — but the dashboard itself may be too disorganized and complicated for serious users and larger companies with big teams to manage effectively.
It’s great for that “mid-range” user, who wants to advance and grow but is working on a team of one (or two to three).
Sprout Social is the most expensive, so it’s worth giving Hootsuite a try before moving up to this dashboard.
While it’s easy to “ooh” and “aah” over all the features Social Sprout has, it’s beneficial to make sure you can actually use all of them before ponying up the monthly fee per user.
That said, it is the best option for slightly larger businesses with a big online presence. It offers the best and most tools for not only monitoring account activity, but also providing an excellent user experience for those who follow your social media accounts.
Which platform do you use for social media? Will you give a different dashboard a try moving forward?