On the plus side, Sprout Social is very pretty to look at, and its streamlined interface goes a long way toward making this service very usable, even for social media newbies. At a glance, you can see how your posts are performing, and scheduling future posts across multiple networks is a breeze. The slick dashboard shows you audience demographics that are easy to understand, and using the Reports feature you can dig deeper into the performance of your pages and accounts. I also like how Sprout Social displays your network feeds very cleanly, without using cluttered columns or tabs that some of its competitors, like HootSuite, rely on.
Unfortunately, Sprout Social cannot compete with HootSuite in one very important area: price. After a 30-day free trial, the cheapest version of Sprout Social costs $59 per user, per month. HootSuite, meanwhile, offers a free version, with paid plans starting at $10 per month.
One of the biggest questions most social media managers have is "when?"--when should you post content so that it will reach the widest audience. Buffer claims to have the answer. This social media management tool (available on the Web and as a mobile app for Android and iOS) automates the posting of your content based on its analysis of your networks and your content.
Buffer connects to Facebook (groups, profiles, and pages), Google+ Pages, LinkedIn (Profiles, Groups, and Company Pages), Twitter, and App.net Profiles. With Buffer's free account, you can connect to one per social network (so one Facebook Page or Profile, but not both), which means many business users will need to upgrade to the $10-per-month Awesome Plan, which includes support for up to 12 social profiles.
Once you're connected to Buffer, you can enter your content and select which sites and services you'd like to post it to. Buffer allows you to queue up 10 posts if you're using the free version and up to 200 if you're on the Awesome Plan. The service will post these automatically for you over a given time period, spacing them out as it sees fit. If you'd like to overrule Buffer's decision, you can schedule a set time for each post. And if you're questioning Buffer's decisions, you can use it analytics to see how well your posts have performed.
Overall, Buffer proved pretty good at picking when to post items for me, though it wasn't able to discern time-sensitive items from those that could wait awhile. I like how Buffer takes the guessing game out of social media management.
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