Is this social networking middleman right for you?
While most commonly used with Twitter, Hootsuite's interface supports Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, WordPress and Mixi at present.
Basic membership of the company's service is free, although this is geared personal use. Up to three social networking profiles can be controlled by a free member: this can mean one profile on three different social networks, three different profiles on one social network, or a combination of the two.
This is the main use-case of Hootsuite: where having multiple Twitter accounts - a personal account and a work account, for example - would normally require the user to remember to log out of one and in to the other, or run two separate applications, Hootsuite allows messages to be posted and responses monitored from a single interface.
Hootsuite's more advanced features are locked away from the free membership tier. It's possible to schedule a message for later posting, but only one message at a tim. Only three simple analytic reports are available; and the most popular add-in applications are unavailable.
You cannot be a member of a team on a Hootsuite free account, nor can you take advantage of any of the advanced security measures Hootsuite has introduced to protect social networking accounts from being hijacked apart from Google Authenticator-powered two-factor authentication (2FA).
For these missing features, a Pro account is required at a cost of $14.99 per month per user, billed in your local currency at an above-market exchange rate; for UK users, this equates to £9.99.
A 30-day free trial is available, but requires a credit card to be registered at the time the account is created; a 30 per cent discount is offered for lump-sum annual payments. With a Pro account, up to 50 social profiles can be controlled from the Hootsuite interface rising to 100 with additional payments. Teams of up to nine users can be managed, each charged at an additional £9.99 a month; larger than that requires an Enterprise account.
Hootsuite Enterprise is something of an odd beast. Firstly, while the company is largely up-front about its Pro-level pricing it refuses to publish details for the Enterprise tier - stating only that it will vary depending on the precise requirements of the organisation in question. The last publicly-available pricing information puts Enterprise membership at a whopping $1,499 per month - putting it easily at the top level of social network management tool pricing.
The more you use Hootsuite, in fact, the more expensive it becomes. The £9.99 a month Pro membership - advertised at "from £6.99 a month" until you reach the checkout stage - comes with 'points' for a single analytical report. For professional users, analytics is one of the biggest reasons to use a third-party social network management platform; those requiring more than a single report a month, however, will need to buy 'points.' 50 points costs $50; each report costs around 45 points, meaning that the membership fee is quickly eclipsed by the additional charges required to take advantage of the - admittedly impressively detailed - analytics options on offer.
There are other aspects of the service where it's hard to shake the feeling that Hootsuite is nickel-and-diming its customers to death. All posted links are forced through the company's own URL shortener, Ow.ly. If you'd prefer to use your own domain for the URLs, you'll pay an extra $49.99 a month for the privilege. The billing section for a Pro user is, in fact, filled with tick-boxes for spending more and more money, even before you get to the App Directory.
The App Directory allows the Hootsuite experience to be extended through plug-ins built by third-party companies. Many of these offer access to social networking services not supported by Hootsuite's set of defaults, such as YouTube, Instagram, and SoundCloud.
At the time of writing, 76 free apps were available; a further 40, however, required an additional monthly payment to use. Synaptive, for example, offers a free YouTube add-on, but the ability to use Hootsuite's scheduling functionality with the site requires a £3.49 monthly payment on top of your existing membership fees; access to advanced YouTube analytics requires another £3.49 on top of that. Many premium apps are, however, provided free of charge to those on the Enterprise plan; a clear benefit for the high fees charged.
That's not to say Hootsuite doesn't have its charm. Even at the free membership level, it offers more flexibility than using stock applications for various social networking services while the three-stage tutorial offered to new accounts makes it easy to get started. For enterprise users, the Hootsuite University - which has an additional charge, naturally - is a great training tool. Its column-based user interface makes it easy to keep track of what's going on, while the tab functionality helps to keep different accounts separate - helping minimise the risk of posting personal messages from a corporate account, for example.
For mobile users, official Hootsuite apps are available for iOS and Android with access to the same user interface and functionality as the website. Both are free of charge to download and install, with in-app purchasing options for cost-bearing functionality, and allow access to the prime functionality of the service: message viewing, message posting, monitoring and analytics. A further mobile app, Hootsuite Suggestions, is currently available for iOS exclusively.
For those who have grown out of the functionality offered by stock social networking software, Hootsuite's free plan is worth trying. Those opting to upgrade to the Pro level, however, should be advised that the true cost is likely to be far higher than the advertised "£6.99/month" entry point.
If you desperately need a more professional tool to manage your corporate social networking, Hootsuite might fit the bill - but be prepared to pay for the privilege.
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