First, we should start out with a more basic question: What are the benefits to using a Social Media Management (SMM) platform in the first place? HootSuite (HS) and Sprout Social (SS), in company with a few other products on the market, allow users to manage multiple social media accounts through multiple outlets on one platform. The result: incredible timesavings for you and access to follower analytics and scheduled bulk posting to boot.
Hootsuite vs Sprout Social Overall winner: read below and decide for yourself!
Publishing clearly takes first place as the most important and basic function of both of these products. Both SS and HS allow users to manage multiple accounts, schedule post ahead of time, and save drafted posts. Interestingly enough, both have introduced a feature, which releases scheduled posts not at a user-chosen time, but instead at the time when most followers will see them. This development really takes the guesswork out of scheduling a post and promises the best timing to engage followers. This feature is called ViralPost on SS and Autoschedule on HS, and it’s important to know that HS offers it on its free version while SS only includes it for premium members. HS finally added the capability to see retweets and mentions, which helps immensely for social media managers on tracking which content resounds well with followers. Both SS and HS work with built-in URL shorteners and personal short URLs, but links made with the bit.ly shortener on SS can be viewed on many more social media outlets than ow.ly of HS, which only works correctly on the HS site itself. Both HS and SS have downloadable bookmarklet features which make posting from any website uncomplicated.
Winner: It’s a Tie! Ultimately depends on whether a flexible short URL or intuitive posting matters more to you!
Analytics & Reporting
Now for analytics and reporting. HS and SS really stand out in their market for their reporting, but which one is better? SS offers a really detailed breakdown of followers and explains this information in infographic-like images. Its analytics’ style harkens back to those of a social CRM program and adds another dimension to social strategy. It also attempts to quantify engagement levels of your network, something HS has yet to tackle. Both HS and SS produce reports for certain increments of time (see examples below). While SS always provides free analytics and reporting, HS limits the number of reports you can produce based on your payment plan, and only offers overly simple analytics for free. Neither program provides much detailed information about individual connections in your social reach, which is disappointing and should in my opinion be expanded.
Clear Winner: Sprout Social
Sample HS and SS Reports
As more teams begin to work together on social media projects from different locations at different times, the functionality for team collaboration grows more important. Both HS and SS include some type of teamwork function allowing multiple users to manage content, that being said, SS requires each individual to purchase a unique account – which can be incredibly pricey (more on that in the pricing category). HS Pro lets two people edit the same HS account, and once you pop up to an enterprise membership, more than 500,000 users can work together on the platform – talk about a team! HS recently rolled out a new Google Chrome extension which (much like a Pinterest bookmarklet) allows users to save any webpage to a common team folder or to a specific user with the click of a small icon on the Chrome taskbar. If you’ve ever found yourself endlessly copying URLs and emailing them to various members of your team for post ideas, this feature of HS is for you.
Clear winner: HootSuite
Support & Training
What use is a helpful online product if there’s no one there to help you? Though they’re not an obvious feature, support and training are more important than they seem. HS and SS provide full help desk support starting at the second tier subscriptions, and by all reports do a great job of answering user questions in a timely fashion, sometimes through a live chat with someone from the company. The people at HS and SS actively get involved in discussions about their platforms online and try to solve problems there too. The most significant difference between the two in this category is training. SS only offers an initial webinar to help users find their bearings on the site. HS goes above and beyond in this respect, and has a certification program called HootUniversity which churns out more HootSuite experts each day. If you want to really know the ins and outs of the program you’re using and exploit its features to the fullest, HS is the way to go.
Clear winner: HootSuite
And here we have it, the sticky conversation of pricing. Our mothers taught us it was inappropriate to talk about money, but this point can be a huge deal breaker or dealmaker in deciding which product to use. SS breaks its pricing system into three monthly subscription options—the standard, deluxe, and premium plans allow for up to 10, 20, and 50 different accounts, respectively. All plans include training, but only the deluxe plan and above include access to the help desk and Google Analytics, and only the premium plan includes the Viralpost feature. HS also has a three-tiered payment system. Their lowest package is free (!) and can accommodate up to five social media accounts with basic analytics. Their Pro level is $9 a month and allows users to manage an unlimited number of accounts with full access to the support desk. The third level is reserved for big firms and the price is negotiated on an individual basis, but get this: it can host up more than 500,000 users on one package. It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand why HS wins this category fair and square.
Clear winner: HootSuite
Design & User Experience
For those of us who wake up in the morning to craft brand experience, the design of a product can really count. The home screen of HS is pretty busy, but also presents more information at once. The task strip on the left side of the display allows users to easily navigate between functions. HS makes it easy to tailor feeds to certain industries, topics, etc. Also, the tab feature gives you flexibility to separate and order different accounts or online identities however you like. Sprout Social clearly formed its site with clean lines in mind. Its simple design cuts the overloaded feeling you get from HS, but once you get past the *pretty colors* stage of awe, you realize that its simplification also limits the amount of information or customization available. In choosing which product to use, you must consider how important design is for a website you’ll be staring at for hours a day.
Winner: Sprout Social
As for the wildcard category, other cool features included in these two products could contribute significantly to your decision. HS is completely unrivaled in its integration with external applications – it even has an app store of sorts. As I mentioned earlier, its new release of the Assignments Google Chrome extension could go a long way for clearing up inboxes everywhere and streamlining team projects. SS, unlike HS, attempts to measure the engagement level of your accounts’ social media scope and tallies the number of “impressions” your posts have made. It features a special tab called “discovery” which identifies influencers you should get to know better as well as “silent accounts” which do you no good to stay connected with. Their suggestions and intuitive search functions tell you which people to engage with and which to drop, with little or no effort on your end. It’s like having one of the popular kids to do your social media dealings and contact shuffling.
Winner: It’s a tie! This really depends on what you’re looking for.
The Envelope Please...
In the end, it depends on what your needs are. If you are more focused on getting to know your following on the web, Sprout Social is probably better. If you find HootSuite’s busy interface distracting or confusing, the clean design of Sprout Social may help you narrow in on the information you need. If you often find yourself utilizing external apps in you posts, you should go with Hootsuite for its expanded capability. If you need the flexibility for multiple users to access your posts and reporting, HootSuite offers the best and most economical plan for a firm in need of many licenses. You’d be pretty safe investing time and money into either product, and any features which they lack will likely be patched up soon as both companies rev up their development schedules.
If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: don’t ever waste time flipping between social outlets again and try a SMM platform on for size.