It’s just a little over a decade ago that a college student launched “the Facebook,” which was eventually shortened to Facebook and now serves more than a billion active users. Other social media platforms quickly organized and changed marketing practices dramatically by focusing on targeting customers precisely and using softer selling approaches that build value instead of delivering heavy-handed sales messages.
HootSuite is a different kind of advertising service for businesses that want to promote their brands, increase Internet traffic to homepages and landing pages and manage social media marketing efforts across all platforms. Ideal for small restaurants, HootSuite enables them to market their menu, services and products through social media and add features as needed when restaurant growth or expanded services make new marketing capabilities desirable. HootSuite’s interface comes in the form of an all-inclusive dashboard that supports integrations for the top social media networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn with additional integrations available for Tumblr, Vimeo, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram and even email services.
HootSuite provides a centralized platform where restaurateurs can build their audiences, promote multiple marketing campaigns, measure results and collaborate with customers and team members to post trendy and compelling content. Restaurateurs can choose from a free version to manage up to five social accounts, HootSuite Pro for managing up to 100 social media networks and HootSuite Enterprise for huge companies with multiple campaigns, large staff presences and major social media participation from customers and large in-house teams.
HootSuite has grown impressively since its startup date in 2008 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. After reaching the five-million user mark in 2013, the company added an additional million users in just four months. Even without further increases, the company maintains a growth rate of three million new users each year. Regardless of whether customers use the free or paid versions, growth in social media and social marketing guarantee that many of the company’s customers will eventually opt for some of the paid services.
Top global brands and most Fortune 500 companies use HootSuite, and restaurateurs can design custom dashboards to manage their social presence, add new features as needed and take advantage of HootSuite’s front-row seat at the social table where trends and best practices can change quickly.
HootSuite founder Ryan Holmes is committed to building billion-dollar company without selling out to a larger organization. Most Canadian startups have been plagued with expansion problems, so they’re ripe for the first offer to sell or license their technology, usually to American companies. Holmes’s pledge to build HootSuite into a billion-dollar global enterprise seems well on its way to fruition. HootSuite reported an annual run rate of $11 million in January of 2015, a number that Holmes claims has since doubled as of the middle of the 2015. TechCrunch reported that the company was closing on a round of multimillion-dollar funding that justifies valuing the company at more than $500 million, which is halfway to Holmes’s goal.
HootSuite recently began a major rebranding campaign to update its look and logo to present a more contemporary image. Both Android and iOS users enjoy new apps and updates that include the ability to view detailed relationship information about Twitter members. HootSuite also introduced a new feature that provides its clients with Suggested Content that’s based on a company’s history of posting and responding to social media content. You can choose which contacts to send targeted content and when to deliver the content.
How HootSuite Works
HootSuite offers a free plan, HootSuite Pro and Enterprise service. Pro costs $9.99 per month and there’s a bit of a price jump for HootSuite Enterprise to around $1,799 per month or more. The Enterprise service is geared toward big organizations, school systems, government entities and large corporations — like national or regional restaurant chains. HootSuite no longer publishes the monthly fee for its Enterprise service, but fairly recent figures put the cost at $1,799 monthly.
Although the free service and basic monthly charge for HootSuite Pro seem reasonable, you pay extra for many of the advanced services. These hidden costs include adding more than two team members or getting more than one analytics reports. Extra reports cost $50, adding team members adds to monthly costs and even using custom URL-shorteners designed for your restaurant costs $49.99 per month. These costs add up rapidly.
HootSuite’s features include managing multiple networks, profiles and pages for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, FourSquare, WordPress and other marketing forums. Intuitive features for restaurant social management include:
- Scheduling up to 350 automatic updates, messages, posts and content deliveries
- Managing multiple accounts from one interface
- Shortening Twitter URLs to make them reader-friendly
- Integrating RSS feeds
- Getting comprehensive support and marketing advice
- Accessing the Social Insights feature to get information about social media members
- Fostering collaboration among staff members, stakeholders and customers to generate content, promote referrals and manage your network presence, which becomes increasingly difficult for one person to do
- Measuring performance of social marketing and promotional campaigns
- Empowering team members to post on your behalf and/or manage social media engagement with customers and prospects
- Using custom apps for iOS and Android
- Archiving messages
- Enjoying the services of a dedicated account representative
- Geo-targeting audiences
HootSuite has survived and thrived in an atmosphere that sees new social management apps and dashboards come and go quickly. On that basis alone, HootSuite deserves consideration from any restaurateur, especially since restaurants can begin with the free service and get a 30-day free trial for the paid HootSuite Pro version.
Drawbacks of HootSuite
Hidden costs are the major drawback of using HootSuite, but there are other issues of concern. Some analysts believe that posting content on social media through third parties decreases search engine visibility within Facebook and other platforms. New content posted through HootSuite often fails to receive all available analytical data, such as likes, comments and sharing information. Thumbnail images and summaries often fail to appear alongside your posts if you use bulk scheduling.
HootSuite works well enough that any restaurant that’s serious about social marketing will eventually need more advanced capabilities, and HootSuite charges extra for those. You could end up paying quite a bit more than the standard rate if you want complex monthly reports and to empower staff members to post on your behalf. Restaurants benefit from chef, wine steward and maitre d’ posts directly to social accounts, and extra monthly charges for adding team members can send costs out of range for some restaurants.
However, the customizable dashboard, advanced features and ability to manage and schedule multiple messages to targeted customers make HootSuite a highly effective tool for managing a restaurant’s social presence, collaborating with team members and staff to promote the restaurant through various social channels and managing many social campaigns with a single interface that you can customize to suit your needs.
HootSuite Competitors and Market Considerations
Polls show that HootSuite is the most popular of the social media management companies, and it’s followed by Twitter’s TweetDeck and SocialEngage. HootSuite’s competitors generally lack the company’s advanced analytics, and recent improvements include intuitive and popular features like the “build-you-own-interface” drawing card that many busy restaurateurs will appreciate because it can save time. Of course, any restaurant can manage its own social media in-house, but with HootSuite’s free service, the process is simpler and easier to keep organized.
Although the free version and Pro version of HootSuite seem reasonably priced,you could end up paying a hefty monthly fee due to extra charges for various services, ordering extra reports and adding authorized users. HootSuite competitors include SocialEngage, Oktopost, SproutSocial, TweetDeck, Nimble, Jollor, MavSocial and GrabInbox.
This proprietary service of Salesforce enables marketers to engage their customers, use social insights to fuel marketing success, listen to social chatter across multiple networks and conceive and organize successful social marketing campaigns.
Oktopost, while impressive for B2B companies, offers fewer advantages for restaurants because the paid accounts tend to run higher per month than other social management services.
SproutSocial doesn’t offer a free account but does provide a free trial.The service doesn’t charge for extra for some really appealing features and stylish design features that tend to show upscale restaurants in a favorable light.
TweetDeck, which was once useful for managing both Twitter and Facebook profiles, now only works for Twitter, and the service requires downloading software and installing frequent updates.
Nimble has free features and multiple engagement levels and pricing plans. Restaurateurs get full contact management, which HootSuite withholds to keep people from leaving the service. You can easily import contacts from Gmail and IMAP accounts and integrate with Google Calendar.
Jollor, which isn’t as well-known as HootSuite and other social media management companies, still provides some appealing features like strong analytics and role and team management tools. However, restaurants need to pay extra each month for each additional network and team member.
MavSocial offers a free plan that’s considerably better than HootSuite’s free service. You get 1Gb of file storage, five RSS feeds, unlimited reports and management for up to 50 social platforms.
This service is free and provides basic tools for managing Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.
Cost-Benefit Analysis of Using HootSuite
Doing nothing in the social media is a plan that’s sure to prove costly for any restaurant, if not a sure-fire recipe for business failure. Engaging with customers and prospects in social media has become an essential advertising practice, especially for people who are in the hospitality business and have a strong social aspect to their services. If you don’t engage customers in social media, your competitors certainly will. Restaurateurs can at least manage a small social presence on HootSuite without cost, so it makes sense to experiment with social marketing.
The cost benefits of social marketing can prove extraordinary by engaging and upselling regular customers, attracting targeted audiences to your restaurant and building a powerful Internet reputation among prospective local customers. The free and basic paid versions are affordable for even the smallest restaurant, and creative social marketing campaigns don’t cost much money, are easy to track and can be used to target specific demographic profiles. Your conversion rates are likely to be far higher than general or traditional media advertising.
Social media marketing is no longer a curiosity or diversion but an essential part of modern marketing strategies. Restaurants are almost invisible to consumers unless they maintain a robust social presence, and HootSuite gives restaurateurs the tools they need to manage many social campaigns from one customizable interface.
What We Like
We love the free version for small restaurants that works like a prolonged free trial so that you can determine whether you really need the paid version. We suspect that the basic paid version will work well for many restaurants while others can manage with the free version. We love the customizable interface where you can manage all your social media activity from one centralized platform.
What We Don’t Like
The point system for reports seems overly complicated and designed to bleed customers. You only get 50 points to use each month with the Pro plan, and reports generally cost 45 points. You’ll have to pay $50 for each additional report after the first one. If you’re serious about social media marketing (and you should be), one free report per month just isn’t enough. You don’t receive click-through reports from HootSuite links if you choose to use other analytics services. You also can’t use vanity URL-shorteners unless you pay $49.99 per month. HootSuite consistently charges extras for critical services like adding more than two authorized team users that are needed to manage social campaigns effectively, which we don’t like. We prefer upfront pricing where you know exactly what you’re paying and getting for your money.
We recommend that restaurants at least get their free version of HootSuite tout de suite and maximize managing their five free social media profiles to get an idea of what benefits the service could provide for managing social marketing. We think you’ll quickly realize the advantages and want to expand your efforts, whether you handle the work in-house, choose HootSuite Pro or select some other service.