What is Buffer?
Buffer (also known as Buffer App) is a social media scheduling tool. Twitter pages, Facebook profiles and pages and LinkedIn profiles and groups can all be linked to your Buffer account. App.net profiles can also be integrated into Buffer to extend Buffer’s use even further. Buffer recently included the ability to add Google Plus pages and LinkedIn Company Pages to your Buffer account. Google Plus profiles are not yet supported.
How does it work?
Buffer works through a browser extension and a web app. There are also iPhone and Android apps for Buffer, which work differently to the web based interface. Once you’ve installed the Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Opera extension (there is no Internet Explorer extension) all you have to do is click it, when you find interesting content, to build your buffer of social posts.
You can select text from the page you are browsing, to include it in your post. The URL to the webpage will automatically be added after the post desciption. If you don’t select any text before you Buffer a page, the title of the webpage will be used as the description.
When you click the browser extension, an in browser window pops up, which allows you to select to which social networks you would like to share. You can also add an image to the post and shorten the webpage hyperlink from this pop up. The final step in the process is to click “Buffer”, “Share Now” or on the custom posting time icon (the clock). An example of the Buffer pop up window is below.
Posts get added to the Buffer web app, where they get pushed to your social networks according to a schedule you set. Buffer recently included the much needed ability to schedule a post for a custom time that is not a part of your regular schedule.
All in all, Buffer is fairly easy to learn and powerful when mastered. I’ve included some screenshots of the Buffer dashboard below. The “analytics” work by counting retweets, favourites, shares, comments etc., as well as the number of clicks on the links you share. Note that link clicks will not be counted if you use a link shorten service other than Bitly or Buffer’s default service (buff.ly).
The scheduling tools provided are highly customisable. You can create multiple schedules for different days of the week or group certain days together to operate on a single schedule. Buffer does not enforce any restrictions on the scheduling times. You can customise your schedule to the minute.
The posts dashboard allows you to review your buffered posts. You can shuffle them around and edit and delete them as you see fit. If you do not opt for the Awesome Plan, you will be restricted to a maximum of 4 posts a day.
What is the Awesome Plan?
The Awesome Plan is the paid for version of the Buffer service. It costs $10 US a month and does not impose a contract. The free version of Buffer, restricts the number of social networks that you can connect to your account to three. It also restricts you to a maximum of four posts a day and to a maximum of ten posts in total.
The Awesome Plan removes all posting restictions, allows you to connect up to twelve social networks and provides you with additional Buffer accounts for two team members.
Buffer also offers three Business plans, which start at $50 US a month for up to 5 team members and 25 social networks. The top Business plan is $250 US per month for 250 social networks and 25 team members.
What do you think of Buffer and how does it compare to HootSuite?
I love Buffer. It makes posting to all my social networks easy and efficient. I have signed up for the Awesome Plan, as the restrictions placed on the free account make it impracticable.
If you use HootSuite, you’re probably thinking that Buffer is a duplicate service and a waste of money. In my opinion, it’s not. HootSuite does a lot of things and yes, one of them is post scheduling. While these scheduling tools are adequate, they’re just not as customisable and easy to use as Buffer.
Buffer just does scheduling better than HootSuite. If you schedule a post with a picture from a webpage, Buffer will use the default picture posting service of the selected social network when posting.
This is most pertinent when posting to Twitter. HootSuite uses its own picture posting service and it has several disadvantages to the default Twitter service. Pictures posted using HootSuite, do not always auto expand in a user’s timeline and, depending on the Twitter client the user is using, may not display in Twitter at all.
If displaying the HootSuite generated picture is not supported by the Twitter client, it basically becomes a link. People are more inclined to look at a picture in their timeline than to click on a link, to look at a picture. So, the HootSuite picture posting service defeats the point of posting pictures. Because Buffer uses Twitter’s default picture posting service, pictures you post to Twitter will always appear in a user’s timeline.
Note, Buffer is not a replacement for HootSuite. It is a scheduling tool and does not provide you with feeds from your social networks. HootSuite excels in social network feed management and, in my opinion, should be used in conjunction with Buffer.
Buffer also doesn’t support the range of social networks that HootSuite supports. WordPress.com blogs and FourSquare and mixi profiles are all natively supported by HootSuite. Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest accounts can be accessed in HootSuite using third-party apps.
I use both HootSuite and Buffer, and I depend on them both to manage my social media existence. If I was forced to choose one of the two services, I would be between a rock and hard place.
[EDIT 10/10/2013] I’ve been using HootSuite less and less over the past few months. I downgraded my paid plan to the free one and don’t use it daily any more. With all of HootSuite’s benefits, it can’t replace visiting social networking sites directly. And with Buffer in the picture, HootSuite’s scheduling tools are an inferior duplicate service. Buffer is still an essential part of my social media management.
Click here to join the debate on how HootSuite and Buffer compare, on our forums (no registration required).
I have not been paid to write this article for Buffer, HootSuite Media Inc. or any other third-party.