If you work in digital marketing/social media, chances are you’ve heard of Buffer and Hootsuite. While a lot of marketers use these tools interchangeably, they differ greatly and they both have their pros and cons. So, what are the differences between the two tools, and can they really be used interchangeably?
Before diving in a comparison between the two, we need to understand what the tools actually do:
- Hootsuite is a social media management platform, and as such it lets you manage your social media channels; you can also use it to delegate tasks with other users, making it a great option for a team platform;
- Buffer is a content publishing platform, letting you publish and schedule content to social networks.
In terms of capabilities, Hootsuite is bigger than Buffer: more features, more integrations, more supported platforms and bigger analytics. Due to that, it would be unfair to compare Buffer with features that it doesn’t support (solely because that’s not what the platform was built for). So, to make a better comparison better the two, let’s take a look at the five main features that both tools provide:
- Supported Networks: which social networks can you manage?
- Publishing and Scheduling: what publishing and scheduling features are available?
- Analytics: what reporting features are available?
- Teamwork and Security: how safe and easy is it to use either tool as a sole individual and as a team?
- Integrations: what other tools, plugins and applications do these tools integrate with?
1. Supported Networks
Buffer supports the following social networks: Twitter, Facebook (profile, page, group), LinkedIn (profile, page), Google+ (page), and the latest addition – Pinterest.
Hootsuite supports the following social networks: Twitter, Facebook (profile, page, and group), Google+ (page), LinkedIn (profile, group, company), WordPress – officially. However, with the further integration of “applications” (which you can find in the Hootsuite App Directory), there are other social networks you can add, like Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, Reddit, Flickr, VK, Tumblr, Foursquare, and several more.
If we’re just talking about the number of supported social networks, Hootsuite wins this round. However, you probably don’t need a tool that supports a long list of networks, especially if you’re only on one or two networks. It’s not about how many networks a tool supports, but rather about (1) whether the tool supports the platforms you’re on right now, and (2) whether the tool supports the platforms you’re planning on moving on to in the near future (based on your social strategy for the next 6-12 months).
2. Publishing and Scheduling
Buffer and Hootsuite don’t differ that much when it comes to publishing and scheduling. However, out of the two, only Hootsuite lets you engage with content on your timeline/stream (there are a few exceptions with Buffer, which we’ll get into in a minute). That aside, Buffer offers much more flexibility in terms of automation, thanks to the likes of IFTTT and Zapier.
- Posting content: Hootsuite lets you post content right away to your platforms. Buffer lets you do the same, even though its main use case is scheduling content in advance. Both tools will also let you post content to multiple channels at once. While I’m not a fan of cross-posting, there are occasions when this feature may come in handy for you. In this area there’s only one thing that Buffer won’t let you do: respond to content. While you can reply, retweet, favourite or respond to any content within Hootsuite, Buffer will only let you publish new content. There’s only one exception: retweets. You can schedule retweets with Buffer, although you’ll have to do so via their browser plugin (for mobile and desktop) and their app plugin (for mobile).
- Scheduling content: both Buffer and Hootsuite will let you schedule content. You can choose your own times, build a schedule, or you can leave it to the tool to decide when best to post your content. Both tools have their algorithms to calculate those times, although they won’t reveal exactly how those times are calculated.
- Social RSS: both Buffer and Hootsuite let you aggregate and post content from RSS feeds – Buffer lets you share links from any website you want with their Feeds feature, and Hootsuite lets you do the same thanks to their Hootsuite Syndicator. On both tools you can see the latest posts from all your feeds and post/schedule the posts you’d like to share.
- Social automation: automation is a key feature in every well-planned social strategy: it can help you save time, it takes the load off (especially if you’re struggling with resources), and it can help you take care of you social accounts more efficiently. The automation options within Hootsuite mainly revolve around its Autoscheduling feature, where you can just top up your list of scheduled posts, or link RSS feeds to your account and have Hootsuite detect any new posts from that source, so that they can then be published on your social accounts. That’s extremely useful if you’re looking after a content site (a blog, a news site etc.) and you’re planning on Tweeting out every article as it appears on the site, but you don’t want to constantly check the site for new articles. Buffer’s automation features are pretty much the same as Hootsuite’s (scheduling content automatically and posting from RSS feeds). However, here’s where Buffer truly shines: the platform is open and flexible enough for other automation tools to connect to it. One of the most popular automation tools, IFTTT, offers over 1,800 automating rules (called “recipes”) that you can use with Buffer. Most of these recipes are crowd-sourced by the community of IFTTT users, and they cover a wide range of processes that you may need to take care of. You can now link Buffer with Instagram, Pocket, Feedly, Tumblr, Instapaper, Reddit, YouTube, and so much more. Here are just a few examples of recipes you can use for Buffer thanks to IFTTT:
- add your latest Instagram pictures to your Buffer list (Instagram-to-Buffer automation);
- automatically post any new positive reviews of your business (from Fiverr) to Buffer (Fiverr-to-Buffer automation);
- copy your LinkedIn posts and add them to your Buffer list (LinkedIn-to-Buffer automation);
- add your latest WordPress post to your Buffer list (WordPress-to-Buffer automation).
IFTTT automation goes both ways, so you can also automate other tools through Buffer:
- save your Buffer schedule to a Google Drive spreadsheet (Buffer-to-Google Drive automation)
- post your Buffer content to LinkedIn (Buffer-to-LinkedIn automation)
- save your Buffer schedule to your Google Calendar (Buffer-to-Google Calendar automation);
Besides IFTTT, you also have Zapier, an automation service that works on triggers and actions, just like IFTTT. Zapier offers over 150 automatic rules too (called “Zaps”), which mainly revolve around Enterprise software, like Basecamp, Slack, Hubspot, Kissmetrics and Salesforce. (You can find all the Buffer Zaps here.)
- URL Shortening: both Buffer and Hootsuite have their own URL shorteners – while Buffer has buff.ly, Hootsuite has ow.ly. Both tools will report on clicks and your content performance as long as you shorten your links within the platform. So, if you’re adding a link you’ve already shortened in bit.ly and then post it on Buffer/Hootsuite, the best place to get any stats around that shortened link is bit.ly. As for other URL shorteners, like po.st, you’ll only be able to integrate them in Hootsuite on the Enterprise tier. (Unfortunately the same isn’t available on Buffer.)
- Little known fact: buff.ly links are nothing but bit.ly links masked by Buffer. Here’s an example: you can see the stats of any public bit.ly link by adding ‘+’ at the end of the shortened link. Try doing the same with a buff.ly link and you’ll see that it links you to its corresponding bit.ly stats page.
Hootsuite offers analytics of your social networks, while Buffer offers analytics of the posts you’ve published via the platform. This is mainly due to what each tool does: Hootsuite is more of a social management tool, so it’ll offer you analytics around content you post, how your social networks are performing, your social traffic (via the Google Analytics integration), and more. On the other hand, Buffer is primarily a publishing and scheduling tool, so all of its analytics revolves around the content you post from the platform. That means that content you post natively on the platform or through another tool won’t appear in Buffer.
Buffer’s analytics dashboard is very intuitive and it’s available in its mobile app too, so you can track your content performance on the go. Buffer analytics is pretty much content analytics, and with the recently revamped analytics you can now get to your best and worst performing posts based on engagement (which you can filter by engagement type, e.g. retweets, favourites, replies, likes, comments, clicks), reach, and post type (i.e. image posts, link posts, text posts and your retweets). Buffer shows you all this data in a simple and clean layout. All of this is exportable too, if you need to do any further analysis.
On the other hand, Hootsuite offers a lot in terms of analytics, which may be confusing to some of its customers: Hootsuite acquired a social analytics company called uberVu back in January 2014, and after a while it brought uberVu to its platform. However, as it stands today, that means that you can get your analytics in two places: through Hootsuite Core Analytics if you’re looking for the usual analytics, and through ”uberVu via Hootsuite” if you’re looking for real-time analytics. If you’re on the free Hootsuite tier then you only have a limited number of reports that you can run, and a few more if you upgrade to Hootsuite Pro (all reports are included in the Hootsuite Enterprise plan).
If you’re not satisfied with the analytics from both Buffer and Hootsuite, you have the option to go for a separate social analytics tool. A lot of social media management tools out there will only offer you analytics for the posts you’ve created via that tool (that applies to Buffer, and in some cases Hootsuite too). However, a separate analytics tool will be able to report on all the content on your profile. If you’re choosing to go for a separate social analytics, I’ll strongly suggest the following five to you:
- Simply Measured, arguably the most comprehensive social analytics platform in terms of data collected and number of social networks supported.
- Falcon Social has an impressive approach to social analytics: their main belief is that analytics work best when combined with other data sources, so while you can have your in-depth analytics for individual social networks, Falcon Social can easily give you a bird’s eye view of your analytics across several platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and YouTube.
- SumAll goes beyond social analytics, letting you compare how you’re performing on social media with several data points. In fact, SumAll is the arguably the social analytics platforms with the widest range of integrations that go beyond social marketing: from eCommerce platforms like Paypal, Shopify and Square, to advertising platforms like Google Adsense and Facebook Ads; from Enterprise marketing platforms like Moz, to customer service platforms like Zendesk and Desk.com. So, if you want to correlate your social engagement with your traffic, sales and subscriptions, you can easily do so with SumAll.
- Socialbakers Analytics
For further guidance on which social analytics software to get, based on your requirements, check out the Complete Guide to Analytics in Digital Marketing.
4. Teamwork and Security
If you’re going to be managing social networks with multiple people (your team or other teams), both Buffer and Hootsuite will be able to help you.
The best thing about both these tools is that you can work on a social account with multiple people without having to disclose any passwords, and they’re both robust tools (in terms of security). However, when it comes to user permissions for each team member, Hootsuite is more granular in its approach, with the intention of letting you scale up the usage of the platform without compromising on security.
- Sharing access: Buffer and Hootsuite let you authenticate your access via an email address or a social account (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for Buffer, and Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for Hootsuite). The advantage of having Hootsuite is that it also supports SSO (single sign-on), which is often a technical requirement for big corporations. So, after you’ve logged on your corporate laptop/desktop, you’ll automatically be logged into Hootsuite. This feature helps prevent unauthorised access from “outsiders”, including people who have left the company.
- Collaborating and team permissions: Buffer has two types of permissions: manager and contributor (these two are only available on a Buffer Business plan). A Buffer manager can add updates to your Buffer account and change your posting schedule, just like you. A contributor has more limited access, and while they can add posts to a profile you’ve given them access to, you’ll have to approve their posts before they’re added to the queue. On the other hand, Hootsuite has much more granular options for user permissions, letting you set custom permissions and roles by organisation, teams and members. This makes Hootsuite the ideal option if you’re going to have a lot of people using the platform with specific permissions. (You can read more about it here.)
- Platform security: Buffer supports 2-factor access, to tighten up security. This adds an extra layer of security to your Buffer account. When you log in to your Buffer account, you’ll also be asked for a second authentication code to be sent to your mobile phone (via text) or via an authenticator app (e.g. Google Authenticator). This is to make sure that only you and the people you’ve approved can access your Buffer account, to avoid any unauthorised access. (You can read more about it here.) Furthermore, you can easily see a list of sessions, or devices that have used your account within the past 2 weeks. With this quick view, you have the option to revoke any sessions and APIs you don’t recognise. Hootsuite takes security very seriously too, with a number of features that can give you the peace of mind against any security breaches: from double approval systems that prevent people from mistakenly posting the wrong content to the right content (or the right content to the wrong account), to HTTPS settings to keep your passwords and access safe whether you’re accessing Hootsuite from a desktop, mobile device or over a WiFi connection.
Both Buffer and Hootsuite have a number of plugins and extensions that you can install and use on your personal browsers and favourite apps. You can easily share content through these extensions, even if you’re in another social platform. For instance, if you have the Buffer extension installed on your browser, you can send tweets to Buffer or schedule retweets whenever you log into Twitter or Tweetdeck (you also have similar features for Facebook too). You can find the long list of Buffer extensions here. Hootsuite, on the other hand, has a big focus on its main plugin called Hootlet, which lets you share content from anywhere on the web.
We mentioned earlier that, between Buffer and Hootsuite, Buffer has the most options for social automation. While that is true, Hootsuite has a much bigger list of tools and applications it integrates with, and while that doesn’t necessarily help you automate, it’ll still save you time having several tools under one roof. You can find these applications in the Hootsuite App Directory, which currently hosts 140 extensions and apps that you can use within Hootsuite. These applications are extremely useful as they help you manage multiple tools from within the Hootsuite interface. For example, you can manage your social accounts while checking your web analytics in real-time thanks to the Chartbeat integration. You can also bring your Brandwatch reporting and workflows to a Hootsuite tab of choice thanks to the Brandwatch integration. While there is no limitation to how many Hootsuite apps you can use, bear in mind that not all of these apps are free (26% of them are paid apps), while certain apps can only be used by Pro and/or Enterprise users. You can always find more information on the info page of each app to find out if you’re eligible to use it.
Tips and Extras
- If you’re on Hootsuite’s free tier, you’ll also see Twitter ads in your stream. These are not the same ads you’ll see in your Twitter apps, but these are just ads that Hootsuite puts in your timeline. You can turn them off when you upgrade to the Hootsuite Pro tier.
- Both Buffer and Hootsuite offer extra tools that you can bundle with the main platform: Buffer has Pablo, a free image creation tool that can help you create social media images “in 30 seconds flat”. Meanwhile, Hootsuite offers Hootsuite Campaigns, a great alternative to the now defunct Wildfire, which can let you build integrated social campaigns, including sweepstakes, galleries, and social microsites. These can also be embedded on websites too, so they’re not limited to social networks.
So, Which One’s Better?
If you’re looking for a social media management platform, then Buffer isn’t for you, not because it’s a bad tool (far from it), but because it’s just not what Buffer is meant for. However, if you’re looking for a tool to help you publish and schedule content, a tool that can easily connect with your existing tools, then definitely give Buffer a try – its simplicity is definitely a winning point.
As for the other features that they have in common, like the ones we’ve compared in this post, the “better” option really depends on what you’re looking for, your requirements and personal preference.
You may find that neither tool works for you, and that’s totally fine – perhaps there are features that you think are missing in both of these tools. Perhaps you’ve used both and they’re not ideal for your use case. Or perhaps you just want to try something different. That’s fine too, after all I always recommend “shopping around” and trying other similar tools to find what suits you best. If you’re just getting started and you’re not sure which social media tools to go for, check out The Complete Guide to Social and Digital Marketing Tools, covering features like social management, social monitoring/listening, social analytics and more.
What if I have no budget? No need to worry: both Buffer and Hootsuite have free tiers that you can start from. Then, after you’ve justified the use of either tool, you can consider upgrading to the next tiers if the next tiers have any features that you require. Alternatively, you can also post from the social network: a few of the major social networks (mainly Facebook and Twitter) will let you schedule content, while most social networks also do offer analytics (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube being the best ones at doing so). That, however, can never replace the saved time and ease with which you can manage multiple social networks, collaborate with other team members, and get the best results for your social strategy.