Social Media Management Tools: What’s the Right Tool for Your Business?
Why is Social Media Management Important?
With so many different social media sites to post, share articles, and track engagement on, finding a reliable social media management tool to help streamline your social media tasks is pretty essential.
Social media managing tools can help marketers save time, stay organized, and optimize their efficiency.
Today we’re looking at some of the top contenders for social media management systems. While some overlap, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. This guide should help you determine which tool is the best fit for your business.
Social Media Management Tool Reviews
The pricing design of these social tools is fairly consistent – there’s usually a set of plans ranging from the cheapest and most basic, to the more expensive and advanced. Cheaper plans usually have a limit on the number of social media profiles and pages you can hook up to, while pricier plans allow for more accounts and bonus features.
For each tool I’ll give a quick checklist of the tool’s feature highlights, followed by a more in-depth look.
There's a lot of material in this post, so feel free to click a link below and jump ahead. In this post we’ll reviewing:
And then we'll continue the discussion with:
Price: Free, $8.99/month for Pro Version
Nutshell: Manage all your social networks in one spot, in a multi-columned design that lets you see several feeds at once.
What You Get (with Pro) for $10/month:
- Unlimited Number of Social Profiles
- Access for You +1 Team Member
- Analytics Reporting
- Advanced Scheduling (Manual & Auto-Scheduling)
- Monitoring & Publishing Tools
- Unlimited Apps (To connect with other social networks like Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and Evernote) & RSS Feeds
- Mobile Apps
NOTE: Free users get 5 social profiles and most of the Pro features, but no options for collaborating with team members and no advanced scheduling. (EDIT: Free does have post scheduling and drafts, but only Pro has bulk scheduling and auto-scheduling for what HootSuite calculates as best times to post.)
HootSuite is probably the most well-known social media management platform, letting users manage Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, FourSquare, and many other social accounts.
What sets HootSuite apart from the ever-increasing number of social media management tools is its multi-columned design. In HootSuite, each social media account is designated its own tab, and within each tab, users have the option of setting up streams. Streams can be customized to monitor any number of social media segments. The functionality of streams is most apparent when used in conjunction with a Twitter account – HootSuite’s streams make it possible to easily monitor Twitter mentions, private messages, retweets, and the home feed, all side by side on one screen through a multi-columned design. You can even have a stream updated with a chosen keyword or phrase you want to be tracked.
HootSuite also lets users assign tasks to other team members for collaboration efforts and enables users to schedule posts. With HootSuite Pro users can do bulk scheduling and also have access to HootSuite’s Auto Schedule feature, which uses its own custom algorithm to determine the best times for posting to your social media networks.
As with other social media management services, HootSuite offers an analytics feature, where users can generate analytic reports using pre-created templates or custom built reports. These reports can be generated with data from Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, etc., or users can mix and match to create their own custom reports.
Herein lies a shortcoming of HootSuite – analytic reports cost money. There are some free reports available, but more advanced reports can cost you as much as $50 per a report. That’s not to say they aren’t worth it – some of these reports are truly fantastic, letting users create custom reports for just about every social media metric imaginable, but having access to that data can end up being a big expense for small businesses. If you’re using the Pro version, you automatically get 1 free report each month, but any additional reports will come at a cost.
HootSuite’s versatility with its feeds and streams, along with its deep reporting capabilities, make it a stand-out contender. It’s worth noting that HootSuite is not quite as pretty as other social tools, choosing functionality over aesthetics. The bleak grey background makes it the saltines & ginger ale of social media management platforms. A great tool, but not exactly a joy to look at it – a little splash of color could go a long way.
- Multi-Columned Streams: The multi-columned design makes it easy to monitor many social media components on one screen.
- Apps to Connect with Other Social Media Networks: HootSuite seems to be the only social media account management tool really giving you tons of app add-on options.
- Costly Analytic Reports: Many of HootSuite’s analytic reports cost money and can get quite pricey, with some hitting the $50 mark.
- No Content-Grabbing Extension: Some other social media management tools have browser extensions that make it easy to bookmark and queue articles across the web for sharing, but not HootSuite.
- Ow.ly-Only URL Shorter: As Ian Gray points out, HootSuite uses ow.ly for link shortening, which may not be an issue for some users, but ow.ly shortening means that those URLs can’t really be tracked with anything outside of HootSuite.
Price: Free, $10/month for full version.
Nutshell: Queue & Schedule Content With Ease
What You Get with Full Version (aka the “Awesome Plan”)
- 12 profiles (Twitter, FB, LinkedIn)
- Advanced Post Scheduling
- Schedule Retweets (NEW)
- 2 Team Members
- Simple Analytics
- Buffer Extension Button for Chrome and Firefox to easily share articles
- Link Shortening Capabilities
- No Limit on Buffer Posts
Buffer features a crisp, clean, and easy to manage interface for queuing up articles to share across Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
While Sprout Social and HootSuite are multi-purpose tools for publishing, listening, and measuring social media efforts, Buffer is designed for social media content management, primarily concerned with making it as easy as possible to share cool content you’ve found across your social media networks when and where you choose.
Buffer lacks the powerful dashboards and deep reporting of other social media tools, but it’s truly a master at what it does, making it simple and easy to spread and meticulously schedule content.
The Buffer button can easily be integrated into RSS readers, Twitter, Chrome, SocialBro, Wordpress, and other tools for discovering content. Buffering content is supremely easy – just click the Buffer button, choose which accounts you want to post on, and Buffer will post the content based on your pre-selected posting schedule.
Buffer’s scheduling options are fantastic – choose three, four, five or more specific times when you want to do a post, and Buffer will grab something from your assigned queue and post for you. As of a few days ago, Buffer lets you schedule retweets too! These schedules can be changed and adjusted for each day of the week (so long as you have the Awesome plan).
Even Buffer’s free option makes life significantly easier for content-sharing social media users.
Buffer’s no-nonsense analytics are simple compared to other social media management tools, but still offer important information regarding the retweets, mentions, likes and comments on your various social media posts.
Buffer has some handy little extras too, such as link shortening (bit.ly, buff.ly, or j.mp) and the option of adding team members that can access your Buffer account. You won’t be assigning tasks and chatting inside the platform as you can with other social media management services, but it’s still a nice additional feature.
If you‘re looking primarily for easy and powerful scheduling options with the core social media platforms, Buffer is your main man.
- Easy & Simple Interface: Clean presentation and easy to use.
- Great Segmented Scheduling: Schedule times to repeat throughout the week or adjust according to different days.
- Buffer Button Integrates Easily Across the Web: Extensions make Buffering a breeze – you can use the Buffer button in your web browser, on Twitter, or on content pages.
- Simple Analytics: Bare-bone analytics offer only the essentials.
- Not an All-Encompassing Social Media Management Solution: Again, I’m not sure this is a fair “con” since Buffer isn’t trying to be a one-stop social media management spot. However, if you’re looking to better manage your social media accounts, Buffer provides only one piece of the puzzle, albeit a valuable corner piece.
Price: Starts at $40/month
Nutshell: Sprout Social is pricier than other social media management software, but advocates rave about its gorgeous design, advanced discovery and contact management options, and great customer support.
What You Get with the Standard $40/Month Plan
- All-In-One Social Inbox
- Real-time Brand Monitoring
- Advanced Publishing & Scheduling for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn & Google Reader RSS
- Social CRM Tools
- Comprehensive Reporting Tools
- Complimentary Training & Support
- Manage Up to 10 Profiles
- Sprout Social Browser Extension for Easy Article Queuing
- Mobile Apps
Sprout’s setup consists of a main Home dashboard, offering a quick snapshot of your social accounts, and several tabs that help users monitor, publish, schedule, and report on social media campaigns.
The Messages tab shows engagement, such as @ tweets involving you, while the Feeds tab is where you can access all your social media feeds in one spot. In this sense, the Sprout setup could be more compact – I’d prefer to see Messages and Feeds tabs combined, rather than having to go back and forth to see mentions and interactions in a separate section from my feeds.
Publishing lets you post and schedule messages across social media platforms, and also allows you to access and edit your Sprout Queue of articles and content bookmarked with the Sprout Queue Extension for Chrome (or Firefox).
Users also have the option to take advantage of Sprout Social’s ViralPost feature, which analyzes your audience’s engagement patterns and other factors to determine the best time to post the content in your queue.
Sprout’s Discovery tab helps users find new followers and review who converses with you on Twitter most often. It also assists in trimming the Twitter fat – the cleanup function makes it easy to remove spammy or inactive accounts from your Following list. The Smart Search function lets users conduct a keyword or user search across Facebook and Twitter, and even includes location filters to target by area.
Sprout Social’s reporting options allow for broad reports of overall social media activity and segmented Facebook, Twitter, Team Progress, and Twitter Comparison reports. The colorful and stylish reports aren’t as customizable as HootSuite’s, but provide all the data expected and valued most by social media strategists.
What really separates Sprout Social from HootSuite and other social media profile management tools are Sprout’s Social CRM Tools. Sprout Social allows for some handy contact book customization, letting users add custom notes and view past interactions with specific users.
- Gorgeous Interface: Sprout is the most attractive social media management tool, with a crisp, clean, and clutter-free layout. While aesthetics may seem like a shallow and irrelevant factor, if you are spending every day working with a tool, you can bet you want it to look sexy.
- Mega Customer and Tech Support: Advocates rave about the helpfulness and friendliness of Sprout Social’s customer and tech support.
- Headache Free: Sprout Social isn’t as customizable as other social media management tools, but that also means it isn’t as complicated. Sprout’s interface is natural and intuitive – you won’t have to spend hours figuring it out.
- Scheduler Not as Advanced as Buffer: While Sprout Social has a nice queue system and scheduler, they don’t allow for the same kind of deep, repeated scheduling as Buffer.
- No Facebook Liking: Sprout Social lets you reply and comment on Facebook, but the interface doesn’t yet allow you to “Like” content – a strange hiccup that will hopefully be fixed soon.
- No Google+: Another significant issue is that Sprout Social doesn’t have Google+ integration, although they’re likely to change that in the near future.
Sprout provides everything you need and then some, but if you’re big into customization, HootSuite might be more your cup of tea.
Price: $6.95/month for Premium, with three higher options
Nutshell: A super-powered social media community management tool for Twitter
What you get with Premium Plan:
- 10K social contacts
- 5 Twitter accounts
- Assortment of tools for understanding & engaging with Twitter community
- Twitter monitoring through hashtags, URLs, or tweets
- Analyze Competitors feature
- Twitter Insights Reporting
“Do you even social, bro?” SocialBro allows for deep exploration of your Twitter community, letting users dig deep into information about their Twitter followers and friends.
SocialBro can feel overwhelming and even downright frightening when you log in for the first time, as you’re bombarded with columns, graphs, and tools. Thankfully, SocialBro eases the learning curve with video tutorials and helpful mouse-over pop-ups that offer explanations for each metric and tool.
SocialBro is a true heavy-lifter when it comes to Twitter management. Naturally this Twitter machine makes it easy to post and view your tweets, mentions, favorites, etc., but it goes way past what most tools offer. While many other social media management tools let you browse through followers, SocialBro goes beyond, letting you analyze followers with a startling range of metrics. You can sort by those with the greatest influence, those that you influence, reciprocal followers, new followers, new unfollows, famous friends, inactive friends, and many more.
SocialBro’s real-time analytics lets you see who has been active on Twitter in the last five minutes, so you can interact with users that are currently online and see your immediate tweet reach. It can help you discover when is the best time for you to tweet based on your followers’ activity, and can help you sort through and analyze your Twitter lists.
SocialBro is packed with lots of advanced filters for discovering users and tweets by location, interests, keywords, and more. This Twitter management work horse also lets users analyze a competitor’s Twitter account, making it easy to stay up to date by continuously monitoring a hash tag, URL, or specific tweet. Newest features include a Collaborators option to share your account with other team members for social media project management and a DM Campaigns tool for sending mass direct messages (this feature is only for the Professional version, a more pricey option at $40/month).
Insight Reports provide a pretty intricate set of features for assessing your Twitter community. You’ll see the standard bar graphs, maps, and pie charts, but one component I especially liked was the “bio tagcloud” that shows the subjects and interests of your selected Twitter group.
If you’re a Twitter power user, you’ll likely love SocialBro.
- Built-in Learning: SocialBro’s tutorial videos and mouse-over instructions make the platform easy to learn.
- Just Twitter: Not compatible with other social media accounts outside of Twitter. Then again, it’s not trying to be a complete social media management solution, so maybe this isn’t a true con.
Which Social Media Tool to Choose?
If your business is primarily focused on Twitter, Social Bro is the ultimate Twitter tool. If you’re looking for an easier way to share content, Buffer is where it’s at. The ultimate decision for many ends up being between HootSuite vs. Sprout Social, the two social media management platforms looking to be your business’s social media activity headquarters.
HootSuite and Sprout Social have a lot in common, but there are differentiating factors to consider.
What Sprout Social Has (that HootSuite does not)
- Sprout Queue button for bookmarking and sharing content (similar to the Buffer button)
- Social CRM tools for keeping better track of contacts
- Gorgeous design (sorry HootSuite)
- 100% free analytics
What HootSuite has (that Sprout Social Does Not):
- Bulk scheduling that lets you can upload from a CSV file and schedule up to 50 posts at a time.
- Unlimited social profiles/apps (for Pro)
- A free option
- Unlimited social profiles/apps (for Pro)
No, you don’t need glasses, I put the “unlimited social profiles and apps” twice in my list because this is a HUGE deal. With HootSuite, you can have multiple Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ pages monitored PLUS with apps you can manage accounts on FourSquare, MySpace, Wordpress, Vimeo, Instagram, Stumble Upon, Tumblr… and more. Sprout Social is hugely limited in comparison, dealing only with the big three: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. HootSuite also allows for more customization, so if you’re somewhat controlling, you might prefer HootSuite over the competition.
The other huge advantage of HootSuite is that it has a great free version. It’s a limited option, and likely will only really work for individuals who simply want to monitor some of their social media accounts, but even the Pro version at $10/month is at a considerably lower price point than Sprout Social’s lowest $40/month plan. Businesses on a budget will likely find HootSuite an obvious choice.
However, if you have enough cash to splurge a little, Sprout Social has a superior UI and enough other great features that the price can easily be justified.
When deciding to choose between HootSuite or Sprout Social, it’s also smart to keep in mind the layout – these two tools have very different approaches to monitoring feeds. Sprout Social relies on a single column layout, letting users click between accounts to see feeds. HootSuite, on the other hand, goes with a multi-columned layout, allowing you to see multiple feeds and streams at once.
I prefer Hoot Suite’s multi-column design, which lets you take in more information at once on a single screen, but many others prefer the single-column layout, since with the multi-column you sometimes have to scroll across horizontally, which can be a pain. Ultimately, it’s a matter of preference.
The best thing you can do when deciding on which social media management software to choose for your business is to jump in and try the tools yourself, taking into account your business’s individual demands and needs.
HootSuite and Buffer provide completely free social media management tools via their $0/month plans, while Social Bro and Sprout Social have free trials.
Here’s an overview of how you can get down and dirty with these tools:
- HootSuite: Try the Free Plan or do a 30-day trial of Pro [Pro trial requires credit card].
- Sprout Social: 30-Day Trial for any of the three plans [no credit card]
- Buffer: Try Free Plan
- Social Bro: 15-day free trial [no credit card]
Hopefully this social media management guide has helped you consider what features and tools are most important for your business as you choose between social media management platforms.
Have you ever used any of these tools, or others, for social media management? What did you think of them?