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The two most popular tools on the market right now are Hootsuite and Buffer. I've included Sked Social in the mix because it fits exactly where Buffer and Hootsuite fall short. It serves a specific, Instagram-focused audience that otherwise wouldn't find their match with either Buffer or Hoot.
Channels, features, content types supported.
True auto-posting? Visual planning & more.
Reply and manage user engagement across channels.
How useful are the insights and reporting?
Different plan tiers, and are added users or channels extra?
Buffer is best for lite social media users getting started with social media management tools: startups and small businesses. I see Hootsuite being used by enterprise companies, with complex social strategies paired with huge advertising budgets. Sked Social is in between. It's best for teams managing more than 3 channels; and especially if Instagram plays an important role in your social media game.
Sked was built in 2014 by a bunch of Australian social media consultants.
They got sick of being asked "why can't I do X with Instagram" so they've built their own (and only) Instagram-first social media management platform. Since then Sked has evolved to become a social management machine with post queues, cross-channel posting, approvals workflow and Social Inbox… while still keeping up with Instagram's latest features like product & user tagging, adding locations and first comments, grid planning, story posting, and link stickers.
Sked also has powerful analytics that show post engagement by the hour. Of course, special love goes to Instagram analytics with Hashtag performance, IG story analytics, and competitor tracking. When it comes to pricing, for teams managing more than 7 social media channels Sked's pricing becomes cheaper than Buffer's.
As for the future of Sked, I asked director Hugh Stephens what's in store and he said "nothing but more awesomeness."
Hootsuite is a widely used social media management platform created by Ryan Holmes in 2008.
It does auto-scheduling well but lacks some more advanced features of its competitors. It's a real powerhouse when it comes to analytics. The AI-based assistant will help you schedule posts at the best times for either the most awareness, engagement, or traffic. Hootsuite also supports all major channels and has a huge app directory where you can find community-made apps to expand your feature set even more. It is pricey, and it doesn't scale well with the number of team members at all.
But this shouldn't be a problem if you're Hoot's target audience: a big enterprise company running nationwide, trend-setting social campaigns supported by a huge budget for paid advertising.
”Being able to plan how the feed will look by seeing it all laid out has been immensely helpful and … [Sked is] the only platform offering this amazing visual planning ability.”
Established in 2010, Buffer is one of the youngest social media management platforms.
Its raise to fame was its flexible and affordable pricing — which wasn't typical in the industry back in the day. Over the years Buffer stayed true to its core: stay simple, stay fast, stay minimal. I love Buffer because you can set up a "post queue" for the times you want social media posts to go out, and then simply focus on post creation to fill up the queue. Zero hassle. And Buffer also has powerful native integrations so it'll fit right in your workflow. The analytics aren't powerful, but if you're Buffer's target audience—small businesses and solopreneurs—you honestly don't need the bells and whistles that Hootsuite & Sked offer.
Buffer's future? You can expect the team to focus on polishing existing features over adding new ones.
When it comes to content scheduling, the tools are more similar than they are different.
All three were made for automation of posting & unlimited scheduling. And with all three you'll achieve the same: upload images or videos, schedule posts for multiple channels for weeks in advance, or save drafts and get them approved by your teammates.
Overall Buffer stands out as the simplest to use.
The workflow is as easy as it gets — it's fast, seamless, and you'll figure it out in 5 minutes by clicking around the app. The calendar view is very responsive and super intuitive. The tradeoff, though, is that it fails at scale. Fast. It becomes too complex and cluttered if you manage more than 3 social media accounts.
Hootsuite & Sked Social look the same on the surface, but Sked is a powerhouse beneath.
At first, both tools look more complex than Buffer, but both Hootsuite and Sked handle scale well. Once you get used to it, the interface doesn't become overwhelming even when managing 10+ accounts. Partially thanks to the design and partially thanks to the filters with which you can hide/show the accounts.
The difference is that Hootsuite can be integrated with paid advertising — you can automatically boost new posts after publishing; while Sked has more powerful posting features.
Hootsuite & Sked Social look the same on the surface, but Sked is a powerhouse beneath.
If you're publishing posts at the same time every day, you can set up Post Queues in both Buffer and Sked. Once set, all you have to do is "add post" and it will automatically go out in the next available time slot. These queues are fully customizable — you can set different times for different days and channels.
On Sked, you’ll even get your recommended best time to post so you can set your queue up without the guesswork.
Hootsuite doesn't have that. Though what you can do with Hoot is say "hey, publish these 10 posts by next Monday" and Hootsuite will find the best times using an algorithm that predicts engagement. If your audience doesn't expect you to show up at a strict time every day, then this feature is as good as any.
For posting, Instagram is by far the most complex channel.
Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, with Instagram you can tag people and products… you can add locations, stickers, you can upload posts, reels, or stories…
The reason why Hootsuite and Buffer can't schedule multi-content stories and stories with link stickers is that Meta doesn't give them the option to do so. You see, social media tools work only to the extent the company owning the channel supports them.
Sked isn't limited by that.
That's because Sked's software doesn't run only on the cloud — it literally runs on phones.
I mean no, not your phone — there's a wall of android phones somewhere in Sked's office. When the time comes, one of the phones logs into your account, adds tags, and publishes your stories or reels, or posts the same as a human would.
This way Sked can offer the latest Instagram features the moment they come out, and not wait for Meta to update their API.
Depends on your needs. If you got 2-3 channels, Buffer will do. If you're managing more than 3 channels—either for yourself or your clients—and Instagram plays a huge role in your social media strategy, then go with Sked. If you're managing a grand campaign covering the globe with 30 social media accounts spanning across different languages, Hootsuite will be your tool.
Buffer had a product for inbox management.
It was called Buffer Reply. The team discontinued this functionality in 2020 before reintroducing a cut-down tool for Instagram and Facebook.
"We originally acquired it intending to diversify Buffer’s core product offerings. While it served that purpose, it has become clear over time that Reply is better suited for larger organizations and is not the best product for Buffer’s core customer base, small businesses… For that reason, we are sunsetting Reply as of June 1st, 2020." — Joel Gascoigne, CEO and co-founder @ Buffer*
Sked's inbox is a joy to use and comes with all the bells and whistles.
Simply select the accounts you want to work on (1) and conversations will show up. Then you can reply or leave internal comments for the marketing team to check out (2). You can also set up automatic replies which show right above the reply box. Finally, you can also see a snippet of the customer social profile (3), save conversations to prioritize them, or assign them to a teammate.
It literally has everything you need and it works buttery-smooth. You can even manage your Google Business Profile reviews on Sked and respond with the help of Captivate, Sked’s AI engine.
Hootsuite, on the other hand, looks like this.
It lacks canned responses, team assignments, and prioritization unless you're on their more custom-priced enterprise plan. It can be clunky and difficult to navigate. It also doesn't hold well with scale, when conversations start falling through the cracks.
Sked Social wins by a long shot. Hootsuite conversation management simply isn't as polished, and Buffer’s engagement tool is limited in what it can do.
All three tools show basic post engagement: clicks, reactions, impressions, and reach.
That's where similarities end.
Buffer, for example, is great at identifying the best audience by city, gender, and age; as well as the posting frequency that gets the best engagement.
Sked goes a step further by showing post engagement by the hour. It also tracks the performance of your Instagram stories and hashtags — crucial if Instagram is your main channel. You can also track up to four competitors and get reports on how fast they're posting & growing compared to you. Great thing to look at whenever you want to cry yourself to sleep.
Hootsuite is all about the holistic impact of your social media strategy. It will calculate the best times to post specifically for awareness, engagement, or driving traffic. This insight allows you to fine-tune your campaigns even more.
Because of these differences, it's hard to draw a definitive conclusion about which tool has the best analytics. They all serve the basics well, and they all bring some unique functionality to the table. In an ideal world, I'd have them all.
Here's my verdict:
Buffer for lite social media users. Sked for Instagram-first companies. Hootsuite otherwise.
First, let's talk about the free trials.
Hootsuite has a 30-day and Sked Social 7-day free trial. In 2023, Buffer still has a free plan for up to 3 channels. Though you can schedule only 10 posts per channel and don't have analytics, team management, or advanced posting features.
If you're a solopreneur, a small business, or an influencer with max 3 channels (like Linkedin, Facebook page, Instagram), then Sked Fundamentals plan would cost $30/month, while Buffer would cost $18/month. Both of these come with all features I talked about in the article. Hootsuite offers a 1-user pro plan that comes with 10 social channels as well, but at $149/month it's five times as expensive as Sked with fewer features.
Buffer has per-channel pricing, starting at $6/month per channel. This tier already comes with almost all features unlocked. If you want to collaborate with mates, then the price doubles to $12/month per channel for unlimited users…
Sked also offers unlimited users on the Essentials $89/month plan, with a fixed number of channels - 13. If you need more, there’s the $159/month Pro plan that’ll give you a whopping 20 channels, and the option to buy additional ones as you go.
If you want to collaborate with 1-2 teammates, you'll have to opt-in for the $399/month Team plan with 20 social channels. And if your team has 4-5 people, then you'll have to opt for the custom-priced Enterprise plan that comes with 5 users and 50 accounts. There’s no in-between and there's no way around this.
If you check Hootsuite's pricing, you'll see plans at $99 and $249…
But those prices hold true only if you're buying the annual license. If you're buying monthly, they’re at least 50% more. I have no doubt they get lots of annual users this way. But it feels rude. The huge price discrepancy between Hoot and competitors practically forces you into the annual plan: it's the only way to make Hoot's prices even remotely comparable to the competition.
Buffer and Sked openly state both monthly and annual subscription prices on all their plans. And both offer a 2 month discount on annual subscriptions.
And frankly, they don't need to be generous.
Compared to Hootsuite, both Buffer and Sked are a steal even without the discounts.
If you've been with me throughout the entire comparison, you'll know by now that these three tools aren't competitors... They simply serve businesses at different stages of growth: Buffer is what you start with, Sked is what you graduate to, and Hootsuite is where you end up as an enterprise behemoth.
Lite social media users & small businesses just getting started.
Enterprise companies with huge budgets for paid advertising.
Instagram-focused agencies, media brands, retailers, and eCom.