By Steve Yanor
Update: Buffer is declared the winner by TKO because Hootsuite often does not include a picture when you autoschedule Tweets (Buffer is a tad bit smarter).
Two of Twitter’s Favourite Free Scheduling Apps Go Head to Head.
Once you get serious about Twitter it becomes obvious that you’ll need some sort of scheduling App. It’s called autoscheduling: How else are you going to Tweet while you sleep?
Thankfully there are two heavyweight apps that do exactly that (and more): Buffer and Hootsuite.
Both of these applications are excellent at scheduling Tweets and sending them on a pre-determined (“custom scheduled”) or “auto-scheduled” basis.
Hootsuite’s scheduling interface (mobile app)
At one time Hootsuite used to offer a bulk uploader (you could write out hundreds of Tweets with the time and date of when you wanted each Tweet sent) but sadly those days of free bulk scheduling are over. Blame it on the investors! If you haven’t tried TweetClub, you might want to check it out.
Either app will work great for almost any user interested in stepping up their Twitter game.
The best part is that both offer free versions which is what we’re looking at today.
I use both apps every day and I love them, although there is a bit of a Mac/PC thing happening (I also use both a Mac and PC). To me, Buffer is like using a Mac and Hootsuite feels more like a PC. The mobile version of Hootsuite is definitely preferable to its desktop version.
Time for our showcase showdown! At the end I include a few tips on how I approach scheduling which might help some people.
Tweet while you Sleep
If you’re asking why anyone would want to Tweet while they sleep, there are a few good reasons.
The main reason is that if you want to grow your followers you will need to Tweet a lot.
Most high performance Twitter accounts operated by people who are not already famous tend to Tweet at least five times per day every day.
Most experts recommend 6-8 times per day but in my experience Tweeting 20 times per day is about right.
My favourite superhero on Twitter is @sam___hurley (that’s three underscores – he makes his own rules). Sam Tweets more than anyone I’ve ever seen on Twitter. And it works. He is ranked the #2 ranked digital marketer in the world and personally I think he deserves to move up a notch.
To describe Sam Hurley as a prolific Tweeter would be an understatement.
I’m going through his tweetstream now and in the last hour, he’s tweeted about 100 times. For a digital marketer like me, Sam Hurley’s channel is always a great place to find new ideas about all kinds of social media topics. (I’ll be interviewing Sam Hurley in a future blog post so stay tuned…)
Nobody who tweets day and night every day and every night can do it manually. So Buffer or Hootsuite is a must, and many professional social media marketers use both.
It’s a good idea to have both on your phone in case you hit your scheduling limit or one isn’t working the way it should (Hootsuite uses Flash which has been a real problem on the PC lately).
Because Twitter is an international communication platform, scheduling tweets ahead of time is necessary. Say you’re tweeting about #advertising or #socialmedia there will be scores of people in the UK and elsewhere who you’ll want to engage with (they follow you, you follow them back) but you’ll want to Tweet during their working hours which is 6-9 hours ahead, depending on what coast you live on (I’m in Vancouver so the time difference is significant).
Before a live event, pre-load Tweets
An important part of my business is Tweeting at live events so that conference organizers can keep things “on message” and be able to manage any wild and wayward tweeters.
Auto-scheduling Tweets ahead of a festival or conference works perfectly (try it for a conference call next time!)
You often do not have time to type as quickly as you need to send the perfect tweet, so schedule a bunch of them ahead of time. You can always cancel or change them.
Recently I was at an outdoor event called #shorefest and there were a bunch of bands playing but no one on Twitter seemed to have the schedule. So I found the musical lineup at @miss604’s blog and used Hootsuite on my phone to schedule a series of Tweets with the name of the band and the time they were supposed to appear on stage. Perfect: now everyone knows who’s playing!
Another very good reason to autoschedule tweets is to mitigate the risk of ticking off your followers by sending too many tweets in the same period.
Sam Hurley is one of the few accounts that can get away with tweeting 100 times per hour because he’s Sam Hurley. He’s also followed by people who are a lot more serious about Twitter than the casual eggs you see everywhere!
When you’re building your following you don’t want to freak people out by sending 5 tweets within seconds of each other (unless it’s a live news event or live blog). Sending too many tweets in a row usually turns people off, so space them apart and use Buffer or Hootsuite to do it.
Hootsuite’s scheduling interface (mobile app).
A big differentiator is the number of Twitter accounts each app lets you manage.
Hootsuite allows you to manage three Twitter accounts. Millions of people love Hootsuite for this, including me.
Buffer only allows you to manage one Twitter account. The price to upgrade to multiple accounts is about the same for both, so it appears as if both companies give you the chance to test drive for free until you’re ready to pay up.
This is a nice way of saying that when you use Buffer you hit the wall as soon as you try to add a second Twitter account, so then you are forced to find something else. In my case that’s when I started using Hootsuite!
I also use Google+ with Buffer and it works great. (I don’t have any other social channels connected to my free Hootsuite account although it works with everything else you would expect, like Buffer. But we’re only talking about Twitter here).
UX / Design
Because I spend every single day of my life using these apps, design and useability is an important consideration.
The experience is not the same, however, on both desktop from mobile versions with Hootsuite. In my experience running Windows 10, Hootsuite works a lot better on my iPhone. With Buffer, the experience is the same for both.
I’m no expert on user interface design, I just know what I like. And when I’m scheduling tweets, Buffer wins. It just feels more solid. I can’t recall the last time Buffer has crashed. It even works with ad blockers!
Hootsuite, on the other hand, has been a bit of a problem lately. It flat out stopped working with Google Chrome, which may have been because Chrome stopped supporting Flash. So I started using Microsoft Edge. Hootsuite is literally the only reason I use that browser! Talk about a workaround.
Lately Hootsuite on the desktop has been more than a little temperamental: refusing to launch from hootsuite.com and hanging when it’s time to schedule a Tweet or identify a Twitter handle (i.e. @skyalphabet)
So on the PC, Buffer’s got an advantage. Buffer is a very solid app, and I love its super clean design and responsiveness. Somehow it just feels solid. Buffer just seems to me to be designed better. There’s a lot of stuff happening on the screen at Hootsuite!
The mobile version of Hootsuite is a different story, however. The mobile version of Hootsuite goes toe to toe with Buffer when it comes to useability, but I do prefer Buffer’s navigation. Buffer is clearly victorious over Hootsuite for one other very good reason: your pictures will be included when you pre-schedule a tweet with Buffer. With Hootsuite (annoyingly) they are not.
I’m not sure if sense-of-humour is an official category of UX, but I’m going to include it anyway. Buffer has injected a sense of humour into their mobile app. As if they weren’t far enough ahead already!
For example, when you load up your analytics and want to scroll down to the beginning of time, it says “hamster wheel spinning” or “fetching the goodies”, which makes me smile. This stuff is supposed to be fun, right? One time on Twitter I had a question about Buffer’s app and they jumped all over it and then sent me a signed postcard in the mail! Talk about amazing customer service!
Scheduling a Tweet with Buffer
Features That Matter Comparison
There is one feature that Buffer has that Hootsuite does not, and vice versa.
One really nice feature that Buffer has that Hootsuite does not is analytics.
Remember we’re only talking about the free version here. From Buffer’s mobile app, you can check out the engagement levels for your Tweets. This is a really handy way to see at a glance what has performed well. I’m always surprised at how some posts do well while others don’t.
The analytics screen is a great place to instantly re-schedule (rebuffer) content that has performed better (or not) than other content. I’ll usually try a different day period (rebuffer at night, instead of the afternoon, for example) to see if a different time slot works better. Buffer puts a nice little TOP POST at the top of better performing Tweets.
One feature that Buffer does not have that Hootsuite includes is an integrated search function. Nice, right?
Hootsuite’s search function includes Trending, Nearby, Recent Searches and Find Users. The Trending and ‘search Twitter’ function is super handy for scheduling trend-based tweets on the fly.
Buffer gives you really fine-grained control over the timing of future Tweets, with the option of scheduling tweets in 1 minute increments! Nice! Hootsuite gives you 10 minute increments. With both apps you can post multiple tweets at the exact same time if you want which is valuable when you are posting a press release with links to related content on other platforms. (To me Twitter is like a command centre for communications; it’s just awesome how you can coordinate every other media source).
With Buffer you set a “custom schedule”. With Hootsuite you simply hit schedule and then you can auto-schedule or spin the wheel to set a custom time. I prefer Hootsuite’s larger wheel but I do like Buffer’s ability to pick an exact minute to send a Tweet.
Buffer also does a much better job of locating the Twitter handle of the account that might be mentioned in your Tweet.
For example, if I re-post something from @adweek, I will end my tweet with “via @adweek” so they get the credit. Buffer will find adweek’s Twitter account and check it without a hiccup. Hootsuite not so much. On the PC it can get stuck on the search and it doesn’t check the handle on the mobile app.
Another (small) advantage that the Free Buffer has over the Free Hootsuite is that Buffer’s mobile app gives you the choice of 3 different link shorteners. Hootsuite provides just one: ht.ly. So if you get sick of seeing buff.ly all the time you can switch it up!
Number of Tweets
Hootsuite allows you to auto-schedule 10 Tweets, which is the same amount that Buffer allows. On both apps, once you have auto-scheduled 10, you’ll have to wait until at least one Tweet has been sent to auto-schedule another one. Buffer is strict about their 10 Tweet limit, with Hootsuite there is a way around it, which is awesome. Hootsuite actually allows you to custom schedule as many tweets as you want, even if you’ve already hit your auto-schedule limit. Thanks, Hootsuite!
Tips for scheduling Tweets
I schedule Tweets at night and then again first thing in the morning, around 6:30am. Because I manage several Twitter accounts, I like to lay down some Tweets at night for the next morning just in case the power goes down or I want to go for a run. I sleep better at night knowing that no matter what, my accounts are covered with fresh Tweets in the early morning.
Scheduling tweets the night before ensures that the content is timely, but most publishers release new material by 5:30 PST which provides great new material for the rest of the day. I’m still amazed how some prominent Twitter accounts of popular publishers only tweet Monday to Friday. Missed opportunity!
For each account I manage I keep a private list that acts as a sort of swipe file; if I can’t find tweetable content in the usual places (such as Wired or any number of sources available to me through Feedly), I’ll check out other users’ Twitter channels to search for ideas. Lists are a great way to keep a curated collection of a specific subset of users related to a certain topic.
The best tip you will get today about scheduling
This is the quickest way to schedule 10 Tweets and fill your buffer. If you use this method you can do two hours of work within 30 minutes, and then you can allocate more time to finding even more tweets to send natively (direct from Twitter itself or from a secondary scheduler). I learned this from trading stocks: you have to keep good records, so it is really useful to write down all the information about what you’re going to Tweet in Notepad or Google Docs to get them organized ahead of scheduling them.
- Open Notepad.
- Use Feedly or whatever source you normally visit to find your tweets. I like to search for Tweets using Twitter’s advanced search feature (i.e. enter into the search box #programmatic from:adweek)
- Past the URL of every article you want to use into Notepad. Beside the article paste the author’s name. Use Twitter’s search to find the author’s handle (i.e. @sam___hurley). Convert the author’s written name to the actual Twitter handle.
- This is important: Re-write the headline the way you want it. It means you have to read the article you are posting but if you don’t why would you expect anyone else would? Nine times out of ten I find a better headline than the original. For example, a Tweet linking to an article appeared in @emarketer that read:
— eMarketer (@eMarketer) August 4, 2016
— Western Media Group (@westernmedia) August 4, 2016
But after reading the article, I didn’t quite agree that Germans were ambivalent about billboards. I mean, maybe they are. But there’s much more data behind that Tweet which exists in the article:
Here’s a screen shot of my notepad. It’s a bit scrambly, but it’s a good process to get the messages correct before you schedule them.
If you have the Buffer or Hootsuite App installed on your phone, it’s easy to submit a Tweet for release at a future date or time.
If you haven’t used an auto-scheduler such as Buffer or Hootsuite before, try Buffer today! You’ll quickly see how much of a difference it makes to attracting new followers. Good luck and happy Buffering (or Hooting)!
Coming soon: Why is your PR firm doing your social media?