Just a few years ago, you had a handful of choices when it came to really good, reliable, and stable social media management tools. The two best and most well-known were HootSuite and TweetDeck. I originally began using TweetDeck, enamored that I was in particular with the ability to view New Followers on the same dashboard.
But TweetDeck’s biggest weaknesses were, well, big: (a) at the time you had to download the software to your local drive, although now they have a desktop version, (b) publishing a tweet was as simple as typing it in the box at the top of the screen and pressing Enter. So simple, in fact, that on occasion I would accidentally hit Enter before I was finished typing the tweet and would be mortified to find a half-written sentence on my feed for all the world to see. Grammar horrors aside, however the worse was when it was published to the wrong account.
Clearly, this was not the best tool moving forward as our company grew bigger and the number of accounts we were managing increased.
Enter HootSuite. HootSuite had everything I needed in a social media management dashboard, and while, unlike TweetDeck, anything more than a couple of accounts required a paid subscription, its user-friendly interface and the ability to build teams — not to mention the fact that it had some idiot-proofness built in to the dashboard — were its biggest draws, and now we use it as our primary means by which to manage our agency’s multiple accounts.
How It Works
HootSuite is a great social media dashboard for business, regardless of how many accounts you own and manage. You can sync Twitter, Facebook pages and personal profiles, LinkedIn (although not LinkedIn Company profiles), Foursquare, WordPress, MySpace, and mixi (a Japanese social media network). Preschedule posts across your accounts, upload posts in bulk, add team members, review user profiles, attach videos and images to posts, and take advantage of HootSuite’s robust analytics to review and optimize your social media campaigns.
One of the coolest things I like about HootSuite isn’t so much the ability to preschedule posts — even Facebook has that option now, and it seems like every day someone launches a new social media dashboard — but rather the fact that I can view all of our accounts on one screen. TweetDeck does the same, but it literally spreads all of your accounts on the screen. If you have a dozen Twitter accounts, for example, and you want to see the Home Feed, Mentions, Direct Messages, and Interactions for each, you now have 48 columns you have across one screen.
HootSuite, however, dedicates a tab for each account, and in each tab you can select which columns you want to add: Home Feed, Mentions, Retweets, Direct Messages (Inbox), Direct Messages (Outbox), Sent Tweets, etc. If you have a lot of tabs, HootSuite puts them in a More tab at the right of your screen, so you only need to hover over that to pull up your overflow accounts. You do have to scroll within tabs if you have a lot of columns per account, but it’s not the endless scrolling of TweetDeck.
Another great benefit is HootSuite’s comprehensive reporting program. Right now it’s limited to Google Analytics and analytics for Facebook and Twitter, unless you have an Enterprise account, in which case you can also get some Google+ analytics as well. However, it provides some nifty snapshots of your social activity. Some of the stats you can measure include:
- Mentions by Influencers
- Daily Retweets
- Follower Growth
- Keyword Comparisons
- Clickthrough rates of your Twitter links (assuming you use owl.y, Twitter’s own URL shortener)
- Daily Likes
- Likes by Demographic
- Likes by Region
- Likes by Source
- Daily Post Feedback
- Daily Post Activity
- Gender Summary
- and much more
If you’re an agency, you can white-label the reports with your own branding. HootSuite does a great job producing colorful reports with striking graphs and tables, making it both easy to analyze as well as aesthetically pleasing to present.
Another super-efficient benefit of HootsSuite is the ability to create teams. You have to have a Pro account in order to build teams (although you don’t need the Pro account in order to be added as a team member on someone else’s HootSuite account), and you pay for each additional team member beyond the two users included in your Pro account, but it’s worth it for the productivity benefits alone. You may not need it if you’re the only one managing your company’s social media account and you are a microenterprise, but if you have an intern or assistant or outside consultant helping you with your online marketing campaigns, the Pro account is a bargain at $9.99/month.
Assigning team members allows you to monitor your team’s social media campaigns, define their roles (a relatively new feature that allows administrators the ability to assign permissions per team member), and even edit their content before it’s published. One of my favorites is the ability to assign an individual post to a team member for follow up. We recently used that for an aging direct message on our own Twitter feed (@VolcanoMedia), to which somehow none of us had responded.
My project manager flagged the message on HootSuite by clicking on Assign To on the individual tweet menu, selected the team member from the dropdown menu, added a personalized message, and clicked Assign. Voila! I received an email letting me know that the tweet had been assigned to me for follow-up. Genius.
HootSuite also has a mobile app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. You used to have to pay for it (I think it was $2.99 or $3.99), but now it’s completely free. It can be wonky (more on that later), but it’s great for mobile teams and for posting and responding on the go.
I could go on and on and on about the many, many benefits of HootSuite, but suffice it to say that it’s really saved us countless hours of work and organization. One of the first things I do when I fire up my laptop in the morning is to open up my HootSuite account, and then I keep that tab open all day. In fact, I bought a 2nd monitor (a real timesaver and productivity booster, lemme tell ya) a few years ago originally just for HootSuite. I could monitor all of the social media accounts I was responsible for simply by glancing over there periodically throughout the day. I know. Total geek-out. But it really does make a difference.
The Not-So-Great Stuff
Okay, so it’s not perfect. And some of its shortcomings are pretty irritating. One of HootSuite’s biggest shortcomings is the way it prices its additional features, including reports. Rather than, say, telling you that a customized analytics report with your Facebook stats will cost you $50, it prices reports based on the modules you add to your report. Each module is worth so many points. There are free modules, e.g., Mentions by Influencers on Twitter, but most of the modules are assigned a certain number of points. If you have a Pro plan, you are allocated 50 points each month, which lets you create a pretty good custom report, but if you want more reports, you’ll need to buy more points, starting at $50 per report.
Pretty steep, huh? Add more users beyond the two that you’re allowed with your Pro plan (you as the account owner counts as one of the users), and you’re charged per additional user at different rates depending on how many additional users you sign up.
Confused yet? It’s one of the more frustrating things about HootSuite, even more so since they appear to have changed the pricing plans again for new users. I’m guessing that they’re still playing around with their pricing structure to find the best plan that will give them a healthy profit without alienating their most loyal users (hello, me!), and with many more third-party apps being developed to meet the insatiable demand for social media tools for business, I would imagine that they’re feeling the heat of competition.
You can, of course, just pull reports yourself from various tools available on the web. HootSuite actually pulls all of its Facebook analytics straight from Facebook’s own Insights feature for pages. TwitterCounter.com is another third-party tool that gives you deep stats about your Twitter account as well as those of others, for example. It also has tiered service plans, but you can get basic information for a limited timeframe for a Twitter user.
HootSuite, of course, puts all of that data into one nice, pretty interface on its reports, simplifying analysis and saving lots of time in generating reports, so if convenience is a big factor, then go ahead and pay for them, especially if you’re only managing one or two accounts.
Another HootSuite shortcoming is the sometimes-on-sometimes-off nature of their mobile app. I’m not sure if it’s a problem on Twitter’s side or HootSuite’s, but at least once a day I try to check our accounts’ Twitter feeds, and a little window pops up that tells that HootSuite can’t connect with Twitter right now. When you manage multiple accounts like we do, your posting and engagement times tend to be pretty tightly scheduled so that you can stay on top of all of it, so when your mobile experience is hampered, it can be supremely irritating.
Yet one more common complaint of HootSuite users is the lack of Google+ integration. HootSuite’s only comment on this issue is that they were allocated a limited number of “seats” for the Google+ trial launch on their platform, so for now they’re reserved exclusively for their Enterprise users, which is understandable since those guys pay literally thousands of dollars a month for their accounts. It appears to be a limitation by Google, not HootSuite, so until Google releases the API, we’re kinda outta luck on this one.
Lastly — and this is less of a con than a plea to the HootSuite gods — but I wish that HootSuite made it easy to us to view new followers in real-time. TweetDeck does this and even gives you the option of adding a column to your dashboard that streams your new followers’ profiles, allowing you to thank them right away for following you. HootSuite’s standard answer over the years (yes, I’ve seen this question asked on HootSuite’s support page since probably 2008) is that it’s “under review,” which is bollocks since TweetDeck has had this option for years. For this reason alone, I still keep my TweetDeck account, although I don’t access it nearly as often as I do HootSuite.
If you’re in charge of managing your company’s social media, or if you’re part of an agency and are shopping around for a full-featured, robust and stable program that will help you manage all of your social media accounts in one user-friendly dashboard, HootSuite really is the gold standard and will likely remain so for awhile. There’s been much ballyhoo lately about Facebook’s rollout of his Scheduler feature, which allows users the ability to preschedule posts directly on the Facebook dashboard. However, if you manage multiple accounts, you can’t go wrong with HootSuite’s Social Media Dashboard.
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