Back in February my partner Raj and I visited the headquarters of Sprout Social, creator of the popular and growing social media management tool of the same. Sprout is based in downtown Chicago, and it was an awesome experience to go in and meet some of the people working behind the scenes.
Like many digital and social media marketers, we are always on the lookout for ways to help streamline and improve the efficiency of how we use social media. I started using TweetDeck a long time ago to help with Twitter. But, as anyone familiar with Tweetdeck knows, it’s not good for much beyond scheduling Tweets ahead of time and running multiple accounts. Its functions are focused on Twitter management, not comprehensive social media management.
I have been using Hootsuite on and off for a year and have generally been satisfied with it. I watched Sprout Social with great interest when it first started getting popular. One of the things that always attracted me to it beyond the actual platform was that it was a local company still in the start-up stage. I am a big proponent of supporting and working with local and growing companies. The fact that Sprout was local meant that digital marketers in the area could develop first-hand connections and personal relationships with the minds behind the product.
After taking the tour of the facility and getting a nice run-through / demo of the software, I signed up for a 1-month free trial. My trial just concluded the other day and I wanted to share my thoughts on this platform and it how it compares to Hootsuite.
Sprout Social vs. Hootsuite – A Digitalry Review
This review will focus on the following areas:
- Management Capabilities
- Flexibility / Ease of Use
- Analytics / Reports
- Development Pace
- Options / Pricing
When looking at capabilities of social media management tools there are two things I focus on:
- Its ability to connect and manage multiple profiles and networks easily from a single interface
- Its value-add options: what the tool can do that the native social network cannot (for example, scheduling messages in advance)
In terms of these capabilities, both Sprout Social and Hootsuite provide excellent options. You can easily schedule posts on multiple networks, which is one of the most useful features as it allows brands to prepare content in advance and spread it out at optimal times over a given period. More time on social media can then be spent on engagement. Both platforms offer rich media integration in their posting, allowing you to designate the images, choose time / day to post, and select the specific and number of social accounts to post from at once.
At first notice, Sprout’s interface is substantially more attractive. The home page dashboard is one of the most useful and visually striking aspects of the entire application. It provides a fantastic snapshot of all connected accounts, as well as aggregate trends of these profiles. Upon first loading the application you are given a good sense of where all of your accounts stand. They also provide “Influence” and “Engagement” metrics which are useful for helping you gauge your overall social media presence.
If you are partial to a particular type of URL shortener, Sprout uses bit.ly while Hootsuite uses ow.ly. Both are reliable and fast shorteners, but it is important to note that ow.ly is Hootsuite’s proprietary shortener, so you cannot really use or track it anywhere other than Hootsuite. Bit.ly is Twitter’s default shortener, as well as being open to using without an account, so it has some more flexibility. Both Sprout Social and Hootsuite offer vanity URL options, though this would require additional investment with their respective URL shortening services, including a custom domain.
Sprout has superior capabilities for narrowing and targeting specific audiences. It also has better search and discovery options, with location filters that allow you to narrow your searches down by area. Also, while both function as management tools, Sprout integrates many more aspects of a “Social CRM,” with the ability to customize contact details (adding profile information to help you remember specific things about them), a better history record of interaction with contacts, and better cleanup / contact book management. It also has stronger collaboration features at a cheaper price (as Hootsuite’s true collaboration tools don’t enter the game until you drop over a grand on an enterprise plan).
One of the nicest things about Sprout Social is that you can integrate your Google RSS feed, making reading and sharing stories very easy.
This is absent from Hootsuite. .
Sprout Social also has the capability for rebranded Facebook posts (if you want to customize the “via Sprout Social” when sharing to FB). This is only available for premium users at additional cost.
Despite many of these advanced features, Sprout Social lacks some basic functions that Hootsuite possesses.
Two specific features are: The ability to “Favorite a Tweet” (even Tweetdeck has this)
- The ability to “Like” a Facebook post from the interface (you can reply, but not Like within Sprout Social)
These issues are not what I would call major. However, the fact that such basic features are not a part of it surprises me. All basic functions should be included; the user should have the freedom to choose whether or not to use them.
It surprises me more that they chose not to include these functions because they are also very useful. To not be able to “Like” something from Sprout is quite strange. As far as “Favoriting” some people have said that it isn’t a high-demand feature, but I do not see any basis for such a statement. “Favoriting” serves a different purpose than retweeting, replying, or direct messaging. Along with the FB Like, it represents the “Seal of Approval.” Moreover, from a practical point of view, “Favorites” are a good way to be able to save Tweets you like or want to reference at a later point without needing to retweet them yourself, and thus have them appear on your main stream. And again, returning to the principle, users should be given the full range of options so that they may decide for themselves whether or not to use them.
However, there is a much bigger issue that exists with Sprout Social: there is no ability to save drafts. I will go into this issue more in the next section.
Winner – Sprout Social, though they should include basic features to bring it in line with other comparable tools
Flexibility / Ease of Use
The differences between Sprout and Hootsuite in this respect largely come from different design philosophies. Hootsuite uses a more common multi-column layout in which each column displays a certain kind of information. Columns can be grouped by tabs. On the other hand, Sprout Social went in a different direction with a single-column layout and different pages / menus that load different information.
Multi-Column vs Single-Column Layouts
As I mentioned above the design of Sprout Social is very attractive. You can easily tell that user experience is a big consideration for them. Even subtle elements (such as their icons and hover actions) are exceptionally well done.
Their choice of design comes with an inherent quality which some may feel is a drawback. Their single-column layout makes it less flexible and customizable than Hootsuite’s multi-column layout. In Hootsuite, I can create columns that show very different pieces of information side by side for an easy comparison based on what I deem is most relevant. I understand the rationale for moving away from the multi-column layout. A big critique of that design is that when you have too many columns you must scroll horizontally to see everything. Hootsuite alleviates that problem to a degree by providing a “zoom” feature so the screen will fit increasingly more columns, but this is only useful up to a certain point. Moreover, having too many columns can also lead to information overload.
That said, the way Sprout is right now, users have less control over how to group information than with Hootsuite. For some that might not be an issue. For myself, I prefer having flexibility to organize my data but have been able to get used to Sprout Social not having this ability.
Unfortunately, there is one issue which I have with Sprout Social that is almost a dealbreaker. As mentioned above, Sprout does not currently have the ability to save drafts. This is especially problematic in light of the way it is designed: you cannot execute searches after you have started to write a message without abandoning that message. This is an issue that very much needs to be fixed, either by allowing the message to be preserved when it loads new pages in the back end or by including an save / auto-save function. I have been told that the save feature is under development, which is the reason it has not stopped me from continuing to use it. The video below goes into more detail on this issue.
Overall, I prefer Sprout Social’s design and UI.
But without the ability to save drafts, message creation and editing can become a pain, especially when you are juggling a variety of responsibilities and tasks and need this process to be as quick and painless as possible.
Winner – Hootsuite
Analytics / Reports
Sprout Social comes out ahead by a clear margin here. Sprout’s reports are very detailed and thorough, providing fantastic metrics across all connected social networks. Hootsuite has its own set of analytics, but unfortunately their preconfigured reports are very weak. They do have a number of “Custom Reports” that you can build, but this can become time-consuming and their more advanced reports have to be “purchased” with points. With Sprout, there is no fuss when it comes to reports. The reports tab instantly loads an excellent range of information – from new followers and fans to audience demographics and the reach of your posts. Their excellent design is perfectly suited to their analytics. Even outside of the reports tab, each page is geared towards presenting the information in a concise, effective, and visually appealing format, which is very helpful when wanting to see quick stats of your sent Tweets or responses from your existing contacts.
Some might argue that Hootsuite has greater customization features in their advanced reports, but when it comes to social media simple and streamlined always wins. The goal of analytics is to provide useful and actionable metrics, not to overwhelm users with tons of data and too many options for reading that data. And since some of Hootsuite’s advanced reports are not free, utilizing their analytics is significantly more cumbersome.
Winner – Sprout Social
This is something that perhaps cannot be attributed to the companies themselves but may simply be a result of the length of time each has existed. Hootsuite tends to be further along in development, likely because it has been in business longer. While Sprout Social is planning to release integration of LinkedIn groups, Hootsuite already has that function built in. Hootsuite also has a Google+ beta for their enterprise customers, which means they will probably make that public for the rest of their customer base before Sprout can. From the conversations that I have had, it sounds like Google+ will not come to Sprout Social until late this year (though this is in part because Google has not made its API freely available to everyone.)
Despite the fact that Hootsuite seems to be “ahead of the curve” in development, Sprout’s team is incredibly responsive and actively bringing new features to the platform on a continual basis. I frequently see updates at the top of the screen notifying me of a new feature. This means that Sprout has the potential to outpace Hootsuite in the future.
It’s important to remember that Sprout has features Hootsuite doesn’t (such as RSS reader integration.) The true test of development progress is how responsive and stable the platform is. In this, Hootsuite is ahead of Sprout as the latter seems to be more unstable and buggy. I have never had Hootsuite crash or lag seriously. With Sprout there are times when it is running very slowly. Sometimes I cannot load certain pages / menus without needing to refersh the page. It does not always respond with the right account when clicking on a mention or a reply, forcing me to change it manually. One day there was an issue with the scheduler where it was displaying past times for future messages. Though most messages still were sent out at the right times, one or two of mine were dropped and I had to go back and recreate them.
Winner – Hootsuite
Sprout Social is the clear winner here. Their customer and technical support is exceptional across all channels: Twitter, email, phone, etc. Their welcome emails are personalized with the information of a particular team member, and their staff responds to inquires directly.
In contrast, I have not heard anything from anyone working at Hootsuite. All their emails are automated (“faceless”).
Hootsuite has a “University” where you can go and learn. Sprout actively puts on webinars and training sessions where you can interact with people live.
In short, Sprout Social has a clear human face behind the company. Granted they are a smaller operation, so the challenge is whether or not they can scale to the size of Hootsuite (and beyond) while maintaining that level of personal touch.
Winner – Sprout Social
Options / Pricing
Hootsuite Pro now costs more than Sprout’s basic plan. While Sprout still goes for $9 flat per month, Hootsuite’s pro plan is now $9.99 per month. That said, with Sprout’s basic plan you can only connect up to 10 different accounts, and you cannot create more than one group outside of your “personal” group which can have three additional accounts (in effect giving you a maximum of 13 accounts). Hootsuite still provides unlimited accounts in its pro plan, as well as up to 5 profiles in its free version. Does that mean that Hootsuite is the better value? The answer is yes and no… it depends on what you are using it for. Even in Sprout’s basic plan, users receive excellent features, such as their analytics / reporting. Some features such as location-based functions, syncing Foursquare accounts, connecting Google Analytics, etc. are only available for higher premium plans. However, once you start needing these more advanced functions, Sprout Social is much cheaper than Hootsuite. Many of the collaboration features in their deluxe plan ($59/month) cannot be found in Hootsuite unless you choose an enterprise option, which can easily cost you over $1,000 per month. Even Sprout’s most expensive enterprise plan can be bought for under $1,000 per month. Sprout also has an advantage in that it treats additional users by the user rather than by the profile the user is attached to. This means that you can purchase an additional seat for a user for an added fee per month but then add them to as many profiles as you want. With Hootsuite you will pay an additional fee for each instance in which a user is added to a social profile. For example, if you have one user connected to a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn account you will have to pay for three additional seats as opposed to one. When it comes to pricing, Hootsuite is better suited if you are an individual, or maybe a 2-3 person team that does not need extensive collaboration tools. The big advantage is that you can connect as many accounts as you want. Sprout Social becomes a better option when you want the more advanced features for less cost. It is ideally suited for larger groups and businesses.
Winner – Hootsuite
The Knockout Punch?
|SOCIAL SMACKDOWN RESULTS||Winner|
|Management Capabilities||Sprout Social|
|Flexibility / Ease of Use||Hootsuite|
|Analytics / Reports||Sprout Social|
|Options / Pricing||Hootsuite|
The definitive champion of the Social Smackdown? It depends… The real answer is that your needs dictate which platform you should choose. For myself and Digitalry, we have chosen to stay with Sprout Social, though there are some things I would like to see from them in the near future:
- Push notifications for mobile (as well as the ability to customize the settings)
- More stability / less bugs in the platform
- Ability to “Like” FB post from Sprout
- Ability to organize contacts page by different critiera (e.g. by follow date so you can see your newest or oldest followers, by user name not just by handle, etc.)
- Ability to search contacts by hashtag or description keywords in their bio
- Google+ integration as soon as the API is available to them (in my opinion this much more important than LinkedIn companies or groups)
You might wonder why I was harsher on Sprout than Hootsuite. It is precisely because we are using it! Sprout has become an incredible force in the social media world in a short amount of time, and it has the potential to grow far beyond what it currently is. Hopefully the critique and suggestions in this article will help them to continually improve and become the undisputed champion of the social media management world.
Special thanks to Brittany Morse and Angus Gorberg for giving us the office tour and product demo, as well as Josh Galecki and Carolyn Breit for sharing their time and knowledge in answering questions and listening to our feedback as we tested the product.