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TechSoup Battles: Tierney Reviews Hootsuite

Community & Social Media

This review is part of our eighth TechSoup Battles challenge on social media management tools. Find out what it’s all about and check out our previous challenges.

As one of the well established tools for social media management that caters to small and medium sized organizations, I knew I’d want to take a look at Hootsuite for this challenge. They’re also a Canadian company, which is always a bonus!

Quick summary: Hootsuite is a good tool for monitoring and posting on various social media channels, which can help you save time and engage more. It has a few quirks but generally I found it was able to consolidate most of my social media management needs in one tool.

Hootsuite in a nutshell

Hootsuite sums their product up on their website by saying it lets you “manage social networks, schedule messages, engage your audiences, and measure ROI right from the dashboard.” It’s a pretty good summary. In even more basic terms, I’d say Hootsuite lets you:

  • see what’s going on (who posted, who responded to you) on different social networks
  • post messages to your social media channels (or schedule them for later)
  • reply to comments on any of your channels
  • check your stats and analytics (to what extent will depend on your plan)


A note about pricing:
Hootsuite offers a free version as well as a paid plan (Hootsuite Pro), which I will refer to in this review. They do offer a charity discount on the Pro version, 50% off as of February 2015. We know that even with this discount, the paid version will not be an option for all nonprofits, so this review will mostly focus on the capabilities of the free plan.

Adding social media channels

With the free plan you can add up to 3 “social profiles” such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Foursquare. An important note is that different groups/areas on the same network count as separate profiles. E.g. if I managed both a group and a page on Facebook, or two pages, these would count as 2 of my 3 social profiles. This is where one of Hootsuite’s main pricing restrictions kicks in.

Fortunately you can extend your “listening” (and engagement/posting) to more networks even on the free plan, using “apps”. These are developed by 3rd parties but fit right in with your Hootsuite dashboard. Most apps have free versions as well as paid versions with more advanced features. I found apps for many social networks, big and small. I tried the YouTube free app which worked well, and the Slideshare free app which had problems loading.

“Listening” - Keeping on top of social media

My favourite thing about Hootsuite is the ability to see what’s going on on multiple social media networks in one place. This is called “listening” and involves keeping an eye on your own accounts and what people are saying to you, as well as what people are saying in general on topics you are interested on.

Hootsuite lets you “listen” on your active channels - in my case, Twitter and Facebook - as well as less active channels which for me includes LinkedIn and YouTube. Without a tool like Hootsuite, I would check my active channels regularly and my less active channels - let’s be honest, not very often. Having it in one place makes it easier for me to keep an eye on all of these. For example, I’m embarrassed to report that I spotted a comment on a YouTube video we posted that I hadn’t noticed before :S

Posting, Scheduling & Engagement

If you can see what’s going on with each of these channels, you might as well be able to contribute in the same place! This is built into Hootsuite, so you can post to any of your social profiles - one at a time or in any combination. The apps will also typically give you separate features to post to those channels as well - for example the free YouTube app lets me upload videos, but it’s less integrated.

As part of my review, I tried posting on each of my 3 social profiles. Twitter worked exactly as I expected and Facebook worked nicely though it shows as being posted by “Hootsuite” instead of my name. My LinkedIn group post didn’t work quite as nicely, putting most of the text as the title - leading to a discussion if it’s better for tasks such as monitoring LinkedIn Groups or responding to comments.

One of the most popular features of Hootsuite is its ability to schedule posts, so they will be published at a time in the future that you specify. You can pick the time and date, or use the “autoschedule” feature to space your posts throughout the day.

(Side note: if you’re going to use autoschedule, be careful about how you configure it. e.g. if you tell it you will post 7 times per day, it will space your posts appropriately - however that may be true for some channels such as Twitter and not for others such as Facebook.)

Beyond posting, you can also engage in the way that is relevant for each channel - replying, retweeting, liking, commenting, etc.

Pro tip: you can post to your social profiles without even going to Hootsuite using their browser plugins

 

Reporting/Analytics

Beyond listening and engaging, you want to know if your social media efforts are successful.  Hootsuite does build in quite a few reports that let you track your metrics, including the number of clicks on your shortened links.

One thing I missed when using Hootsuite for Facebook specifically, compared to using Facebook’s website, is not having the “reach” (and other metrics) displayed right next to the post. This analytics integration was a nice way to get a quick sense for how each post was doing.

Important note: if you’re using the free version, reporting is extremely limited. In this case, your best bet is to use other freely available tools for getting your reports such as Facebook Insights.

Tabs

My personal favourite feature of Hootsuite is the option to add multiple tabs. I’ve found this very useful for managing social media during events & webinars.

Each tab lets you add columns with different streams of content. So, I can add streams that are relevant to that particular event, such as tweets with the event hashtag as well as my own posts and mentions. This makes it easy for me to stay on top of the event without cluttering up my main day-to-day tab.

Here’s my tab for our Toronto Net Tuesday event (#Net2TO):

Overall

While I’ve known about Hootsuite for years, I’ve always been a bit skeptical about embracing it as my main social media management tool. While I did find some things to watch out for such as issues posting to LinkedIn Groups and not getting to see the reach of my Facebook posts, I was pleased to found that it covered most of my needs. In particular, I really enjoyed using tabs to manage social media during events.

While Hootsuite’s free plan does restrict the number of social profiles you can add, this shouldn’t be limiting for organizations with a modest social media presence - especially because you can add apps to cover more channels. If your organization is ready to make a bigger investment in social media, the Pro version with a nonprofit discount may be a good way to add more social profiles, allow for multiple users and access better reporting.

We’re not the only nonprofits who have tried Hootsuite, so to wrap up, here are a few comments from organizations who use it every day: