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In an era where social media trends come and go in a matter of days, and social media content influences purchasing decisions for some 85% of Gen Z users, staying on top of multiple social feeds is an essential skill for marketing and social media managers. To accomplish that feat, multi-channel social media management platforms have become an essential tool to engage, expand, and convert audiences across TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and more.
We tested six of the leading social media management platforms—Buffer, CoSchedule, Later, Loomly, Hootsuite, and Sprout Social—for performance, ease of use, features and integrations, visual appeal, instructions and support, and value. Our picks are Hootsuite, an all-around high-quality platform, and Buffer, a budget-conscious pick that offers a more limited but still useful suite of functions.
Both of our picks have multiple subscription levels, with a free trial or tier to try out the platform. (See the Pricing Deep Dive section below for more on how to choose a subscription tier for your team’s needs.)
Both platforms also offer tools powered by artificial intelligence. Buffer provides a limited number of credits to try out its AI assistant, which helps users brainstorm post ideas, generate copy, and repurpose posts from one platform to another. Hootsuite’s AI tool, called OwlyWriter, can generate post ideas and copy based on previous posts, a website link, or keywords. While these tools are nice-to-haves, we found that they didn’t make or break our experience while testing, and they won’t be a major focus in this review. (For readers specifically looking at AI-powered social copy generators, keep an eye out for a future Work Tech edition focusing on those tools.)
Our all-around pick for its premium features, stellar performance and ease of use, and its support and resources for users, although it may be pricey for teams with smaller budgets.
- Intuitive and speedy editing, scheduling, uploading, and posting, and no issues with load time or saving content.
- Premium features like Grammarly and Canva integrations, performance benchmarking against industry averages and specific competitors, and the ability to follow trends and keywords across social platforms.
- Pricey platform, with less freedom to customize the number of social accounts, which may be a dealbreaker with smaller budgets and fewer social channels.
- Slightly clunkier interface when compared to Buffer.
Our budget-friendly pick for teams looking for more flexibility in pricing with fewer social accounts to manage. In spite of its lower price tag, users will make few compromises in terms of base functionality, although we did experience some performance issues and the platform doesn’t provide the premium features that Hootsuite does.
- Relatively budget-friendly for smaller teams, with customizable costs based on not just pricing tier but also the number of social accounts.
- Has the cleanest, most streamlined interface of any platform we tested.
- Occasionally, we experienced issues with longer post times when we selected “publish now,” and one of our posts failed to send when we posted it.
- The tagging feature seemed to work less well for LinkedIn and Twitter, with some manual searching necessary on the websites for the specific account or page.
We used all six tools over the course of a week for all of Charter’s posts across our most active social feeds: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. For each tool, we scheduled one post on each platform throughout the week. Using the native text editor and scheduling tools, we created posts featuring articles on our website, Charter events, and external content related to our coverage.
During that process, we checked out each platform’s features for writing and editing copy, uploading images and video, attaching links, tagging other accounts and pages, and scheduling posts. At the end of the week, we also used the native analytics dashboards within each platform to understand how the tool organizes and visualizes performance across platforms.
When compared with competitors, Hootsuite and Buffer had the most intuitive and easy-to-use platforms for toggling between social channels, uploading images or video, and adding links. Other platforms we tested had less elegant processes for posting similar content to multiple feeds, connecting to social channels, or drafting and editing posts. In addition to its comprehensive set of easy-to-use tools for drafting and scheduling posts, Hootsuite also has premium features that outshine competitors, like automated post editing suggestions and outside integrations.
Performance and ease of use: Hootsuite and Buffer had some of the most intuitive and streamlined platforms for drafting posts, customizing content for multiple platforms, uploading images and links, and scheduling or directly publishing content to our feeds. Hootsuite was notable for its quick loading and post time, with no issues scheduling or posting content. At times, Buffer had an issue with posting to platforms, but it required just a quick fix to repost.
Features and integrations: Hootsuite stands out for its expanded set of features for crafting, publishing, and tracking content. Especially helpful were its writing suggestions in the native post editor through the included Grammarly integration, and its reminders around unlinked mentions. It also allows users to track trends and keywords on dashboards connected to social feeds, integrates with paid ad accounts across platforms, and has an integration with Canva for designing graphics.
Buffer lacks many of the bells and whistles that Hootsuite boasts, but at its price point, it still offers good value on the most essential tools for managing a multi-channel social media presence. The only downside we found is that tagging other users and pages in Twitter and LinkedIn posts tended to function less well on Buffer compared to Hootsuite, with some manual searching for accounts necessary to properly link. Still, users can connect to all of the most popular social media networks; draft and post content with automatic link shortening and easy media uploading options; and dive into analytics using Buffer’s dashboards, which includes multi-channel, campaign-level data even at the lower pricing tiers—a feature that is only available at the Business level on Hootsuite.
Visual appeal: Both of our picks had clear and intuitive layouts compared to competitors, some of which had confusing layouts with clunky interfaces. Our cheaper option, Buffer, came out on top with a more streamlined and simpler feel.
Instructions and support: Hootsuite and Buffer welcome new users with helpful tutorials to introduce the various features and dashboards. The instructions for connecting new channels, scheduling posts, and adding media and links were all clear and easy to follow. Both platforms also offer extensive online support through written guides and other options.
Pricing deep dive
Our two picks have very different approaches to pricing. Buffer allows account holders to pay per social channel, rather than including a set number of social accounts at each pricing tier, like Hootsuite. Even comparing a similar number of users and social accounts, Buffer comes out to be the more budget-friendly option, and its a la carte pricing allows teams with fewer channels more flexibility to reduce their costs.
Hootsuite has four pricing levels and a one-month free trial. Here are some tips to help you determine the subscription level that’s right for your team:
- The Professional tier is the lowest-cost option from Hootsuite, at $99/month, billed annually. It allows a single user to manage up to 10 social accounts. This tier allows users to draft, schedule, and publish an unlimited number of posts and includes tools like bulk scheduling, recommended publishing times, link tracking, content curation tools, and an analytics dashboard. Users can spend up to $500 boosting posts.
- The Team tier is $249/month, billed annually. This level comes with three seats and up to 20 social accounts, as well as admin-level user access permissions and departmental organization. It comes with additional publishing and scheduling features, including the ability to link out to multiple sites from your social media bios, a custom branded URL, and link tracking. The ad spend limit is raised to $2,000.
- The Business tier is $739/month, billed annually. This level comes with five seats and up to 35 social accounts, with an option to buy more seats and social accounts a la carte. It also includes additional publishing features and scheduling permissions, including: approval workflows; additional custom URLs; a Bit.ly integration; an asset and content library to save custom templates and images; advanced campaign management abilities to tag, plan, and create reports on posts; unlimited ad spend for boosting posts; and advanced analytics and security options.
- The highest level is the Enterprise tier, which comes with five seats to manage up to 50 accounts, with an option to purchase more seats and social accounts a la carte. It also includes advanced messaging and customer service features, an ad management platform, additional analytics tracking, and upgraded security and user management features. Inquire for pricing.
Buffer has four pricing levels, including a free tier. Here are some tips to help you determine the subscription level that’s right for your team:
- The Free version of Buffer allows one user to manage up to three social accounts. Users can draft, schedule, and post using the social calendar. Automatic link shortening with a buff.ly URL is included. Users are limited to 30 posts in the scheduling queue at a time and 50 AI credits to use with the Buffer AI Assistant.
- The Essentials level is $5/channel per month billed annually, or $6 if billed monthly. It allows a single user to draft, schedule, and post an unlimited number of posts, and it comes with upgraded planning and scheduling tools, including a bit.ly integration, custom link shortener, multi-channel campaigns, hashtag manager, and instagram first comment. It also includes 150 AI credits and advanced analytics and performance feature, including a Google Analytics integration and custom UTM parameters.
- The Team level is $10/channel per month billed annually, or $12 if billed monthly. It allows an unlimited number of users to draft, schedule, and publish an unlimited number of posts. It includes upgraded team management tools like draft post management, custom access and permissions, and approval workflow tools.
- The Agency level is $100/monthly for 10 channels, or $120 billed monthly, and account holders can add additional channels for $5 per month a la carte. It includes the same features and permissions as the team level, but it is more cost effective for teams managing more than 10 channels.
How we chose what to review
We sourced our six candidates using online research and suggestions from online workplace forums on Slack and Reddit. We focused only on tools that allow users to manage multiple channels at once, which excluded tools native to social media networks, like Twitter’s Tweetdeck and Meta’s Instagram and Facebook post planner feature within the Meta Business Suite.
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